The Independent (Banjul)

3 March 2003

Gambia: Of Difficult Choices, Blind Samsons And Robot Soldiers

column

Washington DC — Students of International Politics must be having a field day in university classrooms around the world. The raging controversy over Iraq provides a unique opportunity to study the nature of the global power configuration in the post-cold war era and the difficult choices many state actors will have to make.

With the demise of the Soviet Union in late 1989, the structure of the international system changed from a bi-polar to a unipolar system, with the United States as the only super power. Some political analysts had predicted at the dawn of the 1990s, that it would not be long before the system becomes multi-polar, with the emergence of other lesser powers such as China, Germany and Japan. It was also predicted that with the demise of the Soviet threat, NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that acted as a bulwark against the communist block (the Warsaw Treaty countries), would grow increasingly irrelevant and redundant. Europe, it was argued, would then begin to drift further away from, and increasingly disapproving of, American hegemony. French and German opposition to current U.S policy towards Iraq in the face of British support for Washington seems to render credibility to the NATO redundancy theory.

Yet, it is clear that none of the existing big actors - France, Germany, China, Japan or Russia - is close to coming anywhere near posing a credible threat to American hegemony in the world. The United States remains far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of military and economic might. For instance, studies show that in 2003 alone, America is poised to spend more on defense than the next 15-20 biggest spenders combined. These would include France, Germany, Russia, China and at least 12 other powerful countries in the international system. More telling is the fact that with only 3.5 percent of its GDP, the United States spends more on military research and development alone, than Germany spends on total defense per year. Such overwhelming military and economic superiority explains why the Bush administration cares little about what the UN or any other actor in the international system thinks. Washington will make a show of playing by the rules and observing international etiquette, but in reality, America will do what it wants to do. Which is why we can safely say that the war on Iraq is inevitable, even though a heavy cloud of uncertainty looms large over its possible consequences for America itself and the rest of the world.

Over the past week, the United States and Britain have been waging a rigorous diplomatic campaign to win more votes for a new draft resolution the duo introduced to the Security Council. A reluctant Bush administration had grudgingly agreed to table a second draft resolution at the behest of its beleaguered British and Spanish allies. While this resolution does not specifically call for an armed invasion of Iraq, a nine out of fifteen Security Council vote in support of the US position would give Washington the highly strategic diplomatic advantage of having the blessing of the United Nations. Although Bush administration officials have made it perfectly clear that such blessing is not a deciding factor in the planned war against Iraq, Washington sees the wisdom of helping the British and Spanish governments justify their support for America in the face of overwhelming anti-war sentiment in their respective countries. Also, suddenly, Africa's current representatives on the Security Council - Guinea, Cameroon and Angola - became deserving of visits last week, by U.S Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner. Mr. Kansteiner's mission, as could be expected, was to emphasize to the three aid-hungry African states, the wisdom of supporting America in the event of a vote on the new resolution. That all three states, thus highly honored, will vote in favor of Washington when the time comes is a foregone conclusion. The other non-permanent members - Mexico, Syria, Pakistan and Chile are enjoying similar rare attention and are likely to vote either in favor of Washington, or abstain.

Of the permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China, while still not in favor of an immediate war on Iraq, are unlikely to veto the resolution because they cannot risk falling out with the United States. Moscow and Beijing may thus find themselves either supporting Washington or abstaining from the vote. Even France, the most vocal opponent of Washington's position, is unlikely to veto a US resolution in the Security Council. This is because there is very strong opposition to such a move by a powerful segment of the French Assembly, on the grounds that Paris has too much to lose by alienating Washington. France is thus also likely to abstain, barring the possibility of a complete pro-war change of heart in the next few days. It is not clear whether the United States and Britain will call for a vote on the new resolution before or after March 7, when Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to give an updated assessment of inspections to the Security Council. If Blix's March 7 report proves unfavorable to Saddam, countries like France, Russia and China may see that as an opportunity to endorse the American position without losing face. As far as Washington is concerned, however, it matters little what Blix says in his report. What matters is immediate military action against Iraq.

While acknowledging America's superior economic and military capabilities, however, many political analysts continue to sound grave notes of caution. The consequences of war for America and indeed for the whole world, they contend, remain unpredictable. The stakes, they warn, are alarmingly high. Among these are the growing weakness of the American economy, the massive cost of war and post-war reconstruction of Iraq in financial terms, the fear of American over extension, the threat of anarchy within Iraq itself and the entire Persian Gulf region, the possible breakdown of global alliances such as NATO that are important pillars of American strength, growing international perceptions of America as a bully and a villain, particularly by such significant actors as Iran and North Korea, and further complication of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which America clearly takes sides with a perceived aggressor. Thus, warns one analyst in The Washington Times, the Bush administration needs to recognize what is at stake, or risk becoming another Biblical "blind Samson, bringing down the Philistine temple" - killing every one under its roof, including himself.

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency last Thursday reported that the U.S. military has just developed a robot soldier named Matilda, which will be used "to hunt down Taliban fugitives in Afghanistan's dangerous mountain caves." According to the Reuters report, the computer controlled robot soldier, which will shortly be put "in the line of duty" is "equipped with a video camera and special sensors to check air quality and for toxic gases" and "will be used to search for booby traps in buildings and go ahead of soldiers in the equally dangerous work of searching caves and tunnels" in Afghanistan. Matilda, we can safely add, will also be looking out for any signs of Osama bin Laden. One can safely predict that in the event that the war in Iraq has to be fought in caves and mountains, robot soldiers will be sent into the line of duty there too.

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