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Pentagon sees US as supreme until 2010

No new superpower is likely to pose a military challenge to the US before 2010, in spite of China's booming economy and its implications for China's military potential.

That is the conclusion of a draft report prepared as part of the Pentagon's four-yearly review of global strategy and security. But, it says, the US must remain ready to fight two major regional wars - like the Gulf war - "in close succession", if not at exactly the same time.

The report, part of the Quadrennial Defense Review, predicts there will be a "period of strategic pause" between now and about 2010. "Despite China's potential, no superpower is likely to challenge us for at least a decade. That will be a breather but we'll still be in a major financial crunch", said a Pentagon official.

The Pentagon clearly does not see the European Union, with its 370 million people as a potentially hostile superpower, although the State Department regards it rather differently. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the worsening of Russia's internal problems, the US has been the world's only "superpower".

The Pentagon report assumes that Russia, with one-eighth of the Earth's land surface but only 150 million people will not regain its former status, that the states of the former Soviet Union will not coalesce again, and that neither China with its vast population of 1,200 million, nor India, with 935 million, will increase in strength and technological capacity to challenge the US, with its population of 260 million.

The final version of the review was due to be submitted to Congress by mid-May, but will now be delayed. A Pentagon official said the final version would be written personally by the Defense Secretary, William Cohen, and was expected to retain large US forces in Europe and Asia and the current policy of planning for two major regional conflicts, though "in close succession", rather than simultaneously.

The Pentagon wants to retain the two-major-conflict criterion, even though it is more likely to be involved in a number of peacekeeping operations. The US military wants to be able to undertake these as well as major regional conflicts.

Pentagon officials said that they had not finalised their conclusions about how US forces should be reshaped to fit the new world order, although defence officials said the policy of maintaining about 100,000 US troops in Europe and the same number in Asia and the Pacific had not been challenged by the report.

The Department of Defense anticipates future budgets averaging $250bn (pounds 156bn). Unless it finds savings on the cost of troops and bases it will be hard-pressed to pay for new projects, including the F-22 fighter and other top-of-therange weaponry.