C o m m e n t a r y might-be superpower

That America this year seems to be missing, and next year may finally miss, the chance of achieving the cherished status of the sole superpower is a significant event of 2002 and one that defies a straightforward definition. It appears that America is really the king of beasts. Its share in the world economy exceeds 31 per cent, that is, it is more than that of Europe and Japan combined. The US defence budget for 2003 is more than the aggregate defence budget of 15 major countries.

What is more, while under President Clinton America seemed to be unaware of all that, under Bush the US political establishment is debating how American domination should be exercised over the world. The word "empire" has become very popular in academic and popular publications.

But the greater America realizes its strength, the more it is disliked in the world - so much so that the administration has decided to spend quite a sum on propaganda of a positive image of the US abroad. This is no news - perhaps all readers know of results widely discussed in this country of a poll of 38,000 people in 44 countries, carried out by the New Research Center, US. America's rating, as the poll showed, fell over the recent period in 19 countries, apart from being low in many anyway. Among such states "lost" to Washington are Germany, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and others. The only place where the number of positive views increased is ... Russia.

The main reason for disgruntlement is the spread of US political and military influence throughout the world. As far as technological or cultural achievements of America are concerned, there is no rejection.

And these are not mere sentiments of the population, with their ups and downs. Look at the way a coalition for war on Iraq has been formed in recent months: by bribes and threats. Turkey (seemingly last of the examples) was promised a cure from an economic crisis, assistance when entering the EU and much else. It may be recalled that Pakistan as an ally in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan cost America cheaper.

What value are reports in Spanish or Italian newspapers on how the ruling circles of these countries are weighing the costs of saying no to Washington?. It turned out it would be costly - and so a "flexible line" was adopted. And namely, to say a Yes or a No so as to leave for themselves a free hand to the end. Everybody clearly saw that America is playing a most cynical game whose main sense is to check in action the system of international relations, if it allows Washington to do whatever it chooses or not.

But greed and fear are not the best cement for building empires or coalitions. A coalition whose members dream secretly of defeat or weakening of their patron is no good, as is a leader for whom the main goal of war is not to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and even not to establish control over the oil markets but what is taking place right now - to demonstrate the allies' weakness to their faces.

All this together means that the US is not yet the "sole superpower", because the US lacks the main ingredient of being a superpower - an ideological and moral attractiveness of leadership.

This thought was voiced by Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian premier, who formulated it in a recent speech at the presentation of his new book "A Post-September 11 World". Primakov recalls that both superpowers of the Cold War days - the US and the USSR - won sincere and faithful supporters both among people and among states not only with money and rockets, but also by embodying a certain idea.

And not necessarily a Communist or a Liberal one: in a sense the USSR was a winner by simply not being an America and vice versa. The two superpowers in the world offered the possibility of choice, including in diplomacy. And many probably heard in the 90s third world representatives speaking their minds on how good it was with two superpowers - they could evoke one's jealousy by playing up to the other.

In any case a world leader /and any leader in general/ ought to be to some extent morally attractive and righteous. This is well known to a former empire, Great Britain, with its civilizing mission in the colonies. It is getting a measure of respect for this mission even now.

The US, seeking to demonstrate to all its physical ability to act in the world arena without looking over its shoulder at other capitals, has lost this respect. And consequently, lost the moral right to be a superpower and a world leader. If war with Iraq begins after all, and leads to losses among civilians, the picture would be complete. America was silently pardoned those of the civilians who died in Afghanistan for September 11 victims: that struggle, even if it was a revenge, was just. It may not be pardoned a second time.

Multi-polarity is synonymous with dependability and justice in making decisions that concern the entire world. It, for example, is needed to solve global problems - starvation, diseases, undeveloped economy, inequity of the financial system and so on - in a way that the world would not have some forgotten, would not breed seats of despair and hatred. That is, future sources of terrorism, among others.

But such a system is still in the making "in a world after September 11", and one should not expect that this process will be assisted by America, enchanted as it is with its power and not knowing as yet the boundaries of its might.

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