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End to Cold War alignments?

By William Pfaff

PARIS: The successful terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have breached the confidence in national separation and singularity that has been at the core of American political identity. Most mainstream comment in Europe and Asia has expressed concern that the attacks could have the ultimate effect of promoting American isolationism. What happens will depend most on how the hunt for the terrorists ends.

Assume success: Osama bin Laden and his entourage are seized and tried, or killed while resisting arrest. His network, so far as it can be traced, is rolled up through police and intelligence co-operation in the US and among other friendly states. If the search is successful, and American actions enjoy wide support, a US re-engagement with the world could follow, with the unilateralist drift of its recent policies stopped or reversed.

American victory would nonetheless accentuate an already deep split between the US and many in the Third World who cannot identify with the American cause and don’t think that it represents their interests. Thus, victory by the US would not be a victory for them, as they see it. Some would consider it a defeat, a fact that implies an eventual recurrence of terrorism. Consider the pessimistic scenario, in which the search for those responsible for the attacks goes badly.

Military operations might produce heavy civilian casualties, as well as deaths among the military forces, even though Washington is showing keen concern over the political costs in civilian deaths and shows no appetite for large-scale ground operations against stricken Afghanistan. The US might take decisions that set off controversy inside the western alliance, as well as in the international community. If countries that Americans think of as allies put obstacles in their path, there will be a popular backlash in the US.

A bad or even frustrating outcome - if some allies fail to support Washington, or if Russia, China or the Europeans on the UN Security Council make difficulties - could trigger an isolationist- reaction in the US. This would not be isolationism in its traditional sense. The economic interdependence of world society is an obstacle to that.

The attacks were demonstrations that the US can no longer be physically insulated from the rest of the world. The Atlantic and Pacific aren’t there anymore, and more convincing threats exist than rogue missiles. A new isolationism would likely rest on a new and narrowed American alliance incorporating Nafta, Israel, Taiwan and possibly Japan, with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States its semi-dependencies.

Washington would be determined to keep Japan in such an alliance, despite popular misgivings there, and Japan probably would be incapable of saying no. This forecast envisages a general geopolitical realignment in which the US regroups its economic and security dependencies into a tight new alliance - reactive, but essentially defensive. It would be neo-conservative and unilateralist in outlook; militarily dominant in the world; and an aggressive, although fundamentally protectionist, commercial competitor to former allies as well as to former enemies.

This scenario also assumes that American and European political interests and conceptions diverge more sharply than now is the case. These would have to be fed by resentment on both sides, as well as disagreements, although each remains the other’s most important commercial and economic partner and competitor. What roles would Russia and China claim? Their current common ambition is to promote a multilateral international balance in which US power can be offset by their own limited military power, plus the economic and political weight of Europe and India.

This would be encouraged by the new alignment. Their individual ambitions have been to re-establish Russia as a European power, and China as the dominant Far Eastern and South Asian power - where both Japan and India remain China’s traditional rivals, and the US has become its new challenger. The new American isolationism, incorporating Taiwan and possibly Japan, would prove a destablising factor in Asia.

This new and aggressive/defensive American isolationism implies a final end to Cold War alignments. Estrangement of the US from the Third World would mean an end to Washington’s ideas about global democracy, as well as to the ambitions some have expressed of American global hegemony.

It would impose an independent political role on Europe, wanted or not. It would encourage Russia’s European ambitions. It would create new and unwanted Asian tensions. It would alter the fundamental American idea of the nation’s place in the modern world, substituting a conception of defensive entrenchment for the identity it has claimed for two centuries, that of progressive leader.

The terrorists could never have anticipated such a result. – Dipetik dari Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

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