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In Search of US Strategic Frontline
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By Fu Mengzi

The question here is where is the United States' strategic "frontline". And by "frontline" I mean the focus of its foreign affairs.

Looking at the 2006 US military and diplomatic focuses separately, there were far more problems as well as interesting developments in the Bush administration's diplomatic undertakings than in its military affairs. Concerning its military actions, the "frontline" is, of course, still in Iraq, where more than 100,000 US troops are fighting the "war on terror" under the watchful eye of American television networks and other media.

In foreign affairs, the focus has been on the nuclear crises in Iran and North Korea. But the first three "battles" were fought without a clear road map, making it hard to predict who will win, despite strong showings by the parties involved.

The 100,000-strong US forces in Iraq are now under the worst duress experienced since major campaigns ended. The State Department can at least call its mission somewhat accomplished with a United Nations resolution to slap some kind of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions, though it has not been able to solve the problem.

The North Korea nuclear issue has seen five rounds of talks so far with the latest round now in recess. Whether the North Korea will give up its nuclear program for good remains a big question.

With its strength and influence the United States is no doubt on top of the world. And no other country can rival its offensive strength. When faced with a single threat and dealing with a single security challenge, the United States has more often than not emerged the winner.

However, when faced with multiple major problems and crises, the United States usually appeared less capable than it thought it was.

There were security rules during the Cold War, when the two sides were always in clear sight of each other. It was always obvious who was on which side, whether it was the two superpowers facing each other in a strategic duel or trying to seize control of a third country or region. The United States and the former Soviet Union never fought each other directly, always hiring others to fight for them.

After the Cold War and especially since 9/11, the United States suddenly found itself without a clear enemy, with much of its massive military presence in Europe either sent home or redeployed elsewhere. It was major terrorist attacks that drew US attention to Central Asia and the Middle East. The United States succeeded in smashing the Taliban regime and the Saddam Hussein regime through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but failed to achieve the goal of re-establishing stability.

The United States has concentrated its strategic offensive in Iraq without a legitimate enemy while violent conflicts have kept American soldiers under attack on a daily basis there. The security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq is in fact getting worse.

The United States is currently fighting the war on terror, preventing nuclear proliferation, removing "tyrants" and spreading its version of democracy all at once. Washington has been slamming Iran and North Korea very publicly for their nuclear programs but finding them both surprisingly tough to crack.

Latin America used to be the United States' backyard, but in recent years economic disparity and social instability have resulted in the rise of the leftist camp, which refuses to obey Washington's instructions, especially Cuba and Venezuela. North Korea, Iran and Venezuela even proposed forming an anti-US alliance during the last Non-aligned Movement summit.

In Central Asia, the United States fanned the so-called "color revolutions" in countries such as Ukraine and Georgia in the name of democracy, but now it appears the change of colors has alerted other countries in the region, while relations between the United States and those "recolored" countries are not exactly to Washington's liking. Ironically, the United States is seeing its ties with some of the "unchanged" countries getting better. Its cooperation with Kazakhstan in developing the latter's energy industry, for instance, is heating up.

This kind of situation was almost unthinkable some years back. When the US-led NATO forces charged into Kosovo, many small countries feared for their own security. They were afraid they might be the next targets on the US strategic agenda. Maybe it was this kind of worry that prompted North Korea and Iran to beef up their defensive strength by building up nuclear capabilities.

The strategic gun barrel of the United States still causes considerable shock and awe wherever it is aimed, although some countries have had the guts to face the mighty United States "one on one" if there is no other way around. Talk about the difference between now and then.

The world has changed. Although people have yet to agree on the term multi-polarism, its development is already a fact. And it is unfolding a picture with more colors than unipolarism.

Multi-polarism represents not only changes in countries' hard strength but also the coexistence of multiple ideologies, beliefs and cultures. Military power can still conquer a nation, but its ideology, religious beliefs, political philosophy and cultural values won't change so easily.

In today's world, no one country can rule the world with a single mindset. Not even a superpower.

With Saddam Hussein's hanging last month, the Saddam era is now history. Stability, development and unity are the Iraqi people's common desire and the international community's responsibility, while nuclear proliferation bodes no good to post-Cold War world security. All major countries which consider themselves responsible should oppose nuclear proliferation but never use a double standard in dealing with it.

The world is still faced with challenges from non-conventional security threats. As a major country with national interests closely linked to those of the international community, China is no longer a bystander in world affairs. It is an important coordinator and even a leading "go-to guy" for solving tough problems.

In this sense, a rising China will find the responsibilities on its shoulders gaining weight as more opportunities come its way. It is best for all humankind that major powers increase mutual trust, reduce mutual suspicion and work for constructive cooperation. That is also the premise for solving major international problems.

The United States may find it increasingly difficult to identify the real target for its strategic offensive. And that means the United States' strategic gun barrel may no longer shock and awe the world as much as it used to. Major power rivalries and ideological battles are already out of date, though US strategic planners still can't let go of the possibility that a strategic rival is lurking in the shadows.

Returning to major power cooperation is the focus that US strategic think tanks should seriously consider in an all new world environment.

The author is the director of American studies at the Beijing-based China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

(China Daily January 10, 2007)

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