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
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Teleradiology s...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator - Out of Hours

£19000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Telera...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn