Striking the US where it hurts
By Victor N Corpus
|Victor N Corpus is a retired brigadier
general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP); former chief of the Intelligence Service,
AFP; and holds a master's degree in public
administration from the Kennedy School of
Government, Harvard University.
Times" -- -- A noted Chinese theorist on modern
warfare, Chang Mengxiong, compared China's form of fighting to
"a Chinese boxer with a keen knowledge of vital body points who
can bring an opponent to his knees with a minimum of movements".
It is like key acupuncture points in ancient Chinese medicine.
Puncture one vital point and the whole anatomy is affected. If
America ever goes to war with China, say, over Taiwan, then
America should be prepared for the following "acupuncture
points" in its anatomy to be "punctured". Each of the vital
points can bring America to its knees with a minimum of effort.
I Electro-magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack
China and Russia are two potential US adversaries that have the
capability for this kind of attack. An EMP attack can either
come from an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a
submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), a long-range cruise
missile, or an orbiting satellite armed with a nuclear or
non-nuclear EMP warhead. A nuclear burst of one (or more)
megaton some 400 kilometers over central United States (Omaha,
Nebraska) can blanket the whole continental US with
electro-magnetic pulse in less than one second.
An EMP attack will damage all electrical grids on the US
mainland. It will disable computers and other similar electronic
devices with microchips. Most businesses and industries will
shut down. The entire US economy will practically grind to a
halt. Satellites within line of sight of the EMP burst will also
be damaged, adversely affecting military command, control,
communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance (C4ISR). Land-based intercontinental ballistic
missiles will be rendered unserviceable in their silos.
Anti-ballistic missile defenses will suffer the same fate. In
short – total blackout. And American society as we know
it will be thrown back to the Dark Ages.
Of course, the US may decide to strike first, but China and
Russia now have the means of striking back with
submarine-launched ballistic missiles with the same or even more
devastating results. But knowing China's strategy of "active
defense", when war with the US becomes imminent, China will
surely not allow itself to be targeted first. It will seize the
initiative as mandated by its doctrine by striking first.
China has repeatedly announced that it will not be the first to
use nuclear weapons. But as an old Chinese saying goes: "There
can never be too much deception in war." If it means the
survival of the whole Chinese nation that is at stake, China
will surely not allow a public statement to tie its hands and
prevent it from seizing the initiative. As another saying goes:
"All is fair in love and war."
2 Cyber attack
America is the most advanced country in the world in the field
of information technology (IT). Practically all of its
industries, manufacturing, business and finance,
telecommunications, key government services and defense
establishment rely heavily on computers and computer networks.
But this heavy dependence on computers is a double-edged sword.
It has thrust the US economy and defense establishment ahead of
all other countries; but it has also created an Achilles' heel
that can potentially bring the superpower to its knees with a
few keystrokes on a dozen or so laptops.
China's new concept of a "people's war" includes IT warriors
coming, not only from its military more than 2-million strong,
but from the general citizenry of some 1.3 billion people. If we
add the hackers and information warriors from Russia, Iran,
North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and other countries
sympathetic to China, the cyber attack on the US would be
So, if a major conflict erupts between China and America, more
than a few dozen laptops will be engaged to hack America's
military establishment; banking system; stock exchange; defense
industries; telecommunication system; power grids; water system;
oil and gas pipeline system; air traffic and train traffic
control systems; C4ISR system, ballistic missile system, and
other systems that prop up the American way of life.
America, on the whole, has not adequately prepared itself for
this kind of attack. Neither has it prepared itself for a
possible EMP attack. Such attacks can bring a superpower like
America to its knees with a minimum of movement.
3 Interdiction of US foreign oil supply
America is now 75% dependent on foreign imported oil. About
23.5% of America's imported oil supply comes from the Persian
Gulf. To cut off this oil supply, Iran can simply mine the
Strait of Hormuz, using bottom-rising sea mines. It is
worthwhile to note that Iran has the world's fourth-largest
inventory of sea mines, after China, Russia and the US.
Combined with sea mines, Iran can also block the narrow strait
with supersonic cruise missiles such as Yakhonts, Moskits,
Granits and Brahmos deployed on Abu Musa Island and all along
the rugged and mountainous coastline of Iran fronting the
Persian Gulf. This single action can bring America to its knees.
Not only America but Japan (which derives 90% of its oil supply)
and Europe (which derives about 60% of its oil supply from the
Persian Gulf ) will be adversely affected.
In the event of a major conflict involving superpower America
and its allies (primarily Japan and Britain) on the one hand and
China and its allies (primarily Russia and Iran) on the other,
Iran's role will become strategically crucial. Iran can totally
stop the flow of oil coming from the Persian Gulf. This is the
main reason why China and Russia are carefully nurturing
intimate economic, cultural, political, diplomatic and military
ties with Iran, which at one time was condemned by US President
George W Bush as belonging to that "axis of evil", along with
Iraq and North Korea.
This is also the reason why Iran is so brave in daring the US to
attack it on the nuclear proliferation issue. Iran knows that it
has the power to hurt the US. Without oil from the Gulf, the war
machines of the US and its principal allies will literally run
out of gas.
A single blow from Iran or China or Russia, or a combination of
the three at the Strait of Hormuz can paralyze America. In
addition, Chinese and Russian submarines can stop the flow of
oil to the US and Japan by interdicting oil tanker traffic
coming from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. On the
other hand, US naval supremacy will have minimal effect on
China's oil supply because it is already connected to Kazakhstan
with a pipeline and will soon be connected to Russia and Iran as
One wonders: what will be the price of oil if Iran blocks the
Strait of Hormuz. It will surely drive oil prices sky high.
Prolonged high oil prices can, in turn, trigger inflation in the
US and a sharp decline of the dollar, possibly even a dollar
free-fall. The collapse of the dollar will have a serious impact
on the entire US economy.
This brings us to the next "acupuncture point" in the US
anatomy: dollar vulnerability.
4 Attack on the US dollar
One of the pillars propping up US superpower status and
worldwide economic dominance is the dollar being accepted as the
predominant reserve currency. Central banks of various countries
have to stock up dollar reserves because they can only buy their
oil requirements and other major commodities in US dollars.
This US economic strength, however, is a double-edged sword and
can turn out to be America's economic Achilles' heel. A run of
the US dollar, for instance, which would cause a dollar
free-fall, can bring the entire US economy toppling down.
What is frightening for the US is the fact that China, Russia
and Iran possess the power to cause a run on the US dollar and
force its collapse.
China is now the biggest holder of foreign exchange reserves in
the world, accumulating $941 billion as of June 30 and expected
to exceed a trillion dollars by the end of 2006 - a first in
world history. A decision by China to shift a major portion of
its reserve to the euro or the yen or gold could trigger other
central banks to follow suit. Nobody would want to be left
behind holding a bagfull of dollars rapidly turning worthless.
The herd psychology would be very difficult to control in this
case because national economic survival would be at stake.
This global herd psychology motivated by the survival instinct
will be strongly reinforced by the latent anger of many
countries in the Middle East, Eurasia, Southeast Asia, Africa
and Latin America that silently abhor the pugnacious arrogance
displayed by the lone Superpower in the exercise of its
unilateral and militaristic foreign policies. They will just be
too happy to dump the dollar and watch the lone Superpower
squirm and collapse.
The danger of the dollar collapsing is reinforced by the
mounting US current account deficit, which sky-rocketed to $900
billion at an annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2005. This
figure is 7% of US gross domestic product (GDP), the largest in
US history. The current account deficit reflects the imbalance
of US imports to its exports. The large imbalance shows that the
US economy is losing its competitiveness, with US jobs and
incomes suffering as a result.
These record deficits in external trade and current accounts
mean that the US has to borrow from foreign lenders (mostly
Japan and China) $900 billion annually or nearly $2.5 billion
every single day to finance the gap between payments and
receipts from the rest of the world. In financial year 2005,
$352 billion was spent on interest payment of national debt
alone - a national debt that has ballooned to $8.5 trillion as
of August 24.
The International Monetary Fund has warned: "The US is on course
to increase its net external liabilities to around 40% of its
GDP within the next few years - an unprecedented level of
external debt for a large industrial country."
The picture of the US federal budget deficit is equally grim.
Dennis Cauchon, writing for USA Today said:
The federal government keeps two sets of books. The set the
government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom
line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005. The set the government
doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement
produced by the government's accountants following standard
accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial
picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If social security
and medicare were included - as the board that sets
accounting rules is considering - the federal deficit would
have been $3.5 trillion. Congress has written its own
accounting rules - which would be illegal for a corporation
to use because they ignore important costs such as the
growing expense of retirement benefits for civil servants
and military personnel. Last year, the audited statement
produced by the accountants said the government ran a
deficit equal to $6,700 for every American household. The
number given to the public put the deficit at $2,800 per
household ... The audited financial statement - prepared by
the Treasury Department - reveals a federal government in
far worse financial shape than official budget reports
indicate, a USA Today analysis found. The government has run
a deficit of $2.9 trillion since 1997, according to the
audited number. The official deficit since then is just $729
billion. The difference is equal to an entire year's worth
of federal spending.
The huge US current account and trade deficits, the mounting
external debt and the ever-increasing federal budget deficits
are clear signs of an economy on the edge. They have dragged the
dollar to the brink of the precipice. Such a state of economic
affairs cannot be sustained for long, and the stability of the
dollar is put in grave danger. One push and the dollar will
plunge into free-fall. And that push can come from China, Russia
or Iran, whom superpower America has been pushing and bullying
We have seen what China can do. How can Russia or Iran, in turn,
cause a dollar downfall? On September 2, 2003, Russia and Saudi
Arabia signed an agreement on oil and gas cooperation. Russia
and Saudi Arabia have agreed "to exercise joint control over the
dynamics of prices for raw materials on foreign markets". The
two biggest oil and gas producers, in cooperation, say, with
Iran, could control oil production and sales to keep the price
of oil relatively high. Sustained high oil prices, in turn,
could trigger a high inflation rate in the US and put extreme
pressure on the already weak dollar to trigger a more rapid
Russia is now the world's biggest energy supplier, surpassing
Saudi Arabia in energy exports measured in barrel oil equivalent
or boe (13.3 million boe per day for Russia vs 10 million boe
per day for Saudi Arabia). Russia has the biggest gas reserves
in the world. Iran, on the other hand, runs second in the world
to Russia in gas reserves, and also ranks among the top oil
producers. If and when either Russia or Iran, or both, shift
away from a rapidly declining dollar in energy transactions,
many oil producers will follow suit. These include Venezuela,
Indonesia, Norway, Sudan, Nigeria and the Central Asian
There is a good chance that even Saudi Arabia and the other
oil-exporting countries in the Middle East may follow suit. They
wouldn't want to be left with fast-shrinking dollars when the
shift from petro-dollar to euro-dollar occurs. Again, the herd
psychology will come into play, and the US will eventually be
left with a dollar that is practically worthless. Considering
the strong anti-American sentiments in the world caused by
American unilateralism, especially in the Middle East, a
concerted effort to dump the dollar in favor of the euro becomes
even more plausible.
When the dollar was removed from the gold standard in August
1971, the dollar gained its strength through its use as the
currency of choice in oil transactions. Once the dollar is
rejected in favor of the euro or another currency for global oil
transactions, the dollar will rapidly lose its value and central
banks all over the world will be racing to diversify to other
currencies. The shift from petro-dollar to petro-euro will have
a devastating effect on the dollar. It could cause the dollar to
collapse; and the whole US economy crushing down with it - a
scene reminiscent of the collapse of the Twin Towers on
September 11, 2001. But this one will be a thousand times more
A successful assault on the US dollar will make America crawl on
its knees with a minimum of movements. And this assault can come
from China, Russia or Iran - or a combination of the three - if
they ever decide that they have had enough of US bullying.
5 Diplomatic isolation
In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed from its own weight,
the US emerged as the sole superpower in the world. At that
crucial period, it would have been a great opportunity for the
US to establish its global leadership and dominance worldwide.
With the world's biggest economy, its control of international
financial institutions, its huge lead in science and technology
(specially information technology) and its unequaled military
might, America could have seized the moment to establish a truly
But in the critical years after 1991, America had to make a
choice between two divergent approaches to the use of its almost
unlimited power: soft power or hard power. The exercise of soft
power would have seen America leading the world in the fight
against poverty, disease, drugs, environmental degradation,
global warming and other ills plaguing humankind.
It would have pushed America in leading the move to address the
debt burden of poor, undeveloped or developing countries;
promoting distance learning in remote rural areas to empower the
poor economically by providing them access to quality education;
and helped poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America
build highways, railways, ports, airports, hospitals, schools
and telecommunication systems.
Unfortunately, such was not to be. If there was any effort at
the exercise of soft power at all, it was minimal. In fact, it
is not America which is practicing soft power in diplomacy but a
rising power in the East - China. China has been busy in the
past decade or so exercising soft power in almost all countries
in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South
Asia and the Middle East, winning most of the countries in these
regions to its side. Through the use of soft power, China has
created a de facto global united front under its silent, low-key
The US, on the other hand, decided to employ mainly hard power
in the exercise of its global power. It adapted the policy of
unilateralism and militarism in its foreign policy. It discarded
the United Nations and even the advice of close allies. It
unilaterally discarded signed international treaties (such as
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty). It adapted the policy of
regime change and preventive war. It led the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization in the 78-day bombing of Serbia purportedly
for "humanitarian" reasons. It invaded Afghanistan and Iraq
without UN sanctions and against the advice of key European
allies like France and Germany.
The US-led war in Iraq was a tactical victory for the US
initially, but has resulted in strategic defeat overall. The
Iraq war caused the US to lose its principal allies in Europe
and be isolated, despised and hated in many parts of the world.
Without too many friends and allies, the US is likened to an
"emperor with no clothes".
So in a major conflict between America and China, isolated
America cannot possibly win against a global united front led by
China and Russia.
This brings us to the question of alliances, another
"acupuncture point" in the anatomy of the superpower, which will
be addressed in the second part of this report.
Click here for
part II - The assassin's mace
Victor N Corpus is a retired brigadier general of the Armed
Forces of the Philippines (AFP); former chief of the
Intelligence Service, AFP; and holds a master's degree in public
administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd
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