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Last week, Chinese troops and transports were massed for a large military exercise opposite Taiwan. According to the Chinese press, the People’s Liberation Army will practice an attack against “an outlying Taiwanese island while fighting off an aircraft carrier.”

This should read “American aircraft carrier.”

Last April 25, President George W. Bush said that he would support Taiwan with “whatever it took” in the event of a Chinese attack. Therefore, the Chinese are training their troops to deal with U.S. forces as part of China’s war strategy.

The Chinese exercises are said to involve at least 157 amphibious craft and vehicles. Hundreds of Chinese surface-to-surface missiles stand at the ready. Although the Pentagon dismisses the exercises as “routine,” the observed numbers of Chinese forces currently massing are three times higher than during previous exercises of this kind.

In recent years China has developed new amphibious tanks and armored personnel carriers. These are now on display. The Chinese have also acquired hovercraft transports and large amphibious ships. From the Taiwan side there is no official alarm. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has stated that Chinese forces “are not targeted” at Taiwan and have nothing to do with the fact that Taiwan’s president, Chen Shui-bian, has been on a tour of South American countries.

United States commanders and strategists continue to assert that China cannot successfully invade Taiwan because they lack the naval transport capability. The main technical problem for a direct Chinese assault on Taiwan is the density of the defending ground forces, the small number of suitable beaches, and the intervention of powerful U.S. naval forces.

As if to quietly backstop the Chinese exercises, the Russians have recently been adding to their strategic bomber forces in the Far East. Russian long-range bombers capable of carrying anti-ship missiles have been added to growing air deployments along the Pacific. Last year during Chinese military exercises Russian aircraft buzzed an American carrier battlegroup without triggering a prompt U.S. interception, leading to speculation that Russia had developed a bolt-on stealth device for its tactical aircraft. The Russian press boasted that if the fly-over of the American carrier had been a war-time mission, the carrier would have been sunk.

The growing closeness of Russia and China continues to be a topic of strategic concern for those who see a genuine threat from the combined forces of the two U.S. adversaries. The Chinese strategy of “Make a noise in the East, but strike to the West,” is suggestive of coordination with Russia, which is capable of striking a heavy blow with its missiles and air forces in the event of a serious military crisis with the United States.

The overall strategic dilemma of the U.S. must now be understood in terms of the simultaneous outbreak of regional wars or unrest in the Balkans, Middle East, Indonesia and Korea. On Friday, William Taylor, writing in the Washington Times, pointed to “the burgeoning Arab-Israeli conflict that could easily result in a major war and the (simultaneous) worsening situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Taylor says that U.S. strategy is drifting. He adds that we are reviewing our strategy, and continue to review it without result. According to Taylor, the U.S. Executive Branch appears to be suffering from “operational paralysis.” Taylor is perplexed and complains, “One is reminded of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.”

But is Rome actually burning?

If we look at the world map, we can see smoke rising from various strategic locations. The recent incursion of Albanian forces into Macedonia has caused serious embarrassment to NATO. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, extending support and advice to the Macedonians and the Serbs, has urged violent counter-measures. Agreements in the region are meaningless as NATO forces are pinned down in a police action that renders them vulnerable to Serbian regular forces and to KLA rebels. In other words, NATO has deployed its troops into a virtual sandwich, taking for granted its own military superiority.

Meanwhile, completely overshadowing the Balkans crisis, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has been warning of an Israeli assault on Palestinian positions for the past week. Refusing to reciprocate on an Israeli cease-fire, Arafat went to Russia and to various European capitals arguing for his cause. Many observers agree that violence between Jews and Arabs cannot remain at present levels indefinitely. There is bound to be a major escalation leading to war. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israeli radio last Thursday, “In the next 48 hours we need to go into all Palestinian areas and destroy the entire infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, destroy the weapons cache of their forces including those of the militias.”

Such a move would likely cause a major war, an oil embargo against the West and a massive hit on the American economy.

As the Middle East crisis worsens, we find unrest in another oil-producing region coming to a head. Last Wednesday the Indonesian parliament convened a special legislative session that may lead to the removal of President Abdurrahman Wahid in August. Indonesian oil production is already staggered, and a deepening of the national crisis is almost certain.

On the Korean peninsula the situation continues to darken. The North Koreans have removed construction troops that were supposed to clear barriers from the communist side of the DMZ. On the Allied side, the construction troops remain in hopes that the DMZ will be cleared and a friendship rail link will be established. The North Korean communists have massed over 1.1 million troops and have forward deployed the largest artillery force on earth. “We are worried about the situation,” said Marine Corps Major Gen. Jerry Humble during a military briefing last April.

Incredibly, despite dangerous developments throughout the world, the United States dropped its two-major war policy last month, in order to permit continued Clinton-style under-funding of the U.S. military. Just at a time when war could break out simultaneously in four theaters – Korea, Taiwan Straits, the Balkans and the Middle East – the new Republican administration refuses to fund the necessary levels of readiness to meet a growing multi-front crisis.

Meanwhile, the Russians are not showing similar laxness. Links with foreigners are now being curbed in Russia. New rules were set forth last week by the Kremlin which regulate contacts between Russian scientists and foreigners. One Russian legislator said to reporters, “These directives are completely in keeping with Kremlin policy. That is what causes most alarm.”

Indeed, such measures are alarming. They indicate Moscow’s ultimate hostility toward the United States. Over the last three years, Russia has gradually taken many small steps in the direction of a renewed Cold War. Slowly and gradually the old Iron Curtain is being reconstructed. But the West, drugged with its own economic optimism, refuses to see what is happening.

The writing is on the wall. An outbreak of regional wars has been in preparation for many months. Will these regional wars open the way to a general world war?

Only time will tell.

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