Iraq and Its Implications: Sir Marrack Goulding Considers the Situation in Iraq in the Context of the Emergence of the United States as the Only Superpower

By Goulding, Marrack | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2004 | Go to article overview

Iraq and Its Implications: Sir Marrack Goulding Considers the Situation in Iraq in the Context of the Emergence of the United States as the Only Superpower


Goulding, Marrack, New Zealand International Review


The United States' venture in Iraq has so far achieved only one of the variable objectives which, at various times, President Bush has stated to be the purpose of his invasion of that country. The outcome of that action was and is still very uncertain and all implications are hypothetical.

What conclusions can we draw from Bush's adventure in Iraq about how the United States is going to use its power? Can we, the democracies in Europe and other continents, the traditional friends and allies of the United States, persuade Washington that it is in the United States' own interest to adopt a more multilateral approach to the achievement of its policy objectives?

This article will accordingly concentrate on three main issues:

* The power and capacities of the United States as the 'Lone Superpower' during the next few decades.

* The impact of 11 September 2001 on the United States' perception of its role in the world.

* The means by which we, the other democracies, can persuade the United States to give us a leadership that we can accept.

What will be the power and capacities of the Lone Super-power during the next few decades? The United States has overwhelming military power and a unique capacity to deliver lethal force at short notice anywhere in the world. Its expenditure on defence in calendar year 2002 was $335.7 billion (SIPRI Yearbook 2003). This exceeded the combined defence expenditure of the 18 next highest spenders on defence, which were Japan, the United Kingdom, France, China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Iran, South Korea, India, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, Canada, Taiwan, Spain and Australia. That was the defence expenditure league in 2002. US defence expenditure will have increased significantly in 2003 as a result of the war against Iraq. I have heard forecasts that by the end of this decade it will exceed the combined defence expenditures of all other countries in the world.

China is spoken of as a potential super-power but it is most unlikely to catch up with the United States militarily. It is developing at a breakneck speed of 9 or 10 per cent per annum. Even if it can maintain this rate of growth, will it want to spend trillions of dollars to achieve military parity with the United States? Surely not. It will, I imagine, seek to build the capacity to deter a direct American attack on it and it will promote and defend its interests in Asia and the Pacific. But I cannot see reasons for it to devote an enormous volume of resources to rival America's capacity to undertake military operations anywhere in the world.

Close relationship

In any case, the United States and China already have a close and mutually dependent relationship in the financial domain. There are some signs that the same may be happening in the geo-political domain. Remember how bad their relations were "after the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and the Hainan aircraft incident. Compare that with what seems to have been a mutual effort in recent months to control situations in North Korea and Taiwan that could lead to hostility between them. But perhaps the Lone Super-power's readiness to co-operate is just a transient phenomenon, reflecting the fact that the Bush administration has over-reached itself in the Middle East and wants to avoid turbulence in the Western Pacific while it tries to sort out the mess in Iraq and pursues its military campaign in Afghanistan.

As for Europe, the member states of the European Union talk a lot about the desirability of a common foreign and security policy and have taken various measures to increase their collective capacity to undertake peacekeeping and even peace enforcement operations not only in Europe but also in other continents. But their ability to turn these ambitions into reality is limited by their electorates' unwillingness to increase their defence budgets. This reinforces doubts in Washington about how far the United States can rely on the help of the European powers if military force has to be used and it strengthens the hand of those in the administration who advocate unilateralist policies based on the United States' unique military power. …

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