The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century...

[But] the US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world's biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal. It is also tightly linked to the German and east European economies. The US risks endangering its own alliance system if it runs roughshod over friends. It is in much the same situation as Britain in the mid-19th century when it enforced naval supremacy, boarding alleged slave ships anywhere in the world, under any flag, ruffling everybody's feathers.

... Princeton professor Harold James sees echoes of events before the First World War when Britain and France imagined they could use financial warfare to check German power.He says the world's interlocking nexus means this cannot be contained. Sanctions risk setting off a chain-reaction to match the 2008 shock...

The greatest risk is surely an "asymmetric" riposte by the Kremlin. Russia's cyber-warfare experts are among the best, and they had their own trial run on Estonia in 2007. A cyber shutdown of an Illinois water system was tracked to Russian sources in 2011. We don't know whether US Homeland Security can counter a full-blown "denial-of-service" attack on electricity grids, water systems, air traffic control, or indeed the New York Stock Exchange, and nor does Washington.

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