March 14, 2003

War In Iraq May Bring New Cold War To Europe, East Asia

By: Mingjie Chen and
Franz Schurmann


With 300,000 American and British forces in the Gulf are ready to invade Iraq, with or without new U.N. authorization, it now seems war with Iraq is inevitable. The war has its origins in 9/11, but only in part. The other part is the Cold War, which began over a half-century ago. The repercussions of war in Iraq could resurrect shades of the Cold War, which was thought to have ended with the demise of the Soviet Union.

The Cold War began as a power struggle over Europe between the United States and the Soviet Union. In October 1991, America gained a big victory when the Soviet Union disintegrated. The new Russia proclaimed itself a democracy and adopted Western values. The United States then preferred to see itself, not as a liberator, but as the “solo superpower.”

The Gulf War of January-February 1991 erupted before the Soviet Union disintegrated. When, last August, the Bush White House started preparing for the Iraq invasion, it believed that Russia would support the United States, as it had done in the Gulf War. But to its surprise, not only Russia but also key NATO allies France and Germany decided to oppose the war.

So, as the White House finalizes the Iraq invasion, NATO is threatened with the possibility of internal disintegration. Even if the U.N. Security Council gives its nine “yes” votes to Bush, he will be faced with an unappealing choice: either get Iraq and lose NATO, or save NATO and lose Iraq.

But an even bigger threat hovers over the American solo superpower, which assumed it had absolute power over the world. The outlines of a new global order are becoming clearer day by day. Two other power centers are emerging, one in East Asia and the other in Europe. This may mean that “Solo Superpower America” will have to settle for being just “Superpower America.”

In the nine months between his inauguration and 9/11, George W. Bush reaffirmed his ties to democratic Russia. At the same time, the Cold War started shifting to East Asia. Things came to a head with the landing of a U.S. spy plane in Hainan in April 2001, after it collided with a Chinese fighter plane. With hardening rhetoric about human rights and religious freedom, Bush’s aim seemed to be to force a change in China from communism to democracy and Western values, as had happened in Russia. But 9/11 forced a radical change in White House strategy toward China.

On October 7, 2001, Bush launched a hot war against Afghanistan, and in September 2002 he went to the United Nations and called for a forcible overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It seemed he was going to finish the Gulf War that his father was not able to complete. At the same time, he sought out Chinese support in the war on terrorism.

But from the early days of 2003 on, a new political formation appeared in Europe and threw a monkey wrench into Bush’s U.N. diplomacy. Unexpectedly, France, Germany and Russia started working together to prevent the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

This new triple alliance could have serious consequences for Bush’s invasion plans.

These three powers do not like the idea of America getting control of the Middle East and monopolizing the oil scene. Certainly Germany will not want to pay for the war, as it did during the Gulf War.

But there are more damaging implications to Bush from the alliance. Twelve years ago the Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, proposed a “House of Europe,” which would have included France, Germany and Russia, to act as a counterweight to American influence. To show his sincerity, he sacrificed the Soviet-dominated German Democratic Republic. But the Soviet Union fell, and Boris Yeltsin aligned Russia more closely with the United States.

Now, because of the bitter dispute over the Iraq issue, there is a good chance that eventually the House of Europe will come into being with the two European powerhouses, France and Germany, presenting a united front.

When the 10 new members are brought into the European Union next year, Europe’s boundaries will become close to Russia. Russia is the only country in the world that can match America in high-tech military weaponry. Its labor and resources are very attractive to Europe at a time when the U.S. economy remains in a slump. Yet even without Russia, the EU already is a great power that increasingly challenges America, especially over this impending war.

America could still win the war but lose the peace. One post-war scenario is that the Saudi monarchy could be overthrown, as was the Shah of Iran in 1978. Another is that Muslim Middle Eastern countries could drag America into a long-term, unlimited war of terrorism.

It could also mean that the United States will lose the solid backing of Europe on the world stage that it had long counted on. And if the North Korean crisis gets worse, the Cold War — or even a Hot War – could return to East Asia. George W. Bush hopes the war against an Iraq weakened by years of sanctions will be short and efficient. But he would do well to remember what generals and even politicians have said for thousands of years: “Wars are easy to get into but hard to get out of.” Franz

Schurmann (fschurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books. Contributing editor Mingjie Chen was studying for a doctorate in political science in Beijing before he left China in the wake of Tiananmen Square and came to the United States.

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