Future: Tense: The Coming World Order

Overview

The foundations of World War III are being laid today.

American defeat in Iraq is only a matter of time, but how long it takes matters a lot. The fate of Iraq is a sideshow, the terrorist threat is a red herring, and the radical Islamists' dream of a worldwide jihad against the West is a fantasy, but the attempt to revive Pax Americana is real. No matter what the outcome of the election in November, 2004, the enterprise is likely to continue. ...

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Overview

The foundations of World War III are being laid today.

American defeat in Iraq is only a matter of time, but how long it takes matters a lot. The fate of Iraq is a sideshow, the terrorist threat is a red herring, and the radical Islamists' dream of a worldwide jihad against the West is a fantasy, but the attempt to revive Pax Americana is real. No matter what the outcome of the election in November, 2004, the enterprise is likely to continue. It is bound to fail eventually, but we need it to fail soon.

American military power is not limitless, and the other big powers will not stand for US military domination of the world. They don't buy the cover story about the 'terrorist threat,' but they don't want a fight either. They are all on hold for the moment, hoping that America will remember its commitment to the United Nations, the rule of law and multilateralism. If it does not, then the drift back into alliances, balance-of-power politics and military confrontations will begin. Ten years from now, an American-led alliance that includes India and occupies much of the Middle East could be facing a European alliance led by France, Germany and Russia AND a hostile, heavily armed China.

In Future Tense, Gwynne Dyer's brilliant follow up to last year's bestselling Ignorant Armies, he analyzes how the world made its way to the brink of disaster, and describes how we may all slide over the edge. It was fringe groups of extremists - Islamist fanatics and American neo-conservatives - who set the process in motion, but it has gone well beyond that now. It is not too late, but the clock is running.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771029783
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 11/28/2004
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Gwynne Dyer
Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than twenty years. His twice-weekly column on international affairs is published by 175 papers in some forty-five countries and is translated into more than a dozen languages.
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Read an Excerpt

It was never about Iraq. It is not really about terrorism any more either, though the terrorists are still there. Suddenly, to the vast surprise of practically everybody, it is about the whole way we run the world.

There is a classic scene, lovingly replicated in a hundred cartoons, in which Our Hero removes just one brick from a wall – and one after another, in an endless, slo-mo domino sequence, every structure in sight collapses into rubble. Osama bin Laden is a bit like that hero. With one spectacular act of terrorism, he has undermined the United Nations (UN), the international rule of law, the whole multilateral system of collaboration and compromise that keeps the world safe – half a century of slow and painful progress all suddenly at risk. It’s likely, of course, that bin Laden doesn’t even understand how much his actions have destabilized the entire international system, for his frame of reference is radically different – but if he did, he wouldn’t mind a bit.

He had help: the Bush administration was his “objective ally,” as the Marxists used to put it. Its world-changing ambitions might never have got off the ground without the opportunity that bin Laden handed it on September 11, 2001, but three years later, American troops have plunged deep into the Middle East and Central Asia, the UN is struggling to survive, and most of America’s traditional allies and friends are in shock.

There is now a symbiotic relationship between the Islamist terrorists and the coalition of interests in Washington that has clambered aboard the “war on terror.” Neither side wishes the other to triumph, but both thrive on the confrontation – and they have grown far beyond the original small groups of determined people who dragged the rest of us into this mess. In fact, neither the death of Osama bin Laden nor the fall of the neo-conservatives would necessarily bring a return to normality. The rhetoric of jihads and crusades has grown more familiar, and the number of people whose emotions or career interests have committed them to an apocalyptic confrontation has grown greatly.

It is the far side of bizarre, for both the Islamist and the American projects as originally conceived are doomed to fail. The notion that Islamist revolutionaries will sweep to power all across the Muslim world, Talibanize it, and then wage a victorious jihad against the West is as implausible as the idea that the United States can permanently assume the role of global policeman (or, rather, global vigilante), that other countries will acquiesce in this unilateral declaration of hegemony, and that U.S. voters will be willing to pay the cost in American lives and money over the long term. It’s not going to happen: the danger is not that extremists from the margins will dominate the global future, but that they will do enormous damage to our future before they go under.

What is really at risk here is the global project to abolish war and replace the rule of force in the world with the rule of law, the project whose centrepiece is the United Nations. It was mainly an American initiative at the start, almost sixty years ago, and today it still commands the support of almost every government on the planet (although the Bush administration has been an exception). It is a hundred-year project at the least, for it is trying to change international habits that had at least five thousand years to take root. The slowness of change causes immense frustration, especially given the urgency of change in an era of nuclear weapons, and yet the project continues to enjoy majority popular support in almost every country, including the United States. But it is now under serious threat.

The core rule of the UN is that war, except in immediate self-defence or in obedience to Security Council resolutions, is illegal. The new American strategic policy, post-9/11, asserts that the United States has the right to use military force wherever and whenever it judges necessary. Of course, the United States has used military force against foreigners without Security Council approval before, but this time is different.

The UN is a hundred-year project because it will take at least that long for the great powers to stop yielding to the temptation, from time to time, to impose their will on weaker countries by force. The great powers do understand that a world under the rule of law, where the resort to force has become almost unthinkable by long habit, is also in their own long-term self-interest, because they, too, are vulnerable to destruction if war gets out of hand – but every so often they simply cannot resist “solving” a problem by using their own superior force.

The UN system recognized from the start that the great powers were the problem: they were given vetoes precisely so that the Security Council would never find itself in the hopelessly compromised position of trying to enforce the law against them. All hope of progress therefore lies with the gradual habituation of the great powers to obeying the new international law that forbids a unilateral resort to force – and since that is ultimately in their interest too, they have generally at least tried to cloak their actions in legal justifications acceptable to the UN. But current American strategic doctrine requires the destruction of the international law embedded in the United Nations Charter.

To believe that this huge shift of doctrine is really driven solely by the “terrorist threat” is about as sensible as believing in fairies. According to the U.S. government’s own figures, only 625 people, the vast majority of them non-American, were killed by “international terrorism” in 2003, down from 726 people worldwide in 2002: about two people a day, far fewer than die from dog bites. It truly is not about terrorism.

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First Chapter

It was never about Iraq. It is not really about terrorism any more either, though the terrorists are still there. Suddenly, to the vast surprise of practically everybody, it is about the whole way we run the world.

There is a classic scene, lovingly replicated in a hundred cartoons, in which Our Hero removes just one brick from a wall – and one after another, in an endless, slo-mo domino sequence, every structure in sight collapses into rubble. Osama bin Laden is a bit like that hero. With one spectacular act of terrorism, he has undermined the United Nations (UN), the international rule of law, the whole multilateral system of collaboration and compromise that keeps the world safe – half a century of slow and painful progress all suddenly at risk. It's likely, of course, that bin Laden doesn't even understand how much his actions have destabilized the entire international system, for his frame of reference is radically different – but if he did, he wouldn't mind a bit.

He had help: the Bush administration was his "objective ally," as the Marxists used to put it. Its world-changing ambitions might never have got off the ground without the opportunity that bin Laden handed it on September 11, 2001, but three years later, American troops have plunged deep into the Middle East and Central Asia, the UN is struggling to survive, and most of America's traditional allies and friends are in shock.

There is now a symbiotic relationship between the Islamist terrorists and the coalition of interests in Washington that has clambered aboard the "war on terror." Neither side wishes the other to triumph, but both thrive on the confrontation – and theyhave grown far beyond the original small groups of determined people who dragged the rest of us into this mess. In fact, neither the death of Osama bin Laden nor the fall of the neo-conservatives would necessarily bring a return to normality. The rhetoric of jihads and crusades has grown more familiar, and the number of people whose emotions or career interests have committed them to an apocalyptic confrontation has grown greatly.

It is the far side of bizarre, for both the Islamist and the American projects as originally conceived are doomed to fail. The notion that Islamist revolutionaries will sweep to power all across the Muslim world, Talibanize it, and then wage a victorious jihad against the West is as implausible as the idea that the United States can permanently assume the role of global policeman (or, rather, global vigilante), that other countries will acquiesce in this unilateral declaration of hegemony, and that U.S. voters will be willing to pay the cost in American lives and money over the long term. It's not going to happen: the danger is not that extremists from the margins will dominate the global future, but that they will do enormous damage to our future before they go under.

What is really at risk here is the global project to abolish war and replace the rule of force in the world with the rule of law, the project whose centrepiece is the United Nations. It was mainly an American initiative at the start, almost sixty years ago, and today it still commands the support of almost every government on the planet (although the Bush administration has been an exception). It is a hundred-year project at the least, for it is trying to change international habits that had at least five thousand years to take root. The slowness of change causes immense frustration, especially given the urgency of change in an era of nuclear weapons, and yet the project continues to enjoy majority popular support in almost every country, including the United States. But it is now under serious threat.

The core rule of the UN is that war, except in immediate self-defence or in obedience to Security Council resolutions, is illegal. The new American strategic policy, post-9/11, asserts that the United States has the right to use military force wherever and whenever it judges necessary. Of course, the United States has used military force against foreigners without Security Council approval before, but this time is different.

The UN is a hundred-year project because it will take at least that long for the great powers to stop yielding to the temptation, from time to time, to impose their will on weaker countries by force. The great powers do understand that a world under the rule of law, where the resort to force has become almost unthinkable by long habit, is also in their own long-term self-interest, because they, too, are vulnerable to destruction if war gets out of hand – but every so often they simply cannot resist "solving" a problem by using their own superior force.

The UN system recognized from the start that the great powers were the problem: they were given vetoes precisely so that the Security Council would never find itself in the hopelessly compromised position of trying to enforce the law against them. All hope of progress therefore lies with the gradual habituation of the great powers to obeying the new international law that forbids a unilateral resort to force – and since that is ultimately in their interest too, they have generally at least tried to cloak their actions in legal justifications acceptable to the UN. But current American strategic doctrine requires the destruction of the international law embedded in the United Nations Charter.

To believe that this huge shift of doctrine is really driven solely by the "terrorist threat" is about as sensible as believing in fairies. According to the U.S. government's own figures, only 625 people, the vast majority of them non-American, were killed by "international terrorism" in 2003, down from 726 people worldwide in 2002: about two people a day, far fewer than die from dog bites. It truly is not about terrorism.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2008

    A reviewer

    Gwynne Dyer used to be a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. In this fascinating book, he warns that the biggest threat to world peace is the US state¿s current project of worldwide intervention. He argues that this project is about asserting that the USA rules, without reference to international law, relying on force in international affairs. This ruthless strategy promises security, but produces only endless wars. The Iraq war was a demonstration of the project it was not about Iraq or terrorism. In the project, religion plays its usual reactionary role ¿ US tele-evangelist Jim Robison opened a Republican National Convention by saying, ¿There will be no peace until Jesus comes. Any preaching of peace prior to this return is heresy. It is against the word of God. It is anti-Christ.¿ This is a mirror-image of bin Laden¿s rhetoric. Dyer writes that the Iraq war is lost. He points out, ¿In anti-colonial guerrilla wars, the locals always win.¿ The Indonesians beat the Dutch, the Vietnamese and Algerians beat the French, the Kenyans and Cypriots beat the British, the Angolans and Mozambicans beat the Portuguese, and the Iraqis will beat the Americans. He notes that mad Wolfowitz said, with no sense of irony, ¿I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq.¿ 'In his world, foreigners are always non-Americans.' Dyer also explores the parallel Islamist project. Bin Laden aimed to provoke Bush into invading Muslim nations, and Bush played right into his hands. But Al Qaeda is not a threat like Nazi Germany. As Dyer writes, its threat `has been deliberately and grotesquely exaggerated¿ because it is needed as cover for the US project. But both projects are going badly wrong, and both are doomed to fail. Yet the British ruling class has swayed the EU into backing the US project, threatening our liberty and security.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2005

    Why Bush must lose in Iraq

    Gwynne Dyer lays out a compelling case for the need for the US to quickly lose the Iraq War and withdraw their troops. If this does not happen, countries around the world will feel free to invade others to grab resources or settle old grudges (Saddam tried to kill my Daddy). This will lead to chaos much worse than anything since WWII. The author shows the logical consequences of the reckless Bush invasion. Bush is the worst president in the history of the USA and his disastrous foreign policy is tearing down the entire world. He is a dangerous, evil man who must be stopped. Our next chance is to take back the congress in 2006.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2004

    Fear works, but not as intended.

    I give this a top rating for getting beyond what is now obvious. Dyer argues persuasively that the real dangers to come will emerge out of fears which the United States government seems to have meant to engender. In his view the Iraq war was meant as an object lesson: Iraq was defiant but comparatively innocent, and Iraq had not recently offended US power. An invasion and conquest showed a ruthless intent to punish, and a long memory; that it was done in defiance of international law, and stood to wreck the multilateral approaches of the past 60 years, was viewed by neo-cons as a bonus. Dyer quotes Richard Perle at length to make this point. The real problem, and one which brings true danger, is that the US has the power to wreck the international system, but that in doing so, and in striking fear everywhere, will have forced the re-emergence of great power blocs. In the absence of a multi-lateral system or any respect for international law, these systems, however informal, will be the true world order. They will be fearful, opportunistic, and, in the face of a US determination to hold its current position indefinitely, increasingly well armed.

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