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Author Topic: The origins of the Great War of 2007  (Read 3079 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: January 26, 2006, 09:16:44 PM »

The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been prevented
By Niall Ferguson
(Filed: 15/01/2006)

Are we living through the origins of the next world war? Certainly, it is easy to imagine how a future historian might deal with the next phase of events in the Middle East:

With every passing year after the turn of the century, the instability of the Gulf region grew. By the beginning of 2006, nearly all the combustible ingredients for a conflict - far bigger in its scale and scope than the wars of 1991 or 2003 - were in place.

The first underlying cause of the war was the increase in the region's relative importance as a source of petroleum. On the one hand, the rest of the world's oil reserves were being rapidly exhausted. On the other, the breakneck growth of the Asian economies had caused a huge surge in global demand for energy. It is hard to believe today, but for most of the 1990s the price of oil had averaged less than $20 a barrel.

A second precondition of war was demographic. While European fertility had fallen below the natural replacement rate in the 1970s, the decline in the Islamic world had been much slower. By the late 1990s the fertility rate in the eight Muslim countries to the south and east of the European Union was two and half times higher than the European figure.

This tendency was especially pronounced in Iran, where the social conservatism of the 1979 Revolution - which had lowered the age of marriage and prohibited contraception - combined with the high mortality of the Iran-Iraq War and the subsequent baby boom to produce, by the first decade of the new century, a quite extraordinary surplus of young men. More than two fifths of the population of Iran in 1995 had been aged 14 or younger. This was the generation that was ready to fight in 2007.

This not only gave Islamic societies a youthful energy that contrasted markedly with the slothful senescence of Europe. It also signified a profound shift in the balance of world population. In 1950, there had three times as many people in Britain as in Iran. By 1995, the population of Iran had overtaken that of Britain and was forecast to be 50 per cent higher by 2050.

Yet people in the West struggled to grasp the implications of this shift. Subliminally, they still thought of the Middle East as a region they could lord it over, as they had in the mid-20th century.

The third and perhaps most important precondition for war was cultural. Since 1979, not just Iran but the greater part of the Muslim world had been swept by a wave of religious fervour, the very opposite of the process of secularisation that was emptying Europe's churches.

Although few countries followed Iran down the road to full-blown theocracy, there was a transformation in politics everywhere. From Morocco to Pakistan, the feudal dynasties or military strongmen who had dominated Islamic politics since the 1950s came under intense pressure from religious radicals.

The ideological cocktail that produced 'Islamism' was as potent as either of the extreme ideologies the West had produced in the previous century, communism and fascism. Islamism was anti-Western, anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic. A seminal moment was the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's intemperate attack on Israel in December 2005, when he called the Holocaust a 'myth'. The state of Israel was a 'disgraceful blot', he had previously declared, to be wiped 'off the map'.

Prior to 2007, the Islamists had seen no alternative but to wage war against their enemies by means of terrorism. From the Gaza to Manhattan, the hero of 2001 was the suicide bomber. Yet Ahmadinejad, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, craved a more serious weapon than strapped-on explosives. His decision to accelerate Iran's nuclear weapons programme was intended to give Iran the kind of power North Korea already wielded in East Asia: the power to defy the United States; the power to obliterate America's closest regional ally.

Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. The Israelis had shown themselves capable of pre-emptive air strikes against Iraq's nuclear facilities in 1981. Similar strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006. The United States, they argued, was perfectly placed to carry out such strikes. It had the bases in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan. It had the intelligence proving Iran's contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had been discredited by the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had supposedly possessed and by the failure of the US-led coalition to quell a bloody insurgency.

Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that Iran was about to build its own WMD. Even if Ahmad-inejad had broadcast a nuclear test live on CNN, liberals would have said it was a CIA con-trick.

So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China's veto, however, the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions, like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals.

Only one man might have stiffened President Bush's resolve in the crisis: not Tony Blair, he had wrecked his domestic credibility over Iraq and was in any case on the point of retirement - Ariel Sharon. Yet he had been struck down by a stroke as the Iranian crisis came to a head. With Israel leaderless, Ahmadinejad had a free hand.

As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.

This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at Teheran.

The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war - and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice's hope - indeed, her prayer - as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be.

The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. Certainly, that was one way of interpreting the subsequent spread of the conflict as Iraq's Shi'ite population overran the remaining American bases in their country and the Chinese threatened to intervene on the side of Teheran.

Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened.

• Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University www.niallferguson.org

© Niall Ferguson, 2006 ''

 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/01/15/do1502.xml
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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2006, 07:16:48 PM »

Nice Neocon glurge, there.

I should also point out that the US is the only country that has definitively proven itself untrustworthy in the realm of nuclear weapons -- it's the only country that's yet been wicked enough to use them offensively, and against civilians, no less.
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« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2006, 09:12:11 PM »

Nice Neocon glurge, there.

I should also point out that the US is the only country that has definitively proven itself untrustworthy in the realm of nuclear weapons -- it's the only country that's yet been wicked enough to use them offensively, and against civilians, no less.

While another debate on the use of Atomic Bombs against the Japanese Empire, and the unforgivable sin that it would have been to have not used them, would probably be pointless, so rather than go into that debate again I'll just say:

If any countries like Iran get any ideas about developing and using their own, I hope and believe that we still have the determination to use our entire Nuclear Arsenal in the same manner, though with a wider scope than we did in WWII...and without hesitation. Essentially undermining the hypothetical story above...if Iran uses nuclear weapons, we will wipe them from the face of the earth, this is not a political statement or a foreign policy opinion, it's simply how things are -- there will be no war...and I'm not even a neo-conservative.
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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2006, 09:23:48 PM »

Quote
I hope and believe that we still have the determination to use our entire Nuclear Arsenal in the same manner, though with a wider scope than we did in WWII...and without hesitation.

If Iran used nuclear weapons, and we used nuclear weapons against them for it, would Russia be justified in using nuclear weapons against us for using them against Iran? Nuclear weapons are so devastating, and so indiscriminate, that I argue that there is no use of them that can be justified. (The same goes, I might add, for many conventional weapons and wartime tactics. The firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden were crimes equal to, if not greater than, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2006, 09:39:09 PM »

If Iran used nuclear weapons, and we used nuclear weapons against them for it, would Russia be justified in using nuclear weapons against us for using them against Iran? Nuclear weapons are so devastating, and so indiscriminate, that I argue that there is no use of them that can be justified. (The same goes, I might add, for many conventional weapons and wartime tactics. The firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden were crimes equal to, if not greater than, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

As a major nuclear power Russia could retaliate against the United States and bring about Armageddon if she really thinks that Iran is worth getting herself destroyed, because we would, without a doubt, retaliate if Russia decided to launch nuclear weapons our way...and they know that as well as we do. Thus, I seriously doubt Russia would be foolish to do anything over something as insignificant as Iran and perhaps a minor amount of fall out, there would be little more than diplomatic protest offered...they can't really even afford to break off trade relations at this point, not without causing massive damage to their already struggling economy.

Though I have a great deal of respect for the Rules and Methods of Napoleonic warfare, they are not practical in modern war and no one pretends they are; I'm sure if the other side was willing to play that game, meet us in pitched battles away from civilian targets, and allow the war to be decided by those battles without resorting to guerilla warfare, etc. we too could play by those rules and be quite successful doing so. But if they're not willing to fight by those traditional rules of war our hands cannot be tied by them either and we must understand that there are no Civilians in modern war. Every citizen of the enemy's country is either a potential/current soldier/guerilla or an enemy logistics unit that is helping supply the army or maintain the national economy...it's all too integrated to make the division between civilian and military...factories and farms are just as much military targets as military bases and airfields. There was no crime committed in Dresden or Tokyo, just as there was none committed in Hiroshima or Nagasaki...the only crime would have been to not use the weapons at our disposal and to have sacrificed GI's invading Japan when we could have bombed them into submission.
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« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2006, 12:11:45 AM »

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As a major nuclear power Russia could retaliate against the United States and bring about Armageddon if she really thinks that Iran is worth getting herself destroyed, because we would, without a doubt, retaliate if Russia decided to launch nuclear weapons our way...and they know that as well as we do.

The question is not whether Russia would actually bomb us, but whether she would be justified in doing so, on the same grounds that you argue we would be justified in bombing Iran.

Quote
But if they're not willing to fight by those traditional rules of war our hands cannot be tied by them either and we must understand that there are no Civilians in modern war. Every citizen of the enemy's country is either a potential/current soldier/guerilla or an enemy logistics unit that is helping supply the army or maintain the national economy...it's all too integrated to make the division between civilian and military...factories and farms are just as much military targets as military bases and airfields.

Congratulations. You have adequately summed up all that is evil about modern warfare.

It is better to be right, than to be victorious.
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« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2006, 12:25:47 AM »

The question is not whether Russia would actually bomb us, but whether she would be justified in doing so, on the same grounds that you argue we would be justified in bombing Iran.

Sure, why not, they may be justified in bombing us if they believed it was the right thing to do, but likewise we would be justified in retaliating...I don't think either action would be morally wrong per se, the real question is whether the benifits is worth the cost. In the event of us retaliating against Iran, I would say that yes, it is...in reference to us retaliating against Russia, or Russia against us, for the sake of some lesser country I would say no.

Quote
Congratulations. You have adequately summed up all that is evil about modern warfare.

It is better to be right, than to be victorious.

Unfortunate perhaps, at least from a nostalgic perspective, but not evil, it has become the, by default, mutually agreed upon method of war, thus making actions that were dishonourable in the Napoleonic context perfectly honourable in the modern context...it's how things are, neither inherently right nor wrong.
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« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2006, 12:31:57 AM »

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it's how things are, neither inherently right nor wrong.

So there are to be no standards of morality in war?
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« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2006, 12:45:15 AM »

So there are to be no standards of morality in war?

There are standards of morality, but they have to do with issues of honour and the keeping of one's word, not with killing. There is no immoral killing in war, there may be a breach of agreement, a unilateral violation of a treaty that was instituted to reduce the horrors of war or for other reasons, or an otherwise agreed upon set of rules of war. For example, the German bombing of London was wrong because pre-war treaty had prohibited the using of aerial bombardment against civilian targets...but once the Germans had done it, there can be no dishonour in the reciprocating of this action by the allies, for by their unilateral violation of the Rules of War, the Germans had demonstrated that they no longer desired for these rules to apply. The use of nuclear weapons was not wrong because the use of aerial bombardment had already been established as acceptible, first by the axis powers, and there were no pre-war agreements that prohibited or limited the use of nuclear weapons (Now, on account of treaty, the ethics of using of Chemical Weapons would have been up for debate, but since the Japanese used them against the Chinese, there is a good argument for their justified use by the allies). Thus, the use of Nuclear weapons in retaliation of Iran using them against an ally (which we have legally binding a mutual nuclear protection treaty with), would likewise fall within the realm of acceptable and honourable conduct in war...thus not immoral.
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« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2006, 12:53:21 AM »

Welp, I'm done here. Have fun killing civilians.
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« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2006, 02:14:23 AM »

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Welp, I'm done here. Have fun killing civilians.

Yeah it is terrifying.  This coming from someone studying at Holy Cross, too.  I wonder if the walls are padded there. 
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« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2006, 02:28:18 AM »

Yeah it is terrifying.ÂÂ  This coming from someone studying at Holy Cross, too.ÂÂ  I wonder if the walls are padded there.ÂÂ  

I tried to pad them once, but it got in the way of my tinfoil.
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« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2006, 03:08:59 AM »

This coming from someone studying at Holy Cross, too.  I wonder if the walls are padded there. 

I can't even begin to comment on how angry I get whenever I see a phrase like this uttered.  Let me leave it at that.
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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2006, 10:41:26 AM »

Note:

Killing civillians is OK.

Making a joke about HCHC isn't. 

We must of course have our priorities. 
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« Reply #14 on: January 28, 2006, 11:29:39 AM »

Hey man, he's making a point about modern warfare that he admittedly does not base on the position of the Church, so you'll have to use  modern secular sources to combat it.  I don't happen to like the stance, but I can see the precedent for it in the secular military world.  So while I can be sickened by the prospect of killing civilians, I have no non-Church proof that it is not considered now an acceptable part of modern warfare.

Meanwhile, your attack on the school was unjustified and a bit juvenile.  Since he did not appeal to the Church itself or to his theological training, there is no reason to defame an institution that you have neither studied at, or (probably) even been to.  I would suggest you limit your comments to fact and factual arguments instead of making snide remarks to the extent of "and this is coming from someone studying at Holy Cross, which means he's a wacko and the school isn't worth it's salt" (you get my drift).

Anyway, when people start making attacks on the person, and not on the arguments, it fuels GiC.  I wish people would get that.  It's a sign that one has no logical basis in which to overturn his arguments, and one has not the tact to admit that they don't.
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« Reply #15 on: January 28, 2006, 04:05:08 PM »

The Holy Cross seminarians might be interested to know that forum member Serge (young fogey) is suggesting various things about them on a third party site he runs: http://sergesblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/neocon-glurge-from-niall-ferguson.html

Just thought it was fair to point that out in case any of those commented on wish to respond there.

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« Reply #16 on: January 28, 2006, 05:28:21 PM »

Yeah it is terrifying.  This coming from someone studying at Holy Cross, too.  I wonder if the walls are padded there. 

OK, the "walls padded" thing was over the top, but I took the first part as saying, "how could someone studying in an Orthodox seminary come up with something so horrible?" as in, "I would think a place like Holy Cross would make it clear that something like that was unacceptable."  I dunno.  Then again, you guys do take not a few cheap shots from folks in Orthodoxy, so I get the reaction...
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« Reply #17 on: January 28, 2006, 06:52:11 PM »

The Holy Cross seminarians might be interested to know that forum member Serge (young fogey) is suggesting various things about them on a third party site he runs: http://sergesblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/neocon-glurge-from-niall-ferguson.html

Just thought it was fair to point that out in case any of those commented on wish to respond there.

Anastasios

Point taken and blog entry modified accordingly for fairness' sake. Peace.
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« Reply #18 on: January 28, 2006, 07:04:27 PM »

Point taken and blog entry modified accordingly for fairness' sake. Peace.

I presume  your blog is refering to me, but it should be noted that I am not a Greek American, and I do find the posistion that all nuclear weapons should be condemned to be absurd. On the essential level there is no difference between a Nuclear Bomb and a Conventional Bomb, the only difference is in capabilities. Even if one disagrees with the use of nuclear weapons against cities on account of collateral damage; what rational reason is there to oppose their use against a military base or against an army in the field which are surely legitimate targets in time of war. What about a Nuclear Weapon makes it so essentially different than Conventional Weapons? The only notable difference I've noticed is the size, and the radiation is more or less of a factor depending on the type of nuclear weapon in question.
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« Reply #19 on: January 28, 2006, 10:24:27 PM »

Even if one disagrees with the use of nuclear weapons against cities on account of collateral damage; what rational reason is there to oppose their use against a military base or against an army in the field which are surely legitimate targets in time of war.
1) The extremely long half life of radioactive contamination makes nuclear weapons lethal not only in the present, but for future generations who have nothing to do with the war- unlike conventional weapons other than landmines and unexploded shells.
2) Land becomes unusable with nuclear weapons, unlike conventional weapons other than landmines and unexploded shells.
3) No nuclear weapon can be deployed to affect only an area as small as an army base, or an army in the field, unlike conventional weapons, therefore "colateral damage" is unavoidable with nuclear weapons.
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« Reply #20 on: January 29, 2006, 12:22:06 AM »

Point taken and blog entry modified accordingly for fairness' sake. Peace.

I would like to thank you for doing this, Serge. Peace to you as well.

Anastasios
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« Reply #21 on: January 29, 2006, 12:57:40 AM »

1) The extremely long half life of radioactive contamination makes nuclear weapons lethal not only in the present, but for future generations who have nothing to do with the war- unlike conventional weapons other than landmines and unexploded shells.
2) Land becomes unusable with nuclear weapons, unlike conventional weapons other than landmines and unexploded shells.

Not true, Neturon Bombs, or even Fission bombs, have effects that will only last a matter of weeks or months at most, it is only the high yield fusion bombs that have the lasting effects you refer to. And unlike shells that could remain unexploded after a battle, or landmines, or other dangers that result from battle (as you hinted) you can be certain of exactly when this area is safe to re-enter and fully reincorporate into civilian use.

Quote
3) No nuclear weapon can be deployed to affect only an area as small as an army base, or an army in the field, unlike conventional weapons, therefore "colateral damage" is unavoidable with nuclear weapons.

Again, not ture, a typical neutron bomb will have an effective radius of around 1500m, it is certainly reasonable to believe that there are scenarios in which such a weapon could be used against military bases or personel, as many bases are larger than this. Furthermore, in sparsely populated areas such as Siberia or certain deserts it is concievable that even a fusion bomb could be used that would only neutralize military units. In fact we considered using small tactical nukes in Afganistan which could be detinated far from any civilians or population centres and would not have any lasting impact on the enviroment or land (other than a nice crater) but would serve their tactical purpose and destroy deeply buried bunkers, why would use of these tactical nukes been somehow less moral than the large conventional weapons, which ended up being more expensive and less effective, we ended up using?
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« Reply #22 on: January 29, 2006, 01:17:39 AM »

Everytime my innate tolerance for the moral bankruptcy of the First World Nations today offers me any hope for them, I just have to read threads like this. Cheesy
Happy nuking GiC.
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