Page 1 of 3 Rising powers have the US in their sights
By Dilip Hiro
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States stood tall -
militarily invincible, economically unrivaled, diplomatically uncontestable.
and the dominating force on information channels worldwide. The next century
was to be the true "American century", with the rest of the world molding
itself in the image of the sole superpower.
Yet with not even a decade of this century behind us, we are already witnessing
the rise of a multipolar world in which new
powers are challenging different aspects of US supremacy - Russia and China in
the forefront, with regional powers Venezuela and Iran forming the second rank.
These emergent powers are primed to erode US hegemony, not confront it, singly
How and why has the world evolved in this way so soon? The George W Bush
administration's debacle in Iraq is certainly a major factor in this
transformation, a classic example of an imperialist power, brimming with
hubris, overextending itself. To the relief of many - in the US and elsewhere -
the Iraq fiasco has demonstrated the striking limitations of power for the
globe's highest-tech, most destructive military machine. In Iraq, Brent
Scowcroft, national security adviser to two US presidents, concedes in a recent
op-ed, the US is "being wrestled to a draw by opponents who are not even an
organized state adversary".
The invasion and subsequent disastrous occupation of Iraq and the mismanaged
military campaign in Afghanistan have crippled the credibility of the United
States. The scandals at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba,
along with the widely publicized murders of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, have
badly tarnished America's moral self-image. In the latest opinion poll in
Turkey, a secular state and member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,
only 9% of Turks have a "favorable view" of the US (down from 52% just five
Yet there are other explanations - unrelated to Washington's glaring
misadventures - for the current transformation in international affairs. These
include, above all, the tightening market in oil and natural gas, which has
enhanced the power of hydrocarbon-rich nations as never before; the rapid
economic expansion of the mega-nations China and India; the transformation of
China into the globe's leading manufacturing base; and the end of the
Anglo-American duopoly in international television news.
Many channels, diverse perceptions
During the 1991 Gulf War, only the Cable News Network and the British
Broadcasting Corp had correspondents in Baghdad. So the international TV
audience, irrespective of its location, saw the conflict through their lenses.
Twelve years later, when the Bush administration, backed by British prime
minister Tony Blair, invaded Iraq, Al-Jazeera Arabic broke this duopoly. It
relayed images - and facts - that contradicted the Pentagon's presentation. For
the first time in history, the world witnessed two versions of an ongoing war
in real time. So credible was the Al-Jazeera Arabic version that many
television companies outside the Arabic-speaking world - in Europe, Asia and
Latin America - showed its clips.
Though, in theory, the growth of cable television worldwide raised the prospect
of ending the Anglo-American duopoly in 24-hour television news, not much had
happened because of the exorbitant cost of gathering and editing TV news. It
was only the arrival of Al-Jazeera English, funded by the hydrocarbon-rich
emirate of Qatar - with its declared policy of offering a global perspective
from an Arab and Muslim angle - that, last year, finally broke the
Soon France 24 came on the air, broadcasting in English and French from a
French viewpoint, followed in mid-2007 by the English-language Press TV, which
aimed to provide an Iranian perspective. Russia was next in line for 24-hour TV
news in English for the global audience. Meanwhile, spurred by Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, Telesur, a pan-Latin American TV channel based in
Caracas, began competing with CNN in Spanish for a mass audience.
As with Qatar, so with Russia and Venezuela, the funding for these TV news
ventures has come from soaring national hydrocarbon incomes - a factor draining
US hegemony not just in imagery but in reality.
Russia, an energy superpower
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has more than recovered from the
economic chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After in
effect renationalizing the energy industry through state-controlled
corporations, he began deploying its economic clout to further Russia's
In 2005, Russia overtook the United States to become the second-largest oil
producer in the world. Its oil income now amounts to US$679 million a day.
European countries dependent on imported Russian oil now include Hungary,
Poland, Germany, and even Britain.
Russia is also the largest producer of natural gas on the planet, with
three-fifths of its gas exports going to the 27-member European Union.
Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland and Slovakia get 100% of their natural gas from
Russia; Turkey 66%; Poland 58%; Germany 41%; and France 25%. Gazprom, the
biggest natural-gas enterprise on Earth, has established stakes in 16 EU
In 2006, the Kremlin's foreign reserves stood at US$315 billion, up from a
paltry $12 billion in 1999. Little wonder that in July 2006, on the eve of the
Group of Eight summit in St Petersburg, Putin rejected an energy charter
proposed by the Western leaders.
Soaring foreign-exchange reserves, new ballistic missiles, and closer links
with a prospering China - with which it conducted joint military exercises on
China's Shandong Peninsula in August 2005 - enabled Putin to deal with his US
counterpart, President Bush, as an equal, not mincing his words when appraising
"One country, the United States, has overstepped its national boundaries in
every way," Putin told the 43rd Munich Trans-Atlantic Conference on Security
Policy in February. "This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and
educational policies it imposes on other nations ... This is very dangerous."
Condemning the concept of a "unipolar world", he added: "However one might
embellish this term, at the end of the day it describes a scenario in which
there is one center of authority, one