A superpower displays its fighting calibre MILITARY PROWESS:

Financial Times, Dec 8, 2001

The rapid collapse of the Taliban under withering American air power has
emphasised a trend with profound ramifications far beyond Afghanistan:
growing US military predominance.

On the evidence of the US military campaigns of the past 10 years, in Iraq,
the Balkans and Afghanistan, the gap between the military capabilities of
the US and the rest of the world is huge and is growing. This has important
and uncomfortable consequences for America's allies and its potential
adversaries - as well as likely effects on future foreign policy
decision-making in Washington.

Much of the gulf is caused by the sheer magnitude of American defence
spending. Paul Kennedy, the Yale historian, says that the US now accounts
for 36 per cent of all military spending around the world, and it spends
more than the next nine nations in line on defence. Other figures show that
the US together with military allies in Nato and in the Pacific account for
85 per cent of the world's military spending.

Such domination is unprecedented. "This is the largest share of military
expenditures around the globe in all of history," says Prof Kennedy,
surpassing that of Philip of Spain and the Roman Empire.

But the predominance is also qualitative. Some 95 per cent of the bombs
dropped by the US in Afghanistan were precision weapons, compared with about
6 per cent in Desert Storm a decade ago. Moreover, US officials say the
Afghanistan war represents a technological leap in precision weaponry even
compared with the Kosovo campaign two years ago.

Moreover, the quality of personnel is also high. Mr Kennedy, a visitor to
the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, where mid-level officers
from all the services go, says he has been very impressed by the
intellectual quality of what goes on there, a standard to which he says only
the British even come close. "These people are studying Thucydides,
Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Basil Liddell Hart, and asking, 'What does this
mean for us?'"

The discomfort for allies comes in their increasing inability to contribute
to the US war effort. The military contribution of allies in the campaigns
of Desert Storm, Kosovo and Afghanistan has declined progressively. That is
in part because Kosovo exposed the shortcomings from the US perspective of
having military targets vetoed in political capitals. But it was primarily
because most of the offers Washington received were not of much use to its
high-technology war effort, or could even have got in the way.

Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, took political risks to win
domestic approval to dispatch German forces that have not been needed. The
French government was also unhappy that its offer of forces were not

"You are talking about a Potemkin military alliance where the US does 98 per
cent of the fighting, the British 2 per cent and the Japanese are steaming
around Mauritius," Mr Kennedy says.

Other governments will have been watching closely too. Wayne Merry, a former
senior US diplomat in Moscow, says the US successes have further weakened
the Russian general staff, who predicted disaster in Afghanistan. It is
likely, he says, to give President Vladimir Putin further ammunition in his
efforts to shake up top military echelons.

China, astonished by American technical prowess in Kosovo, is also likely to
take note. Military specialists said China had been anyway undergoing a
military modernisation, partly helped by Russia, but believe Afghanistan may
serve to emphasise military caution in Beijing.

Both countries, fearing a possible future strategic confrontation with the
US, may decide that their only answer is their nuclear deterrent, such
specialists said.

Meanwhile, they argued that America's non-state adversaries - such as Osama
bin Laden and his successors - might find it increasingly difficult to find
a safe haven around the world. But after watching the Afghan cam paign, they
might be increasingly convinced that the only way to attack America is to
replicate Mr bin Laden's strategy. This so-called asymmetrical warfare may
thus continue to be the main threat to the US in the coming century.

But the Afghan campaign may have an effect also on US policymaking. Some
foreign policy observers believe US domination will encourage Washington to
use its military as an instrument of diplomacy by other means. Such an
outcome would disturb many around the world, not least the US military.

Already Afghan successes have encouraged some conservatives to urge the
administration to turn its military attention to Iraq, and replicate the
combination of air power and local ground forces to oust Saddam Hussein from
Baghdad. Mr Merry points out that the US-led victories of the last decade
have been against forces that had already been weakened by years of war. It
would be perilous to extrapolate from that and assume victories elsewhere
will come so cheaply. He cites Pericles, whose funeral oration was recorded
by Thucydides, still studied in American war colleges: "What I fear more
than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes."

Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 1995-1998

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