By the time you start reading this column, let’s fervently hope that World War 3 has not broken out somewhere. The western Internet industry a few days ago reported that the biggest number of hits on the Web were various queries about the outbreak of a world war and its immediate, potentially catastrophic fall-out.
The Internet exploded with such war speculation immediately following the Tomahawk missile strike on Syria and the Web panic worsened with the sending of a naval battle force to the Koreas. Sorry, I couldn’t check on Web traffic after Friday’s giant ‘bunker-buster’ bombing of Afghanistan. And yesterday North Korea was poised to mark the birthday of its great founder with another atomic test.
A relatively piddling state like North Korea persistently does nuclear tests and missile tests in its own territory and seas (although some rockets fell irritatingly too close to Japan); Islamist hordes threaten far-away Afghanistan; and, a poison gas attack occurs in similarly distant and embattled Syria. And what does the world’s sole super-power, the US, do as the revived global policeman?
Not in its own lands
It certainly does not explode bombs in its own lands and waters. No: the avowed ‘leader of the free world’ goes and bombs two other countries (full of bloodthirsty and suicidal maniacs) and sends a potentially deadly naval force towards a third (the one playing with atom bombs!).
The most powerful United States’ naval task force since the Persian Gulf Wars is nearing the high tension Korean Peninsula. The biggest conventional bomb known to humanity was dropped by the US Air Force on Thursday on a supposed Islamic State underground hideout in Afghanistan reportedly blasting deep through the rugged mountain ridges – and killing just 36 ‘top commanders’ of that modern-day ‘horde’.
And only days before that (the previous week) the President of the world’s most powerful state was dining the President of the emerging second most powerful state even as his heavy destroyers launched salvos of medium scale missiles at a Syrian airbase.
Towards the end of last week, clearly in step with these belligerent actions against other nations and social movements (the maniacal Islamist politico-military organisations), the President and his Secretaries of State and Defence were volubly articulating a new, and aggressively expansionist foreign policy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the pragmatist oil tycoon (far more powerful than Trump’s biz group), last week said what the world was waiting to hear: the likely future Trump foreign policy will, indeed go back to an aggressive Republican-style ‘warrior’ geo-politics. Why was it important that Rex Tillerson and not his president, Trump, say it?
This is because Donald Trump, during his entire election campaign as well as in the first few presidential policy pronouncements on Twitter, sensationally advocated and announced a dramatic reversal of the US’ traditional global policeman-type, interventionist doctrine and, a return to a very old fashioned, pre-Cold War (indeed pre-World War 2) isolationist American foreign policy.
It was the fact that much of this Trumpian doctrine was pronounced in such an ad hoc manner - on Twitter and with many factual errors or false ‘facts’ – that has made the world no longer rely entirely on the US President’s pronouncements.
The world’s foreign ministries and policy institutes and, certainly, the entire world media (except for the media used by sundry non-state warlords and bandits) have given up on wracking their brains over what Trump actually said or denied he said or, whether he even understood what he said given that he uses patently fake ‘alternative facts’ to back up his claims and pronouncements. Instead, other states and the global public have begun to rely on the postures of US Cabinet officers to affirm policy claims by their President.
In the recent week, the American President has reverted to super-power interventionism as advocated by the entire Washington Establishment (Democrat and Republican) that his voters overwhelmingly voted to overthrow.
Meanwhile, Russia’s President Putin whom he admired so much has now become the leader of a ‘bad’ country that supports allegedly poison-gas-using Syria.
Significantly, no date has been fixed for any summit meeting between the head of the sole remaining super-power and the head of its former Cold War rival which is yet the global military counter-point to the US. Trump may have met with heads of the US’ Western and Asian allies and NATO leaders, and even economic counter-force China, but is hesitating to meet his admired Vladimir Putin. Many tacticians in Washington are sure to wonder whether he is deterred by the persistent charges and revelations about pre-election and immediate post-election contacts between his agents and the Russians.
The first, telling, evidence of the policy pivot back to global policeman was when Washington bombarded Syria as never before. The world’s entire ideological and political spectrum recognised the policy pivot in the missile strike and subsequent policy pronouncements made by Rex Tillerson (in Moscow, of all places) that the Assad dictatorship should be removed from Damascus.
This was a categorical return to the ‘regime-change’ doctrine articulated by the US throughout both Republican and Democratic administrations.
The world gasped with either dismay (the Western power bloc, capitalist elites) or with delight (most Third World and non-Western powers, entire populations of invaded countries) when Trump, who loudly articulated a non-interventionist US foreign policy throughout his business career as well in his election campaign, became President.
But many realist analysts remained wondering how long it would be before the Washington Establishment, firstly, marginalized the clutch of populist Right-wing camp-followers (like Steve Bannon) that crept into the White House behind Trump and, then, gently guided Trump away from his highly personalized, ‘America first’ histrionics. That make-over by ‘Big Government’, much reviled by Trump supporters, is now happening.
The previous week, Steve Bannon was deprived of his controversial place in the US’ National Security Council and the US bombarded Syria for the first time.
Last Wednesday, after meeting the visiting Secretary General of NATO, President Trump declared formally that NATO was key to US policy and was no longer ‘obsolete’ as he persistently charged throughout his campaign.
It took NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (a former Premier of Norway) about an hour, seemingly, to persuade Trump that nearly twenty years of massive joint wars waged post-9/11 by the US-NATO coalition in both the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan was indeed real despite Trump’s pretence all these years that “nothing is being done against the terrorists”. Predictability is crucial for constructive human relationships of any kind, whether between people or between states and other political actors.
In a world that has survived the threat of nuclear holocaust since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ‘predictability’ has been vital in the web of relationships and inter-state consultative mechanisms that helped prevent the recurrence of such a catastrophe.
If some common discourse between protagonists had not enabled some predictability of geo-political behaviour, nuclear war and the mutually assured destruction (MAD) of the warring powers and, likely, the rest of the planet could have occurred decades ago.
Within a decade of post-World War 2 nuclear armament, the opposing Cold War sides had acknowledged the MAD dimension and had put in place comprehensive and minutely structured mechanisms to anticipate and deal with a range of tensions between the two hostile camps.
From strategic arms limitation talks and two SALT treaties, to nuclear arms reduction (START), non-proliferation (NPT) treaties and monitoring mechanisms like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s big powers put in place a sophisticated global system to deal with such dangerous geo-politics.
When a super-power which has had the sole experience of actually using atom bombs to bomb whole cities and, also, possesses the biggest nuclear arsenal, becomes erratic in its geo-politics at short notice, apparently rubbishes international crisis mechanisms (NATO) and, then suddenly, reverses its line, that element of predictability is seriously endangered.
How will trigger-happy states like North Korea (which has yet to act aggressively against anyone since the Korean War) react when the sole super-power which has a long history of trans-continental invasions and nuclear bombing, sends a likely nuclear-armed and powerful naval task force near its shores?
Yesterday, Pyongyang was reportedly poised to celebrate the birth anniversary of he Democratic People’s Republic’s founding father, Kim Il-Sung, with yet another nuclear bomb test. Fortunately, Washington has not explicitly stated that there would be a military response to any such bomb test. Pyongyang, however, has already threatened strong military responses to any US strike.
If you are reading this and not stocking up on food and water and digging your nuclear blast shelter, then WW3 has not yet happened.