by Bill Weinberg

When opposite ends of the political spectrum agree on an initially improbable proposition, there is often something to it.

Since the end of World War II and concomitant dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, the planet has been anticipating a conflict worthy of the name “World War III,” with all its apocalyptic connotations. Two days after 9-11, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman announced that it had finally arrived: “Does my country really understand that this is World War III?”

Similarly, the day after the horrific Sept. 3, 2004 schoolhouse massacre in Beslan, North Ossetia, the Times quoted Moscow’s Orthodox Rev. Aleksandr Borisov warning his parishioners of pro-Chechen terror attacks throughout Russia, and declaring: “World War III has begun.”

Meanwhile, former CIA director James Woolsey–a top advocate of the attack on Iraq as a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board–proffers a different historical configuration. In April 2003, just after the invasion, he wrote that the Iraq campaign was “part of World War IV.” By Woolsey’s math, the Cold War itself was World War III. He warned that the new world conflict, like its immediate predecessor, “is going to be measured, I’m afraid, in decades.”

Woolsey’s concept has started to catch on among the neo-conservatives. In the September 2004 issue of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz published an essay entitled “World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win.” Finding that “the great struggle into which the United States was plunged by 9/11 can only be understood if we think of it as World War IV,” Podhoretz drew on the work of Eliot A. Cohen, another Defense Policy Board member, Project for the New American Century co-founder and Iraq war advocate.

Wrote Podhoretz: “I agree with one of our leading contemporary students of military strategy, Eliot A. Cohen, who thinks that what is generally called the ‘cold war’ (a term, incidentally, coined by Soviet propagandists) should be given a new name. ‘The cold war,’ Cohen writes, was actually ‘World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multimillion-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map.’ I also agree that the nature of the conflict in which we are now engaged can only be fully appreciated if we look upon it as World War IV. To justify giving it this name–rather than, say, the ‘war on terrorism’–Cohen lists ‘some key features’ that it shares with World War III: ‘that it is, in fact, global; that it will involve a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts; that it will require mobilization of skill, expertise, and resources, if not of vast numbers of soldiers; that it may go on for a long time; and that it has ideological roots.’ There is one more feature that World War IV shares with World War III and that Cohen does not mention: both were declared through the enunciation of a presidential doctrine.”

For Podhoretz, just as the Truman Doctrine of global interventions against the spread of Communism in 1947 heralded the opening of the Cold War, the Bush Doctrine of a proactive global campaign against terrorism marks the opening of World War IV.

This logic is shared by, of all people, Subcommander Marcos–masked, poetic and prolific spokesman for the Zapatista National Liberation Army, the Maya Indian rebels of Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. Far from the corridors of power, Marcos characteristically signs his lengthy and often theoretical communiques, “from the mountains of southeast Mexico.” A peace dialogue with the Mexican government now moribund, Marcos and his Zapatistas still maintain an autonomous zone in the remote, impoverished jungles and highlands of Chiapas. In 1997, well before 9-11 and the Bush Doctrine, he wrote that globalization (“neo-liberalism,” as it is often known in Latin America, denoting a return to the free-market liberalism of the 19th century) actually constitutes a “fourth world war”–a contest for “conquest of territories.” In September 2004–the same month as the Podhoretz essay–Marcos returned to this theme in a screed entitled “The Speed of Dreams.” The multi-part statement attempted to place the Zapatistas’ stalled revolution in a global context.

“The neo-conservative ideology in the United States has a dream of building a neo-liberal ‘Disneyland’,” Marcos wrote. But the reality is working out otherwise. He cites Iraq as an example “of what awaits the entire world if the neo-liberals win this great war, World War IV: unemployment at nearly 70%, industry and commerce paralyzed… anti-explosive walls on all sides, a geometric increase in fundamentalism, civil war… and the export of terrorism to the whole planet.”

Marcos expostulates that “World War IV…is being waged by neo-liberalism against humanity…on all the fronts and in all parts, including the mountains of southeast Mexico. The same in Palestine, in Chechnya or in the Balkans, in Sudan, or in Afghanistan, more or less with regular armies. That which, by the same hand, brings the fundamentalism of one faction or another to every corner of the planet. That which, assuming non-military forms, claims victims in Latin America, in Social Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in Oceania, in the Far East, with financial bombs that blow to pieces entire national states… This war which…seeks to destroy/depopulate territories, reconstruct/reorder local, regional and national geographies, and create, by blood and fire, a new world cartography. Which, in its path, leaves its identifying signature: death.

“So perhaps the question ‘What is the speed of dreams?’ should be accompanied by the question, ‘What is the speed of nightmares?'”

This passage recognizes the paradoxical unity of globalization and the ethnic or religious fundamentalism that ostensibly opposes it–both feeding off each other, and both serving to break down democratic control over land and resources.

A chillingly utopian vision of the same phenomenon is offered by another prominent Pentagon theorist, Thomas P.M. Barnett of the US Naval War College, author of The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century (Putnam, 2004). In March 2003, just as Bush invaded Iraq, Esquire published a piece in which Barnett expounded his theory:

“Let me tell you why military engagement with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad is not only necessary and inevitable, but good. When the United States finally goes to war again in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons… Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point–the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization… It forces Americans to come to terms with what I believe is the new security paradigm that shapes this age, namely, Disconnectedness defines danger.

“Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime is dangerously disconnected from the globalizing world… Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living… These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and–most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. Globalization’s ‘ozone hole’ may have been out of sight and out of mind prior to September 11, 2001, but it has been hard to miss ever since…”

The world map accompanying the piece shows Barnett’s Gap as a distorted bulge following the equator. It is widest where its center is the Persian Gulf, surging north to incorporate Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans, and south to take in nearly all of Africa. To the east it incorporates parts of the Indian subcontinent and all of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines. To the west, it jumps the Atlantic to follow the Central American isthmus and Andean chain as far south as Bolivia. Mexico is identified as “one of the ‘seam states’ that lie along the Gap’s bloody boundaries.”

For Barnett, globalization is mandatory for all peoples, and to be imposed on the recalcitrant by US firepower. Anti-war or anti-globalization instincts are dismissed as deluded: “The knee-jerk reaction of many Americans to September 11 is to say, ‘Let’s get off our dependency on foreign oil, and then we won’t have to deal with those people.’ The most naive assumption underlying that dream is that reducing what little connectivity the Gap has with the Core will render it less dangerous to us over the long haul.”

Barnett actually rejects the “World War IV” label as alarmist, but–tellingly–calls the current conflict “Globalization IV,” adopting terminology developed by some theorists at the World Bank. The postulated four phases of globalization roughly correspond to the four world wars. Phase I was 1914-29–from the Wilsonian era to the Depression, incorporating World War I, the carving of Western client states out of the oil-rich Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire, Britain’s counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq, and the abortive League of Nations. Phase II was 1945-80–the post-war expansion of the global system, the founding of the UN, World Bank, IMF and GATT. Phase III, 1980-2001, began with the renewed anti-communist crusade and deregulation dogma of the Reagan-Thatcher era, saw the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and culminated in the establishment of NAFTA, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization. Phase IV, significantly, began in 2001, with the new thrust of Western expansion in the wake of 9-11.

What is particularly dangerous about Barnett’s ideas is that they are a mandate for military assault not just on despots who seek closed dictatorships, but–by precisely the same logic–on indigenous peoples who seek simply to preserve ancient customs of self-sufficiency and to be left in peace. And, indeed, it is often indigenous peoples who are the true targets of the new campaigns against terrorism. Palestinian farming communities are expropriated of traditional lands by Israel’s “security fence.” The Uighurs of Xinjiang and the Berbers of Kabylia face escalated repression as the national governments of China and Algeria proclaim common cause with Bush’s global military campaign. Indians and campesinos in Colombia are targeted by US-backed army and paramilitary forces for simply demanding their right to non-involvement in the civil war. And everywhere, access to land and resources–oil, natural gas, even water–lie behind the bloody struggles.

Which invokes another telling irony of the phrase “World War IV”: it is, to a large degree, a war on the Fourth World. Despite the fact that the math has been “wrong”since the disappearance of the “Second World”at the end of the Cold War, the term “Fourth World” is used by advocates to denote that of stateless ethnicities and land-rooted cultures. The Center for World Indigenous Studies in Olympia, WA, publishes a Fourth World Journal dedicated to the survival struggles of such peoples worldwide.

The phrase “Fourth World” has also been adopted by adherents of the radical decentralist Leopold Kohr, whose 1957 manifesto The Breakdown of Nations anticipated the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the current worldwide resurgence of ethnic regionalism. Kohr’s vision of a human-scale world was inspired, in part, by the anarchists who seized local power in Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Civil War, when he was working there as a war correspondent. Kohr died in 1994, but his intellectual heir John Papworth still publishes a Fourth World Review in England. The journal’s kicker is “For Small Nations, Small Communities & the Inalienable Sovereignty of the Human Spirit.”

So this Fourth World can also encompass anarchists, bioregionalists and decentralists who take inspiration from indigenous peoples, and seek to loan them solidarity–without attempting to appropriate their cultures. And World War IV is also a war on us, on those even within the imperial powers who seek to expand and defend democracy and local culture against the twin related threats of economic giganticism and “anti-terrorist” police-state measures–the “Social Europe” invoked by Marcos to distinguish from the Imperial Europe of the EU and NATO.

And such movements are faced with the threat of twin seductions: first, of embracing the ethno-religious extremism which is paradoxically recuperated by the forces of globalization; secondly, of embracing the globalist military crusades which ostensibly oppose such fundamentalisms. The first error confuses the “ethnically-cleansed” armed enclaves of Bosnia or the ultra-puritanical Islamist guerilla foci of Iraq with the Zapatista autonomous zones of Chiapas or the self-governing liberated barrios of Buenos Aires. The second confuses the empty and technocratic “democracy” which military-enforced globalization purports to expand with meaningful human freedom.

The unlikely intellectual allies of Woolsey, Podhoretz and Marcos have provided a new gauge by which we can measure the relative velocity of nightmares and dreams.



Norman Podhoretz on World War IV

Subcommander Marcos on World War IV

In the original Spanish

Thomas Barnett on the Pentagon’s New Map

Fourth World Journal, Center for World Indigenous Studies

Fourth World Review, POB 2410, Swindon, England SN5 4XN

Bill Weinberg on Leopold Kohr

See also WW4REPORT #90


Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 17, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution