MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin.)Two generals - the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard B. Myers; and Zhu Chenghu, a professor at the National Defense University of China - have created an international scandal.
Myers caused uproar with his statement concerning the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's declaration about setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He said the SCO declaration was adopted under pressure from Russia and China and would hardly be useful.
American bases were deployed in the two Central Asian states not only because of the operation in Afghanistan but also because this region is crucial for the U.S. in many aspects, Myers said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed confusion over this statement.
"It is a fact that all decisions within the SCO are taken, according to its charter documents, by consensus, and hence express the collective opinion of all member states," the ministry said in a statement.
The Chinese general provoked an outcry in the U.S. State Department after The Financial Times reported that he told foreign journalists: "If the Americans train their missiles and precision-guided ammunition onto a target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons."
"If the Americans are determined to interfere [in our relations with Taiwan], we will be determined to respond," Zhu said. "We ... will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds ... of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."
Shen Gofang, China's deputy foreign minister, had to disavow the general's statement, saying that his words about the possibility of nuclear war between China and the U.S. were his personal opinion and did not reflect the country's official position. But Washington is still numb with shock at the undiplomatic - to put it mildly - professor.
These "general scandals" created by the clumsy, and possibly deliberately provocative, statements by the two generals could have been disregarded. Who cares what generals say? Their statements do not always reflect the official position of their country.
There are generals in Russia such as Leonid Ivashov who often criticize the U.S. and China, but the foreign ministries of the two states do not make statements on this score, for obvious reasons. Ivashov is a retired general, an individual not in the employ of the state, and the state leadership and authorities cannot be held responsible for what he says.
But Myers and Zhu are still on active duty and hold responsible posts (teaching at a military school is military service too), and so their statements cannot be disregarded as "a personal opinion."
No civilized country permits ranking generals to make domestic or foreign policy statements and present them as an official policy. Politics is the domain of politicians. Why then did the two generals make their sharp statements?
I view this as two semiofficial statements, if not open attacks.
The Washington administration reacted feebly to the SCO declaration, in which the organization's members asked politely when the U.S. would pull out of Central Asia. Myers was thus given carte blanche to make his statement.
Zhu's statement reflected the apparent displeasure of the Chinese establishment with Washington's repeated interference in Beijing's relations with Taipei and with attempts to act as the global "justice of the peace," although nobody has delegated such powers to it.
This also explains the SCO's declaration on the need to determine the deadline for the withdrawal of American bases from Central Asia, which Washington may not like but will have to accept. This is why the Chinese general chose to remind the U.S. that it is not omnipotent or absolutely immune from a potential strategic attack by Russia or any other country, including China.
These two mini-scandals were very useful. They showed that the international community should abandon illusions about the world's only center of power and its unilateral right to judge sovereign nations.
Today no-one can guarantee absolute individual security to anyone, and not only from strategic nuclear weapons but also from threats such as international terrorism and the proliferation of missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction. And the world must learn to fight them jointly, not in words but in deed, listening to the opinion of each nation and international organization. This is the only guarantee against catastrophic mistakes.