Other Modern Tyrants

The number of victims of tyrants grew in the twentieth century. Adolf Hitler was responsible for killing 6,000,000 Jews and large number opponents in his own country.

During the Cold War political scientists hesitated to call the modern totalitarian rulers of communist regimes tyrants. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its colonial empire in Central and Eastern Europe the number of modern tyrannies were heavily reduced. The terms tyrant and tyranny have since been reintroduced in the language of politics.

Since 2001 not only the Iraqi tyrant has fallen and been captured. The Taliban regime was toppled in the fall of 2001. The tyrant Mullah Omar is still on the run with the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

The detailed comparison recently between ancient and modern tyrannies has not been made but has attracted widening research since the war on terrorism in which Iraq was the central front.

The Continuing Threat of Tyrannies

A number of tyrannies are still a threat proving that not much is new in the world. One difference between classical and modern tyrannies is that the latter can acquire weapons of mass destruction. The classical tyrannies only threatened the local citizens and neighboring cities and states. Modern tyrannies are often a global threat.

Since around 1980 there has been a number of reports on the possible use of weapons of mass destruction against the West in general and the United States in particular. In early February 1983 there was a meeting of radical Islamic groups in Tehran organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry at which the poisoning the water supplies of major cities in the West was discussed. Already in 1975 European entrepreneurs attempted to sell the nerve agent Tabun to Palestinian terrorists. Arafat’s ‘Force 17’ terrorists received training in chemical warfare. There are reports that cyanide may have been incorporated in the bomb used to attack the World Trade Center in January of 1993, when the war to destroy the United States started in earnest.

A number of tyrannies in the Middle East are a danger to civilization and to the only liberal democracy in the region, Israel. These tyrannies are the main threat in the war against the United States. The terrorist organizations would not survive without support of these tyrannies. The danger of Syria has at last, in late 2003, been fully recognized by the United States, as it has adopted the Syria Accountability Act, ten years after the war started. Syria in 1983 used cyanide gas to put down a rebellion by members of the Sunni minority in the city of Hama. By controlling terrorist training camps and headquarters in southern Lebanon Syria is a continuing threat not only to Israel. Also terrorist fighters are coming from Syria to attack coalition forces in Iraq. The tyranny in Syria has an upgraded arsenal of mass destruction weapons and long-range missiles. It is working with other tyrannies like Iran and Libya.

Libya was one of the tyrannies close to the region that has actually used chemical weapons. This was in an attack on neighboring Chad in 1987. Iran supplied the agents in question in exchange for mines and Libya had a chemical weapons plant in Rabta. The Libyan tyrant Muammar Quadaffi also funds biological warfare programs. Libya has however under pressure by the United States abandoned its programs of weapons of mass destruction.

The main terrorist sponsor in the Middle East is however the Iranian tyranny. It has financed the North Korean missile development program. The theocrats in Tehran have also funded the Syrian missile buildup. Iran’s offensive chemical warfare program began in 1983. Its program of biological warfare, commenced in the 1980s, is hidden within the country’s extensive biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Most dangerous is the present development of nuclear weapons by Iran.

The three Middle East tyrannies mentioned here are in close contact with extremist Palestinian groups.

These tyrannies have developed their destructive weapons in cooperation with North Korea, which has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. These could in the hands of international terrorists be a mortal threat to civilization. The tyranny in North Korea regards the United States as the main enemy. In accordance with this view North Korea may well be involved in providing terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

The other tyranny in East Asia with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and possibly post-nuclear weapons of nanotechnology, is the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The aggressive China is a threat to Taiwan and the whole region, thus a future strategic problem of the United States. At present PRC is regarded as a partner in negotiations with North Korea but ultimately it is a competitor. (As early as in 2000 the Center for Research on Geopolitics warned of a cooperation between the Chinese tyranny and tyrannies in the Middle East in Research Paper No. 26, “The Global Challenge – A PRC-Islamic Coalition – A Few Notes”). The ongoing war on terrorism resulting in regime changes in the Middle East lessens the risk of a PRC cooperation with tyrannies in the region, but China is still a long term dangerous opponent of the United States. It should be central theme in the study of strategic warning, an art that needs to be developed and further strengthened in America, remembering Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

In the Western hemisphere Cuba is and has been a dangerous tyranny, even after the retirement of Fidel Castro. In the 1960s he allowed nuclear missiles to be stationed on the island threatening the United States. During the 1970s and 1980s the Cuban tyrant provided mercenaries for a number of communist tyrannies in Africa. Castro has also been a regular supporter of terrorism in the past.


It is important when regarding the threat of modern tyrannies to civilization to remember that Niccoló Machiavelli despised the cruelty of tyrants. In the writing on tyranny there are no loose threads, no words picked at random, or errors. His is, along with the writings of Xenophon, the supreme art of teaching on tyranny. When there is strategic thinking on tyrants and their removal in the modern era the best guides are classical authors and their interpreter Machiavelli.

In present U.S. grand strategy the question of remaining dangerous tyrants, tyrannies and regime change ought to be a priority. Foremost of concern are the Middle East tyrannies with weapons of mass destruction. The long term threat is in East Asia with the PRC with North Korea being a more imminent danger..

In ancient times tyrants were often removed through assassination. This option is in modern times no longer available to democracies. Instead the fate of Saddam Hussein is a warning to modern tyrants in for instance Iran, Syria and North Korea. If there is a future regime change in these countries the tyrants there could expect facing the same fate as Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

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