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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
New reality of American power

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

US troops in Baghdad
US foreign policy no longer makes any pretence of being humble

There is a new reality in the world - American power.

It was used to achieve a swift victory in Iraq, as it had been in Afghanistan.

The question which arises, is whether it is now poised to make itself felt elsewhere in the world.

The policies have already been laid out.

They comprise the war on terror which President Bush declared soon after the 11 September attacks, and the effort to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction to so-called rogue states.

Doctrine of pre-emption

There is a doctrine which goes along with this: Pre-emptive action.

We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest
John R Bolton
US Under-secretary of State

It was a long time ago that US President George W Bush, during his election campaign, spoke of the need for American foreign policy to be "humble".

The language is different now.

Mr Bush declared at the White House on 15 April: "The United States of America, and our coalition, will defend ourselves.

"When we make a pledge, we mean it. We keep our word; and what we begin, we will finish."

Applying the doctrine

John R Bolton, the US Under-secretary of State for international security, and a man not afraid of spelling out American policy, said:

Statue of Saddam Hussein pulled down by US crane
With Saddam Hussein ousted, who will be next?

"We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest."

The application of the new reality will probably vary.

But in each case, America's opponents will have to take it into account.

Was it just diplomacy which has forced North Korea to the table?

Or was it the sight of American power being deployed in Iraq?

We shall probably never know, since North Korea is harder to read than the German Enigma codes.

But it is a change of tack by the North Koreans which is worth noting.

New targets?

Iran is another case study to watch.

Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
Wolfowitz: An insult to say Arab world cannot be democratic

It, too, is developing a nuclear industry, but Washington suspects that it is also developing a nuclear weapon.

Iran says that it is not.

For the moment, the US is letting the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, take the lead in questioning and inspecting Iran.

But it might not wait for long.

Syria is already on the defensive regarding accusations that it helped Iraq with military equipment and is hiding fugitives from Saddam Hussein's clique.

It may decide to rein back on the activities of radical Hezbollah guerrillas along Israel's border with South Lebanon.

If it does not, then it can expect further US pressure.

'Democracy domino'

There are broadly three views about this spread of US influence.

They reflect the curious phenomenon that the US is at the same time praised and attacked but also doubted.

The first view is that US power - whether exercised through military might or diplomatic and economic persuasion - is good for mankind as it helps to spread freedom and democracy.

Just as Germany and Japan changed, this argument goes, so too can other countries.

The "democracy domino" effect is much talked of in Washington.

Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary said recently that it was an "insult" to the Arab world to think that it was not suitable for democracy.

People had said the same things about the South Koreans, he said.

'Compliance not democracy'

In a recent interview, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa called for more action led by America against dictators.

Our paradigm now seems to be: Something terrible happened to us on 11 September and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with
Former US President Bill Clinton
"If a dictator could be popular in Germany, one of the world's most civilised countries, any nation could find itself under dictatorship," he said.

"Dictators are in power because of lack of international mobilisation."

The second view is that what the US wants is not democracy but compliance.

It has insisted on this in its own hemisphere for more than a century, runs this side of the argument, and is now intent on insisting on it in the rest of the world.

The US, it is argued, will act in the 21st Century as Great Britain did in the 19th Century, and that is in its own interests.

The guns of the Royal Navy have given way to the precision guided weapons of the US Air Force.

Hostile sentiment

US actions have already divided the Western allies and have called into question the future of the UN and Nato.

But sentiment hostile to American policy unites quite a range of political forces from left-wing to right-wing.

The former US President Bill Clinton reflected some of the unease, even among Americans.

"Our paradigm now seems to be: Something terrible happened to us on 11 September and that gives us the right to interpret all future events in a way that everyone else in the world must agree with," he said in a speech.

"And if they don't, they can go straight to hell."

US 'on probation'

Then there is the third point of view.

It was summed up by the British writer Timothy Garton Ash, champion of freedom for Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

"America is on probation," is how he put it.

"America can still prove, by what it does over the next few years in the Middle East, that it was right in what it did during this last month of war."

But the third point of view is still waiting to be convinced.

It is not ideologically for or against the use of American power but looks at the results.

What it does know is that there is this power, and that it is the new reality.




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