Supremacy of the US 'super-duper-power' brings enemies to heel

The war against Iraq was always about more than just toppling Saddam Hussein. It was also intended to establish a new form of worldwide deterrence, based on the display of overwhelming American military superiority.

And, at least according to the Pentagon, it was effective. The North Koreans, US officials reported, were taken aback by the sheer speed and efficiency of the war, leading to a recalculation of their own stand-off with Washington. Perhaps, judging by their hasty efforts to appease American demands in the immediate aftermath of the taking of Baghdad, the Syrians and Iranians were too.

Iraqi civilian and military casualties, although still high enough to stir considerable anti-American anger, were a fraction of what they were during the Gulf War of 1991.

The smart weapons were immeasurably smarter, the control of airspace so effortless that Iraq never sent a single warplane into the skies. (Slobodan Milosevic didn't either, during the US-led Nato war in Kosovo in 1999.)

We can be reasonably sure that the US military will remain unchallenged – at least in the arena of conventional weapons. The noises coming from the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld further suggest that military force will be an increasing influence in foreign policy making in general. "For years to come, no other nation is likely even to try to rival American might," Gregg Easterbrook wrote in The New York Times.

"Other nations are not even trying to match American armed force, because they are so far behind they have no chance of catching up. The great-powers arms race, in progress for centuries, has ended with the rest of the world conceding triumph to the United States."

The mathematics, as well as the technology, tells the story. The US defence budget has been increased to about $400bn (£250bn) a year. That's more than the defence budgets of the rest of the world put together. No other nation, for example, possesses a "supercarrier" – a seaborne battle group ringed by cruisers and guarded by nuclear submarines. America has nine, with a tenth under construction, of which five were dispatched to the Gulf for the Iraqi invasion.

Given the tenfold advance in smart weapons technology over the past decade, we can only guess where the US military is going from here. Already there have been experiments with microwave bombs that knock out infrastructure and computer systems without necessarily killing many, or any, people; with whole new classes of "non-lethal" chemicals (although the recent theatre siege in Moscow suggests there is much more work to be done in this field, not to mention some hefty rewriting of the international laws of war); and with unmanned warplanes. A book by the security specialist John Leech speculates on a future of "war without death" – death to the attacking forces, anyway.

This is the new world of undisputed US military supremacy that the Rumsfelds and Cheneys have been theorising on since the end of the Cold War, and now it is coming to pass. One Republican leader in Congress, Tom DeLay, referred to America as an emerging "super-duper-power".

Such superiority, and the willingness to wield it, does not come without some troubling questions. The first is whether weaker countries won't now feel their only sure defence lies in nuclear weapons – the question at the heart of the North Korea crisis, and one that risks triggering a potentially cataclysmic nuclear arms race.

The second is whether America will become over- reliant on military solutions to problems for which traditional diplomacy might be a more appropriate response. The Bush administration's willingness to shred international treaties and disregard the United Nations suggests a heavily militaristic approach; whether future administrations, endowed with the same military assets, will want to take a more emollient, more multilateral line on world security remains to be seen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones