political geography of conflict:
Civil wars in the hegemonic shadow.
Institute of Behavioral Science and
Department of Geography
University of Colorado at Boulder
Campus Box 487
Boulder, CO. 80309-0487
in Colin Flint (ed.) The Geographies
New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Acknowledgements: Thousands of students and a series of
superb teaching assistants in Geography 4712 (Political Geography) at the University of Colorado since 1988, either through interest or
disdain, have forced me to clarify my ideas about post-Cold War conflicts. Colin Flint’s invitation to contribute to this
book enticed me to convert my thoughts from lecture notes into print. Clionadh Raleigh helped in tracking data and
bibliographic sources and Tom Dickinson of the Institute of Behavioral Science prepared the graphics for publication
in his customary efficient, timely and professional manner.
attack by the United States on Iraq in March 2003 was atypical of
contemporary conflicts. While the
attempt to kill Saddam Hussein on March 19 marked the opening of hostilities
and was broadcast worldwide instantaneously, a much more destructive conflict that
had raged for five years in the Democratic Republic of Congo continued to receive
hardly any notice. The war to depose the
Hussein regime resulted in fewer than 12,000 dead (122 US-UK troops,
6,000-7,000 civilians and about 5,000 Iraqi military casualties – www.iraqbodycount.net.) The civil wars in Congo (formerly Zaire) since 1998 have resulted in 3.1 to 4.7
million dead with 250,000 killed in the fighting near Bunia
(eastern Congo) in 2002-2003 (Economist, 24 May, 2003). Conflict directly caused 300,000 deaths
worldwide in 2000, with over half of them in Africa.
Conflict directly accounts for 0.5% of all global deaths; the indirect
effects are significantly larger (Murray et
These gruesome comparative statistics
on casualties illustrate well the main themes of this chapter about post Cold
War conflicts. First, contemporary wars
are disproportionately civil conflicts; only a handful of interstate wars have
occurred in the last decade. Second, the
US has been disproportionately involved
in both interstate and civil wars, either directly by attacking another country
(Panama 1989, Iraq 1991, Yugoslavia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003) or by indirectly
supporting governments under pressure from rebels (e.g. Haiti, Pakistan, Colombia, Israel, Turkey, Philippines, Macedonia, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia).
Third, civil wars are lasting longer than ever before; the average
length is now 8 years. Fourth, civil
wars are much more destructive of life and property than interstate wars,
partly because international structures and rules are either unavailable or
ignored. More mechanisms exist to
resolve inter-state disputes. Fifth,
overwhelming US military power and a growing disparity
with its opponents has resulted increasingly in asymmetric use of force and
“risk-transfer wars” (Shaw, 2002). Tiny US casualties stand in sharp contrast to
large numbers of civilian and military deaths in the countries under
attack. The gap is expected to grow as
the US military expenditures soon equals that
other countries combined and new high-tech weaponry is rushed into
production. From a 1989 world in which
the superpowers blackmailed each other through the threat of nuclear
annihilation, the new world order is
completely dominated by an American hegemon that
shows little hesitation in pushing its ideological agenda using military and
In this chapter, I focus on two big
developments and one corollary in world politics over the past 15 years. Despite expectations about a surge in
ethnic-based conflict when the standoff of Soviet and US military forces ended, the number of
wars has not changed appreciably from the Cold War years. Gurr
(2000) claims ethnic-based wars has been on the decline from the early 1990s. Civil wars are still found predominantly in
poor Third World countries, though the end of the Soviet Union’s domination of its region has allowed
ethnic strife in the Caucasus, the Balkans and in Central Asia.
For every interstate war, there are more than 8 civil
wars ongoing. In this regard, not much
has changed since the pre-1989 world.
The second big development is the
growing lead of the US over any putative challengers. In the last years of the Cold War, American
commentators expressed fears about the relative decline of the US, especially in face of the growth of China and Japan (Kennedy, 1987; Nye, 1990). These
concerns seem laughable in hindsight, with the subsequent implosion of the
Japanese economy, the sluggish growth of European states, and the dependence of
China on a growth model that, in turn,
depends on international institutions dominated by the US.
By contrast, the US economy boomed in the 1990s. Military spending skyrocketed after September
11, 2001 (now
over $400 billion a year and projected to rise to $2.7 trillion over the next 6
years) despite the huge budget deficits to which it contributed. “Hyperpuissance”
(hyper-power), a term popularized by Hubert Vedrine,
a former French foreign minister in reference to the United States, indeed characterizes the contemporary
presence of the US on the global scene.
The corollary of the second trend is
that the US is not shy in using its power to
reshape the world-system to its liking.
As Walter Russell Mead (1999/2000, 5) notes “Since the Vietnam War,
taken by some as opening a new era of reluctance in the exercise of military
power, the United States has deployed combat forces in, or used deadly force
over, Cambodia, Iran, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Iraq, Turkey, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan, the South China Sea,
Liberia, Macedonia, Albania and Yugoslavia. This is a record that no other
country comes close to matching.” At
the time of the 1991 Iraq war, I developed 10 scenarios for the
“new world order” as it was then called by former President George H.W.
Bush. I ranked the probabilities from
lowest to highest and plunked for “unilateralism by the United States” as the
most probable scenario for the 1990s (O’Loughlin, 1992). Despite the tentative on-off embrace of the
Clinton Presidency (1993-2001) of global institutions such as the UN, the World Court, and the World Trade Organization, his
successor George W. Bush has matched my expectations.
My accurate prediction was based on
what I saw (and still see) as the most-abiding quality of the United States, called a ‘garrison state’ by Harold Lasswell (1962).
Characterized by enormous military expenditures, a world-ordering vision
(democracy and capitalism), and a need of enemies, coupled with a tendency to
lash out at enemies supposed and real, the US is now truly engaged in a
unilateralist enterprise to remake the world in its image. McDougall (1997) shows that
this crusading spirit is not of recent vintage but can be traced back to the
founding of the Republic. In this
enterprise, there is no room for neutrals, quibblers, naysayers
or skeptics. As President Bush said to
Congress after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, in the war against
terror “either you are with us or with the terrorists.” The US has been unflinching about killing its
enemies in the pursuit of its geostrategic goals (900,000
Japanese dead in the last 5 months of World War II, not counting the victims of
the atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; over 1 million North Koreans
killed out of a population of 9.3 million; and about 365,000 Vietnamese
civilians killed – Mead, 1999/2000).
The same certainty, ruthlessness, and
directness of purpose is continued in the US global vision during the second Bush
presidency. The Bush Doctrine enunciated
in the National Security Strategy of the United States (September 2002)
states that “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United
States will, if necessary, act preemptively”; this
preemptive action includes invasion and attacks on countries that are supposedly
supporting terrorism. The hubris of such
a self-designation as judge and executioner violates the spirit of the charter
of the United Nations that the Truman Administration was instrumental in
getting passed in 1945 and stands as a clear indication of the unilateralist
stand of the Bush Administration.
Poverty and Geography
(1990) expectations, the number of wars in the post Cold War period did not
skyrocket in the decade and half after the collapse of the Soviet
Between 1945 and 1999, about 3.33 million battle deaths occurred in 25
interstate wars and involved 25 countries.
In contrast, 127 civil wars in the same period killed 16.2 million (five
times more). These occurred in 73
countries and lasted on average about 6 years. Continually, about 1 in 6
countries have had a civil war since the end of World War II (data from Fearon and Laitin, 2002, 75). If
one looks at all years for all countries (the total set of all possible country
war years), 127 civil war starts in a sample of 6610 years produces a rate of
1.92%. In absolute terms, more civil
wars began in the 1990s than any other post war decade (Fearon
and Laitin, 2002, 77). It is important to note that the 1990s wars
were not the result of new post-Cold War developments. Rather, they were the results of cumulative
grievances that had aggregated during the years when the US and
the Soviet Union were
dominant in their respective world spheres and kept a lid on local conflicts (Fearon and Laitin, 2002). With the end of the Cold War order, these
superpower controls were removed as both countries turned to domestic matters. Of the wars between 1960 and 1999, there were
52 major civil wars with the typical conflict lasting around seven years and
leaving a legacy of persistent poverty and disease in its wake (Collier, 2003,
44). Recent wars are longer-lasting,
from 2 years on average in 1947 to 15 years in 1999 (Fearon
and Laitin, 2002).
This lengthening suggests caution about supposed global interest in settling
Third World conflicts either
through economic boycotts, military intervention, or negotiations.
It is increasingly evident from
research into the causes of contemporary conflicts that the simplest and most
common account, ethnic rivalries, falls short of complete explanation. In
two-thirds of contemporary civil wars, ethnicity is a dominant or influential
factor; about half of these countries become ‘failed states’ with resulting
government collapse and widespread famine (Scherrer,
2002). Comparing civil wars 1985-1994
with more recent wars, 1995-2000, Scherrer shows that
ethno-nationalist and inter-ethnic wars account for 52.6% of the conflicts in
the earlier period compared to 49.4% in the later years. While most Third
World civil wars have a clear ethnic dimension,
expressed in savage butchery such as the Hutu massacre of Tutsi in Rwanda in
1994 or Serb massacres of Bosnian Muslim men at Srebrenica in 1995, the main factor
underlying the outbreak of war is economic.
As the Economist (24 May 2003, 25)
noted “poverty fosters war, and war impoverishes.” The analysis of the World Bank group on Civil
Wars, presented in Collier (2003) and Collier et al. (2003), on their
causes clearly lends support to the argument that “money trumps kinship.”
The skepticism about the ethnic factor
(noted earlier) needs to be tempered for one special type of case. If a country has a single large minority
juxtaposed to an ethnically-different majority (such as Tamils and Sinhalese in
Sri Lanka, or Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda and Burundi), the odds of a civil war doubles (Collier et al.,
2003). The reason for this specific
correlation is that the minority feels that it stands no change of effecting
change through the usual political process of elections and democratic
competition; it will always lose in an ethnically-divided polity. The more diverse the country (multiple
smaller ethnic groups), the lower the changes of war since coalitions between
the groups are necessary to form a majority and political bargaining can garner
a victorious coalition.
Powerful evidence in support of the
economic hypothesis is provided by Fearon and Laitin (2002).
Controlling for per capita income in their statistical analysis, they
show that ethnically or religiously divided countries have been no more likely
to experience significant violence.
Another way to look at this conundrum of ethnic wars is to turn the
question around. In the 200 or so
countries in the world, there are between 6,500 and 10,000 ethnic entities of
diverse size (Scherrer, 2002). Yet relatively few of these ethnic entities
fight with their neighbors. Further,
ethnically homogenous countries like Somalia
(1990s) and Ireland
(1922-23) have seen devastating civil violence.
How can we reconcile the apparently contradictory (ethnic versus
economic) explanations of civil wars?
The ethnic explanation for civil war
draws from the ’primordialist’ model of
nationalism. In this view, nations are
natural and perennial, emerging out of the mists of time and bound together by
blood, territory, historical, language, religious and emotive ties (Smith,
1986; Connor, 1993). If one adopts a
pure primordialist perspective, one would expect
tensions and competition for state resources from the various ethnic groups
that constitute most of the world’s states. In a zero-sum calculus, a gain for
one group (say, dominating the officer class in the national army) is a loss
for the others. As the Economist (24 May, 2003, 24) notes “rebellions always start for political
reasons.” Political reasons usually
involve economic and geographic resources.
This is where an alternative economic-Marxist argument enters the
picture. In order to rouse ethnic groups
to their secondary status relative to other groups or the majority, elites point
to examples of economic disparity to build the movement. King (2001) uses post-Soviet
conflicts (South Ossetia,
Republic and Nagorno-Karabakh) to illustrate how this kind of
ethnic mobilization occurs in practice.
Nairn (1977) developed the “nationalism from above”
theory, describing how the middle-class in poor regions could energize and
activate ethnically-based movements for redress of their subservient
status. Especially in poor, peripheral
regions far from the core of a state, the combination of feelings of
deprivation and ethnic distinctiveness is a powerful force motivating
rebellion. The ethnic factor is a
necessary but not always a sufficient condition to bring about action – the
sufficiency condition is added by the economic factor, especially poverty. (See Williams 1989 for an application to
Europe of this kind of dual ethnic-primordialist/economic-disparity explanation). In a statistical analysis, Elbadawi and Sambanis (2002) show
that ethnic diversity plays a part in promoting the odds of a civil war in a
poor and repressive society but this ethnic factor disappears when countries
develop economically and improve their human rights record.
Once civil war begins, both sides need
money and must find ways to procure it.
If one side is the government, it can switch state spending and develop
favorable tax regimes to pay for its war.
On the non-government side, cash is not so readily available. Two main sources are assistance from
neighboring governments (who often have an on-going dispute with their
neighbor) or from an ethnic diaspora overseas. Contemporary examples are the external
support for Chechen rebels, for the Irish Republican Army (in Northern Ireland), for Congolese rebels (supported by Rwanda), and Sierra Leone rebels supported by the Liberian government of Charles
Taylor. The fluidity of borders and the nature of global underground financial
flows make it almost impossible to stop these kinds of aid.
A second (and increasingly) common source of funds is
gaining control and selling of natural resources within the rebel region or
nearby. Natural resources play multiple roles in
rebellion. First, rebel leaders can
build an argument
that they belong to the region, not to the national elite. As Fearon and Laitin (2002, 42), “the greed of a resource-rich locality
can seem ethically less ugly if a corrupt national elite is already hijacking
the resources.” Second, the presence of
valuable natural resources makes rebellion more likely (Le Billon, 2001;
Collier et al., 2003). Third,
there is a war dividend in the form of control and sales of the resource to
keep the fight ongoing. Well-known
examples of the intersection of resources and rebellion are Sierra Leone and
Angola (diamonds), Angola, Sudan, Indonesia (Aceh),
Chad, and Nigeria (oil), Morocco/Western
Sahara (phosphate), and Tajikistan, Afghanistan, former Yugoslavia, Caucasus,
Myanmar, Peru, Colombia and Kurdistan(drugs). (Le Billon, 2001). To break the
link and to hinder the flows of revenues from the sales of these resources,
external actors try to institute embargoes on their flows. The recent global certification of diamonds
from known sources, such as South Africa, is one example of these efforts; uncertified diamonds
are not supposed to be traded and sold.
The breakdown of government control in war-torn regions can be gauged
from the World Bank estimate that 95% of the global production of hard drugs is
located in civil war countries (Collier, 2003, 44).
Collier’s work at the World Bank
exemplifies a recent interest in the discipline of economics about the impact
of poverty on violence and vice-versa.
Jeffrey Sachs (2001) focuses on failed states (failure to provide basic
public services to their populations) as “seedbeds of violence, terrorism,
international criminality, mass migration and refugee movements, drug
trafficking and disease.” (p.187). He accepts the explanation of the
CIA’s study of 113 cases of state failure; failed states are extremely poor,
non-democratic, and economically closed. Further, they are “tense, deeply conflicted,
dangerous, and bitterly contested by warring factions.” (Rotberg, 2002, 85). To these elements, Sachs (2001, 190) adds a
geographic one. “Physical ecology probably plays a role. Africa is uniquely hampered by extreme conditions of disease and
low food productivity that in turn prevent those societies from managing the
minimum necessary conditions for growth.”
The CIA State Failure Task Force reported that almost every case of US
military intervention since 1960 had taken place in a developing country that
had previously experienced state failure.
are both expected and unexpected associations between war and
political-geographic factors. As might
be expected, as a country’s income increases, its risk of being a war zone
decreases. For a country like Congo with deep poverty, a collapsing economy, and huge mineral
exploitation, the risk of war reaches nearly 80 percent (Collier, 2003). If per capita income doubles, the risk of war
halves; for each percentage point that the economic growth rate increases, the
risk of conflict falls by a percentage point (Collier et al., 2003). Fearon and Laitin (2002, 83)
calculate that “every fall in per capita income of $1000 corresponds to a 34%
greater annual odds of war outbreak.”
Economic growth generates more opportunities for youth. “Being a rebel foot soldier is no way to make
a fortune but it may be better than the alternative.” (Economist, 24
25). The average age of the fighters in civil wars
continues to fall with children as young as 8 years of age impressed into
armies in West and Central Africa. War tends to draw
in neighboring countries since rebels skip to and fro across borders to sell
resources, to buy weapons, to escape pursuit, and to regroup. War in one country tends to depress economic
investment and growth in neighboring states.
It has long been known that geographic contiguity is significant in
determining the diffusion of conflict (O’Loughlin, 1986).
Another expected association of
geography to war is that physical geography matters. From Fearon and Laitin’s (2002) regression model, it is evident that if a
country is large, mountainous and is lightly populated, it faced added risks of
rebellion. Rebels can hide out and
maintain their forces in such environments, particularly if they have support
from ethnic kin or neighboring states.
Finally, it must be noted that governments kill many more of their
citizens than rebels or foreigners. “Democide” (destruction of the people), Rummel’s
(1997) term, is an apt description of the kind of brutality wreaked by Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Idi Amin in Uganda, Stalin in the
Soviet Union, or Emperor Bokassa in the Central
African Republic. Overall, more than
four times more people are killed by their governments than in wars.
On the unexpected side of the war
explanation lie two widely-discussed relationships, that democracies are more
peaceful and that Islamic states are bloodier.
Both suppositions do not hold up to close inspection. The “democratic peace” hypothesis (Russett, 1994) holds that two democratic states will not
find them on opposite sides in a conflict because of the pressure of their own domestic
polities. There is substantial evidence
supporting this notion. However,
democratic states have been heavily involved in conflicts, as the examples of
(discussed below) and the United Kingdom show. Collier et
al. (2003) conclude that democracy fails to reduce the risk of civil war at
least in low-income countries and Fearon and Laitin (2002) concur; civil wars are not less frequent in
democracies after controlling for income.
The growth of the number of people living in democratic states and the
diffusion of democracy into previously-authoritarian regions expected by the globalizers (e.g. Elliott, 2003) would not predict an
overly optimistic outcome in a causal reduction in war. Recent research by Gleditsch and Ward (2000)
on the transitions between democracy and authoritarianism indicates that uneven
transitions (large swings back to authoritarianism and forth to democracy) can
increase the probability of war. Taking
a long-term perspective since 1816, Hegre et al.(2001) conclude
that intermediate regimes (between democracy and authoritarianism) are most
prone to civil war and that becoming a democracy significantly lessens the odds
of civil strife. The effects of
democracy on conflict are significantly mediated by the regional location of
the country of interest. Democracies
within democratic regions (e.g. Europe) have much better prospects of peace.
Huntington’s (1996) book on the Clash
of Civilizations contained the statements that “Islam has bloody borders”
and “bloody innards” attributed by him to the nature of the cultural-religious
features and demographic characteristics in Islamic societies. Two careful checks of these claims have
debunked them. Fearon
and Laitin (2002) show that adding a variable
measuring the percent of Muslims in each country to the model is not
statistically significant (income is still dominant) and Chiozza
(2002) also dismisses the Huntington hypothesis using data from 1946 to 1997. In fact, Fearon and
Laitin (2002) go further to argue that global
regional location does not matter; in other words, after controlling for the
country characteristics (income, ethnic ratios, etc), the rate of civil war
onset is not significantly different across the globe. However, this conclusion should be accepted with caution since
they measured the regional effect using a crude dummy variable and did not use
the more sophisticated geographic methodology that allows careful simultaneous
examination of the country and regional factors. (For an
example of this kind of spatial modeling applied to conflict, see O’Loughlin
and Anselin, 1991; Gleditsch and Ward, 2000).
distribution of conflict: Numerous datasets are now available for
the study of conflict. They differ
mostly in their definitions of what constitutes war. A minimum number of deaths
of 1000 per year is found in the most widely used
dataset, the Correlates of War project (Singer and Small, 1994). In this section of the chapter, I will use
the Uppsala dataset that has a low threshold of 25
deaths/year and is available back to 1946. These data are updated yearly and are
available from www.pcr.uu.se. The Uppsala group counts 225 armed conflicts between 1946 and 2001,
with 34 of them active in 2001 (Walleensteen and Stollenberg, 2001; Strand et al., 2003). Of these 225
wars, 163 were predominantly internal conflicts, 21 were extrastate
conflicts (between a state and a non-state group outside its territory, such as
Al-Qaeda) and 42 were interstate conflicts. Gleditsch et al (2002), using the Uppsala data, plot the trend over the past 55 years and fit a
third degree polynomial trendline to the data. (A
third degree polynomial has two inflexion points. One could fit a fourth degree or higher
polynomials but the additional fit to the data does not compensate for the
complexity of the model). The general pattern is a decline during the early
years followed by a gradual rise in the last two decades of the Cold War
followed by a decline after 1989. I
extend their analysis and also examine the specific locations of conflicts,
also replicating the work of Buhaug and Gates (2002)
who use the Uppsala data and report the exact geographic location of the war
zones. For example, they identify the
geographic coordinates of the Chechen-Russian war as the republic in the North Caucasus mountains, rather than all of Russia which would be identified as the war zone in the
traditional method of war analysis.
Given the overwhelming evidence
summarized above on the impact of wealth on conflict, I examine conflicts since
1946 by presenting them in the context of a country’s level of
development. Rather than simply using
gross domestic product per capita or some other economic measure of
development, I prefer to use the broader measure of the UNDP’s
(United Nations Development Program) Human Development Index. The Index is derived from individual scores
on a variety of income, educational, literacy, health, and other measures; the
goal of the index is to show the extent to which each country’s population is
able to reach its potential as a full
productive citizenry following individual needs and interests (UNDP, 2002). The
Index ranges from .942 (Norway) to .275 (Sierra Leone) in 2000.
1: Probability that a country is involved in armed conflict (all levels and all
types) – annual figures and 3rd degree polynomial trendline. OECD
countries on top graph and non-OECD countries on bottom graph.
An unexpected contrast appears in the
long-term trends of conflict when the rich and poor countries are evaluated
separately. In Figure 1, I replicate the
approach of Gleditsch et al (2002) but I calculate the trends separately
for OECD and non-OECD members. The OECD
(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) includes approximately
30 of the richest countries in the world; its numbers have risen from about 20
during the Cold War to include the richest of the post-Communist states in Central Europe.
Its members are predominantly in Western
Europe but it also includes Australasia, Mexico, Japan, Canada and the US. Each graph has two lines. The yearly values show the probability of an
OECD (or non-OECD on bottom graph) country being involved in war, either at
home or abroad. It is calculated as the
ratio of the states involved in war divided by all states in that group, OECD
or non-OECD. Clearly, the yearly values
fluctuate greatly and the index does not measure the severity of the violence or
the scale of the involvement. Obvious peaks on the OECD graph correspond to the
1991 Iraq war, Kosovo 1999 and the post-September 11 attack on the
Taliban in Afghanistan. While the US provided the bulk of the fighting forces in these wars,
other OECD members supplied troops, equipment, support services, or otherwise
contributed to the war effort. Fitting a
third degree polynomial to the yearly data from 1946 yields a downward sloping
line from the early 1950s but an upward slope for the 1990s. The three peaks of the war years 1991, 1999
and 2001 drive the recent slope but the trend should give pause to anyone who
thinks that rich countries are free from war.
With the exception of the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001 and the long-established guerrilla wars
in Northern Ireland (UK) and the Basque country (Spain), the OECD wars were conducted off-shore.
for the non-OECD (poor and middle-income countries) is not as strongly derived
from peaks and troughs. The overall
trend matches the line for the world system in Gleditsch et al (2002)
since about five in six states are not OECD members. Since the early 1950s, the
trend is gradually upwards to a peak at the end of the Cold War in the late
1980s, followed by a decline. The upward
trend was promoted by the actions of the superpowers in assisting their proxies
in Third World conflicts (O’Loughlin, 1989). Sometimes the proxies were states (e.g. Somalia and Guatemala for the US; Ethiopia and Nicaragua for the Soviet
Union). Sometimes, they were
rebels (e.g. the Contras in Nicaragua and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan for the US; the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Vietcong
for the USSR).
(1990) argued that the probability of conflict was driven by the nature of the
international system. In his realist
view, bi-polar systems are more stable than multi-polar ones and therefore, the
end of the dual superpower controls in their respective orbits in 1989 would
lead to more war. Additionally, he
argued that the growing power inequality between the US and other states would invite war, because they increase
“an aggressor’s prospects for victory on the battlefield” (p. 37). These
two graphs in Figure 1 show that Mearsheimer was both
right and wrong. Despite his
expectations, there has not been a general upsurge in violence worldwide since
the end of the bi-polar world-system as the trend for the non-OECD in the 1990s
shows. But the trend for the OECD
countries, driven by the massive US involvements overseas in the 1990s, supports his
expectations about the outcomes of inequality in the world-system. In order to return to the status quo ante,
a realist would argue that a reduction in the power disparity is
needed. In Mearsheimer’s
(1990, 37) words, “small gaps foster peace, large gaps promote war…deterrence
is more likely to hold when the costs and risks of going to war are
Robert Kaplan (1994) in “The coming
anarchy” received a great deal of attention with his apocalyptic vision of poor
Third World states mired in poverty, racked by civil wars, devastated by AIDS,
malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases, and becoming increasingly remote from
the rich world. He started his journey
in West Africa “Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of
resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and
international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms,
and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a
West African prism. …To remap the political earth the way it will be a few
decades hence …I find I must begin with West Africa.”
(p.46). Kaplan recognized the dual nature of global conflict, concentrated in
the poorer parts of the world. ““We
are entering a bifurcated world. Part of the globe is inhabited by Hegel's and Fukuyama's Last Man, healthy, well fed, and pampered by
technology. The other, larger, part is inhabited by Hobbes's First Man,
condemned to a life that is ‘poor, nasty, brutish, and short’." (p.60). This distinction
between a Hegelian and a Hobbesian world also
garnered a large press because of Robert Kagan’s
“power and weakness” article of 2002. Kagan contrasts the weakness of the European states and the
strength of the US. For Europeans,
the world is inexorably evolving into the Hegelian model, a paradise of peace
and relative prosperity.
Figure 2: Geographic distribution of conflict
and United Nations Human Development Index scores. Conflict is scaled as 1: between 25 and 1000
battle deaths over the course of the conflict; 2: over 1,000 battle deaths in
the conflict but fewer than 1,000 per year; 3: at least 1,000 battle deaths a
is the vision elaborated by Francis Fukuyama in “The End of History and the
Last Man” (1992). Americans, by
contrast, remain “mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable
and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still
depend on the possession and use of military might.” (Kagan, 2002, 3).
geography of conflict since World War II is mapped in Figure 2. The zones of peace and war are clearly
demarcated. Against a background of
countries shaded according to their UN human development indices (HDI) in 2000
(high, medium and low), we can map the exact locations of the war zones with
the size of the triangles indicating the scale of the conflict (number of
deaths). The visual correlation between
the index of human development and war is evident. (PIOOM produce a similar map on World
Conflicts and Human Rights; see Jongman, 2001). Almost all wars have occurred in low and
medium HDI states. (For more on this
theme, see the chapter by Van der Wusten in this book). This
is not to say that high HDI countries have not been involved in war. The US (ranked 6th on the HDI in 2000) is most active
but as an external participant. The
three main regional concentrations are in Central America,
tropical Africa, and the ‘arc of crisis” stretching from south-eastern Europe
through the Caucasus and the Middle
East into South and South-east Asia.
Within each of these zones, some
countries or regions within countries have seen continual endemic violence.
Israel/Palestine, the border between Iraq/Iran/Turkey, the states of South-east Asia,
the Horn of Africa, and the Congo Basin in central Africa stand out as bloody lands. Most of these triangles represent fairly
small conflicts but some indicate widespread, bloody wars that involve numerous
neighboring countries. The current wars
in the Congo which have dragged in 8 neighboring states (plus UN forces) is only
the latest of regional-scale conflicts that include the Korean war of the
1950s, the Vietnam war 1950-1970s, Israel/Palestine and other Middle Eastern
states, and the West African wars of the 1990s.
A cursory glance at the map in Figure
2 or reliance on the images that emerge from Africa,
the Caucasus or most of the Middle
East would tend to confirm
Kaplan’s decade old projection. Yet,
these impressions must be tempered by the reality of the data. Conflicts in the Third World
and in the former Soviet Union are not of one kind.
Many have deep external involvements from rich countries, usually the US and/or a former colonial power. Some wars have definitely resulted in state
failure – especially in the African states of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Somalia, and Congo. Other states, however, have returned from
the brink of collapse as in Mozambique, Angola and Ethiopia.
the exception of the short-lived intervention in Somalia in late 1992, US involvement in civil wars has been in pursuit of clear
realist goals. President-elect George W.
Bush stated in December 2000 that he would not order US troops to any country
even to stop another Rwanda-scale genocide. Whether the events of September 11, 2001 will change this strategic vision remains to be
seen. The dilemma posed by Kaplan (and
by Barnett below) stands as an ever clearer choice – should the US try to bring
peace to war zones, either unilaterally or as part of a multilateral force,
because war has negative externalities (refugees, disease, starvation, etc) and
the roots of terrorism reach far and deep?
Or should the US retain a respectful distaste for involvement that does
not directly contribute to the security of the United States? By choosing the latter, the US would adhere to an
updated version of the Powell Doctrine (named after the current Secretary of
State) that demands that US forces be used only to promote national strategic
interests, be used in overwhelming numbers to ensure a quick victory, and be
withdrawn in an expedited manner. Part
of the answer might be found in the nature of US foreign relations and military
operations in the aftermath of September 11.
The indecision in Summer 2003 whether to commit US peacekeeping forces
to Liberia as part of a multi-national effort indicates the tension in American
foreign policy between the “Jacksonian” tradition of
aggressive self-interest and the “Wilsonian”
tradition of internationalism (Mead, 2002).
The debate about the US role in world affairs must be placed against the debate
about the strength and sustainability of the hegemonic status of the US. Despite an
appearance of unanimity and clarity in the public posture of the American
government in the aftermath of September 11, the questions are not yet
Acts and Reacts.
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has continued to expand its
military lead over all other countries.
In 2002, the US accounted for 43% of global
military expenditure, expected to rise to over 50% of the world total within 3
years. In 2002, the US expenditure equaled that of the
next 25 countries combined. Whilst there
are various ways to measure military strength, military expenditures is the
simplest and most generic measure. According
to this measure, the US spends about 3.3% of its GDP on
its military, compared to ratios half as large in Western Europe (1.3% in Germany, 2.3% in the UK, $2.6% in France). Some relatively poor countries spend higher
ratios on their military, such as China’s 3.5 to 5% estimate, but the absolute
amounts are relatively small ($47 billion for China compared to $399.1 billion
for the US in 2002). (All figures from
the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbooks and the CIA’s
World Factbook, 2002).
More than the increase in US military spending, the collapse
of any serious challenge to American military and political supremacy
consequent upon the implosion of the Soviet Union widened the gap between the US and the rest. The balance enforced by nuclear MAD (mutual
assured destruction) was erased after 1991.
Kagan (2003) attributes the proliferation of US exercise of power in a unipolar world as a natural consequence of the USSR collapse. Combining the removal of the Soviet threat
of a counter-move with the development of new technologies, especially
long-range weapons like Cruise missiles, the US was able to use more force more
frequently with less risk of significant casualties. Because of the domestic doubts (sometimes
escalating into opposition) to military actions overseas, US leaders have been
careful to build support for war. The
Iraq war of Spring 2003 was undertaken only after a year of massive (and
successful) efforts to convince Americans of the dangers of Saddam Hussein’s purported
possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and supposed linkage of his
regime to Al-Qaeda, the September 11 operatives. By the outbreak of war, overwhelming numbers
(77%) of Americans supported the Bush Administration’s actions. The Washington Post/ABC poll (April 7, 2003)
showed that, of the large demographic groups, only African-Americans showed
less than majority support for the action (at 49%); by contrast, Conservative
Republicans gave 99% support to the attack on Iraq.
Why are Americans so
willing to support the use of military force abroad? Actually, the gap between Americans and
residents of other democratic countries is a recent development. At the time of the Kosovo war in April 1999,
citizens of countries like Denmark, Croatia, and the UK showed higher support
for an attack on Yugoslavia than Americans, whilst the values for Germans,
French, Norwegians and Canadians were not much different than the American
ratio (O’Loughlin and Kolossov, 2002). The answer to the question, of course,
lies in the attacks of September 11, 2001. It changed the American
foreign policy psyche like no event since Pearl Harbor in 1941. But despite the US media hype about the way the
world has changed. Saul Cohen (2002,
569), an eminent political geographer, was more sober in answering his own
question: “Has September 11, 2001 fundamentally changed the
global geopolitical scene?...In fact, it is not the
world that has changed, but the American perception of the world. International and domestic terrorism has
taken hundreds of thousands of victims over the past half century.” However, by changing their perspective on
the world, Americans, through their hegemonic power, are thus changing the
(2002) and Toal (2003) are agreed about the nature of the contemporary US public. For Toal, drawing on Mead (2002), Americans in
2003 are following a Bush presidency that lies squarely in the “Jacksonian tradition” of American foreign policy. Of the four American geopolitical traditions
identified by Mead (Hamiltonian, Wilsonian,
Jeffersonian, Jacksonian), it is the Jacksonian one that is most identified with populist
aggressive nationalism. The basis for it
is an idealized view of Americans as belonging to a community with a strong
sense of common values and a common destiny.
This view, of course, papers over debates and disputes within the US
body politic and uses the argument that “all politics stops at the water’s
edge” to squelch debate about the nature of American power and the uses to
which it is put. Once the Jacksonian ideal was re-established and widely promoted, it
became a “somatic marker” that was used to manipulate public opinion. A somatic marker is, in Connolly’s (2002)
words, “a publicly mobilized, corporeal disposition.” The state apparatus through
its media access can simplify the process of calculation in foreign policy by
emphasizing saturated memory and gut feelings; use of trite expressions by
politicians like the title of a country music tune “America will always stand”
appeals to the most basic patriotic instincts. The end result is a “public affect” that
drives an aggressive foreign policy (Toal, 2003).
Kagan (2002) became famous on the
basis of a proposition that Americans have a specific world view that is
fundamentally based on the Hobbesian model of world
affairs - where anarchy reigns, where laws and rules are flouted or absent,
where security is only guaranteed by a strong military deterrent, and where the
military can indeed win “the hearts and minds” of foreign opponents. Though the focus of the article is the
distinction between Americans as Hobbesians and
Europeans as Kantians, and the gulf in understanding that results, the most
important conclusion (with which I agree) is that both groups have contrasting
views on how to settle difficult international problems. Europeans want to negotiate and pursue
multilateral options whilst the US prefers unilateralist force to
settle matters. Though the US welcomes assistance from other
forces, it is accepted only on the condition that the US leadership and goals remain
unchallenged. Recent US military actions in Iraq/Kuwait
(1991), Bosnia (1995), Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) have been accompanied by
troops from regional allies but the preponderance of force in numbers and
equipment is American. In June 2003,
the United States has military forces in 136
countries. Clearly, the term
“superpower” is inadequate and even the term “hegemon”
hardly suffices to depict the US lead, by far the greatest of
any empire in history (Ferguson, 2003a).
Why is the US able to use its military power
in such an unrestrained manner? It
should be noted that American public opinion for overseas military actions
remains highly sensitive to the number of US deaths (Klarevas,
2002). We would not expect much
opposition from other states, given the size of the gap, and any opposition
(from those attacked) has been indirect and evasive, as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Why has the US public not put a brake on
military spending and actions? Recall
the half-century old description of Harold Lasswell
(1962) of the “garrison state” and combine it with the Hobbesian
world-view. But as the Vietnam war showed, even the “garrison state” can be undermined
through determined and mobilized public opinion which forced a US pullout of South-east Asia in 1975. The difference now is that US casualties are
a fraction of those that occurred in Vietnam because of the asymmetric
nature of modern war.
Shaw (2002), in a controversial argument, examines
casualty figures for the three wars that the US initiated (Iraq 1991, Yugoslavia
1999 and Afghanistan 2001); the West has managed to virtually eliminate
military casualties on its side whilst casualties on the enemy side were high.
In Afghanistan, for example, the number of US military deaths from October to
December 2001, the time of the greatest amount of fighting, was 1, Afghan civilian
deaths reached between 4,200 and 5,000, US allies’ deaths ranged in the
hundreds and enemy combatants (Al-Qaeda and the
Taliban regime) numbered in the thousands or tens of thousands (Shaw, 2002,
347). Of course, the US military response to these
numbers is to claim that they show the success of military strategy, technical
skill of the personnel, and the advantages of US weapons and training. While there is little doubt that the US tries to avoid needless
civilian loss of life, the disturbing numbers of civilians killed in
“accidents” illustrates another fact of US-style modern war. In order to reduce the risk to US troops,
weapons are fired from even greater distances.
The advances in the electronic battlefield, combined with the use of
global positioning systems, has pushed US military technology far ahead of any
other country, including its European allies (Ek,
2001; Loeb, 2003). These distances lead
to more “accidents” since they allow the US to fight wars at little risk to
its troops. (How risky is it to drop laser-guided bombs from 29,000 feet
against an enemy with weak air defenses?) Shaw (2001, 349) concludes that such tactics
lead to “errors of targeting in which hundreds or thousands of civilians die in
each campaign. So the transfer to
civilians of the risks of being directly killed is deliberate and systematic.”
“Risk-transfer war” is politically palatable at home
in the US and helps to ensure that the “V” (Vietnam) word remains under the covers.
What is still unclear is whether it is moral?
In Shaw’s words (2002, 352) “When one side can minimize the risks to its own
soldiers to virtually zero, is it moral to practice industrial killing on a
hapless enemy? The image of Iraqi
conscripts bulldozed (literally) into the sand at the end of the Gulf War is
emblematic of this issue.” The political
philosopher, Michael Walzer (1977) goes further in
demanding greater attention to the codes implicit in the Geneva
we look for ...is some sign of a positive commitment to save civilian
lives. Civilians have a right to
something more. And if saving civilian
lives means risking soldier’ lives, that risk must be accepted” (p. 156).
(Wheeler 2001 makes a similar argument in respect of US military action in Afghanistan).
The logical end-product of the US “risk’-adverse” strategy is the
development and production of a new generation of “superweapons”
under a program codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the
Continental US). According to DARPA
(Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the program is to fulfill the
government’s vision of an ultimate and prompt global reach capability (up to
2025 and beyond). The weapons program
would remove the need to keep US troops overseas where they could always be
attacked. Weapons would allow the
dropping of bombs from space and the ultimate weapon, a reusable HCV
(hypersonic cruise vehicle) is capable of hitting targets 9,000 nautical miles
distant in less than two hours (Borger, 2003).
Prototypes of smaller weapons are expected to be tested by 2006.
Since the actions of the United States in Afghanistan as a response to the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, there has been much speculation
about the nature of the new ‘empire’.
From Marxist analyses (Hardt and Negri, 2001) to world-systems analysis (Wallerstein,
2003) to historical comparison (Ferguson, 2003b), the US is viewed as the main cog of
the world political and economic system.
Empire can be built by conquest and brute force, as the European states
showed between 1500 and 1900. But it can
also be built by “invitation” (Lundestad, 1986) where
weak regimes invite a major external power to assist them, to build up their strength
either against domestic opposition or regional enemies. A third way to build an empire is by
largesse, that is, by economic aid, favorable trade relations, military
hardware and training, and special financial
arrangements. The United States with
its enormous reserves, including the ability to punish by closing off its
market to exports from rival states, has not been reticent to use its power in
this manner in the aftermath of the
collapse of the Soviet Union. For the
first time ever, the US had the opportunity to build an
empire without the interference of another imperial project, either from the
European empires before 1945 and the Soviet Union after that time.
Figure 3: Yearly distribution of conflict
and cooperation from the United States.
Yearly totals are the aggregate values of all individual actions by the US government and its agencies.
In Figures 3 and 4, we can
see the results of the US efforts of the 1990s. The IDEA (Integrated Data for Events
Analysis) database has recently become available for academic research (Bond et al., 2001). Unlike many datasets used in the study of
international relations and foreign policy, the IDEA data are designed to be
comprehensive. Unlike other data, the IDEA are not
coded by humans from newspapers and other sources. Instead, machine-coded data
are generated using the VRA Knowledge Manager software (for the details on the
machine coding, see www.vranet.com). (The accuracy of the machine coding is
equivalent to that of expert human coders as King and Lowe 2002 showed in an
experiment). The Knowledge Manager
extracts the first sentence or lead from every story in the Reuters Business
Briefings as database records with fields for actor, target, and type of
event. These events can be converted
into a 157 point scale that is compatible with the widely-used international
relations conflict-cooperation scale of Goldstein (1992). Other fields give information about such
variables as geographic location of the event.
Over 6 million events were extracted for the period 1991-2000. I extracted all events involving the US government and its agencies as actor, over 70,000 events in all and
recoded each event using the Goldstein scale.
Aggregate values for cooperative and conflictual
events (conflict is coded as negative scores and cooperation as positive) are
shown separately on Figure 3 and mapped for 1991-2000 by country on Figure
4. As examples, a military attack is
scored as -10, a diplomatic warning as -3, a promise of material support is +3
and military aid is +8.3.
The US was consistently more
cooperative than conflictual with the rest of the
world during the 1990s (Figure 3). Each
year, the US directed between two and three
times more cooperative actions to all other countries combined than conflictual action.
The totals and the conflict-cooperative ratios are consistent from year
to year with more of each type in 1998.
The geographic distribution of the actions (cumulative from 1991-2000)
shows that most countries have a positive value (Figure 4). Only Belize, French Guiana, Haiti, Western Sahara, Togo, Gabon, Libya, Burundi, Swaziland, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Bhutan, Serbia and Iceland have net negative values. Many of these (Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, Vietnam, Somalia) countries were the objects of US diplomatic and military
attention during the decade and these results are not surprising. The other countries are small and the nature
of US relations with them is decidedly hinged on local issues, especially the access
of US companies to local resources (phosphate in the Western Sahara, oil in Gabon). Because the size (and geopolitical locations)
of these countries does not matter a great deal in the US worldview, the
interactions are few and any single negative action (e.g. a diplomatic protest)
can shift the overall score into the negative category.
Figure 4: Geographic distribution of the aggregate
conflict-cooperation from the United
States directed to each country, summed for
the period 1991-2000. The values are the
sum of cooperation minus the sum of conflict scores.
To isolate hostile states
geographically and to have allies in the region that can provide forward bases,
the US cultivates these ties through
leverage of its gigantic military and economic arsenal. The US assists the governments of
these countries economically (buying the loyalties of both actual and potential
opposition), and militarily (sending trainers and weapons, especially the
high-tech missiles and planes that help in suppressing rebels). The US can thus “shrink the gap” and
also pursue the geopolitical aims of having a dominant presence in critical
areas of the world. The strategy of
empire-building by largesse is well engaged.
In Barnett’s (2003) simplistic analysis, the role of the US is to promote globalization to
bring ever more countries into the US-controlled world economy because globalized countries are not hotbeds of violence and
anti-Americanism. But some regions
remain mired in the “gap” – the northern part of South America, almost all of Africa, southwest, central, south-east
and south Asia – regions where poverty and civil strife is endemic. (For a critique of Barnett’s thesis, see
Roberts, Secor and Sparke, 2003).
Large or proximate countries (Russia, China, Japan, Germany, UK, Brazil, India, France, Mexico, Indonesia and Canada) dominate the positive side of
the US actions. (The data are not standardized by population
or some other index of size.) All of
these important states have high net positive values. In the 1990s, the US was concerned with building
anti-Iraq (1991) and anti-Serbia (1999) coalitions, both in diplomatic arenas
like the United Nations and as military alliances. US foreign aid and trading
advantages were used as key weapons in this effort to sway the policies of
large states. Other key regional allies,
especially those close to conflict zones like Egypt, Peru, Turkey, Philippines, Pakistan, Argentina, South Africa and Ukraine also show strong positive
scores on this measure of international interaction. These regional efforts are in line with the
suggestions of Barnett (2003) about “shrinking the gap” using these states as
The new push to send troops abroad that has
been characteristic of the George W. Bush presidency is not a sudden
post-September 11, 2001 development. In
1991-92, advisors in the Pentagon to the President’s father, George H.W. Bush,
developed a Defense Planning Guidance document. It surfaced a decade later and
its key recommendations made their way into the National Security Strategy
of the United States published in September 2002. While the main emphasis in the document was
the determination to prevent any country from reaching a point of power
equality with the US and the American willingness to
use any means necessary (including the military) to prevent that from
happening, its regional analysis is also worthy of attention. The Middle East-Caspian Sea region is
identified as a key geopolitical zone.
Since World War II, the US devoted great efforts to build
a zone of containment in the “rimland” surrounding
and China. While massive numbers of troops were
stationed in Europe and North-East Asia, the Middle East fell between these regions as a
zone of great political change and US attempts to gain stable and strong allies
there were partially successful.
Beginning in the mid-1970s after the OPEC oil boycott and petrol
shortages, US troops began to enter the region in large numbers to make sure
that this key resource did not fall under the control of rivals. Klare (2003) believes that, because the Persian
Gulf/Caspian Sea area contains 70% of the world’s oil resources, the US is committed to regional
domination. Cohen (2003) in a classic
geopolitical analysis also predicts the continued US strategic interest in this
region. Both consider possible
competitors for the oil resources and expect future conflicts for them. One can extend the geopolitical analysis to rework
the hoary Halford J. Mackinder
(1919, 150) aphorism: “Whoever rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland:
Whoever rules the Heartland commands the World Island: Whoever rules the World
Island commands the world” to its contemporary US version “Whoever rules the
Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region commands the world’s oil; Whoever rules the
world’s oil commands the world-economy; Whoever rules the world-economy
commands the world”.
The two major themes of this chapter have examined the geographic
distribution of war considering the factors responsible for its concentrations and
have analyzed the recent hyper-power actions of the US trying to understand the
motivations and strategies behind them.
While there is strong evidence of the relationship between poverty and
violence, as the careful statistical examinations as well as apologists for US
actions such as Barnett (2003) both accept, the real question is how to break
this connection. The rich world is
getting stingier with its aid monies at a time when the demand for help to
fight AIDS, famines and other crises is growing. At the same time, the rich countries cosset
their own agricultural and industrial producers as they exclude Third World exports from their markets
through tariffs and quotas. The best
thing that the West could do to end poverty is to open their markets (Maskus,
2004). Instead, the US and other Western interests
have aimed to control the critical resources of the Third World and in the process, produced a
massive reaction from Islamists and others (Achcar,
2003; Flint, 2003).
The word “empire”
to summarize the current state of American foreign policy trips easily off a
lot of lips from supporters of the Bush administration to critics at home and
abroad. Most accept that the US is an empire and that its
strength is growing relative to its possible competitors. But Wallerstein (2003) argues that the reverse, that the US is losing power and that its
military actions are those of a weakening state. Ferguson (2003b) concurs that the
American imperial project places too much emphasis on military power and the
average American is not vested in its construction. Wallerstein dates the
US loss of hegemony from the 1968-73 period when the indirect power of the hegemon
(its economic and military strength, its cultural appeal) was replaced with a
“velvet glove hiding the mailed fist.”
Anti-US challenges were greeted with American military invasion and
installation of US puppet regimes (Grenada 1983,
Panama 1989) or Cruise missile strikes (Somalia and Afghanistan 1998). After a decade of rapid (but artificial)
economic growth in the 1990s, the US is now in a period where the hawks control
the Administration and the US economy has slowed to a point that is reminiscent
of the early 1980s. Economically-strong hegemons can use persuasion and emulation as tools for
empire building; economically-weak (and declining) hegemons
assert their faltering power through their military weaponry. The failure of the US in March 2003 to gain a
majority of the UN Security Council in favor of an attack on Iraq is, for Wallerstein,
a sign of how far the hegemon has fallen.
one believes that the US
is gaining or losing hegemonic power or simply maintaining its relative lead
depends a lot on one’s evidence. What is
indisputable is that the US
is willing to use all its weapons to bring about the posture that it
wants. There is little doubt that the
Bush Administration is one of the most unilateralist American
presidencies. From rejection of the
Kyoto Protocol, to side-stepping the UN Security Council on attacking Yugoslavia
and Iraq, to
undermining the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Administration has
embarked on a course to re-assert American power. Using its power nakedly is a hallmark of the
strategy. Withdrawing military aid to 35
poor countries that have refused to exempt US soldiers and civilians from
prosecution in the ICC is just one recent example (Becker, 2003). Though the number of wars is down slightly
from a decade ago, the constellation of US
unilateralism, resource greed, local tyrants and hegemonic competition does not
augur for a more peaceful world. The
Clash sang in “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.”
a quarter-century ago,
“Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it’s giving orders
An’ they can’t afford to miss a word” (Joe Strummer/Mick Jones 1977).
Little has changed.
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