AMERICA’S PACIFIC CENTURY — I

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Thursday, February 07, 2013 – During the 1970’s, Brzezinski, the US strategist, forecasting the break-up of the Soviet Union, expounded the concept of US Unipolarity: “How America manages Eurasia is critical, Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would almost automatically gain Africa’s subordination, rendering the western Hemisphere and Ocean, geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. Pre-eminence in Eurasia – and America’s Global Primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained,” and suggested the use of military power in the Euro-Asian region to establish the “Western Front” in Europe, and the “Southern Front” in Asia. The Western Front was established, by assimilating the Eastern European countries into the European Union. NATO was retained, to maintain the integrity of the Western Front, and to support the establishment of the Southern Front – Iraq, Afghanistan.

The 2001, 9/11 episode provided the excuse to occupy Afghanistan, followed by Iraq in 2003. The ‘Southern Front,” thus was established supported by NATO and India also ventured beyond their borders to join the Great Game of Global Primacy. For the consolidation of the Southern Front, a “scorched earth policy, rather a scorched soul policy” was followed which, now has recoiled back and Iraq is falling apart. In Afghanistan, America went full-circle seeking different options but failed to obtain guarantee for a safe exit. The Afghan front is also collapsing while ‘the American economy is suffering $16 trillion in debt and $ 14 trillion wiped-out in household wealth. There is mass unemployment, foreclosures and increasing poverty, causing a ‘criminal culture.’ The ambitions of unipolarity now have turned into the decline of the American empire. “The emperor and the empire have no clothes.” – Kirkpatric Sole.

The collapse of the Southern Front, has forced the US to shift the Strategic Pivot to the South East, as conceptualized by Henry Kissinger: “Tectonic international upheavals mark our period. The center of gravity of world affairs is moving to the Pacific and almost all major actors on the international stage are defining new roles for themselves. That transformation is about concept as much as about power.” Therefore, Obama defined the need for this shift in his Defense Strategic Guidance intending to establish the “Strategic Pivot” in the Asia Pacific region, because “US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities.” It is not difficult to draw the inference from this concept, that, Asia-Pacific is the main theatre and the US military is going to equip itself for an Ocean war over there. The United States thus has decided to strengthen its naval presence over the long term by “building towards a 346-ship fleet rather than retreating to 250-ship mark that the US faces due to budget cuts and the decommissioning of aging warships in the next decade. Diplomatic and economic engagement with China and others will work better when backed by a credible military posture.” Hillary Clinton calls this major shift as triumph of US diplomacy – “American Pacific Century”, as the best bet, after “disengaging from two futile, polarizing and massively expensive land wars.” Obama, therefore is busy forming the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ – India, Japan, South Korea and Australia, to herald the onset of the “American Pacific Century”, against rising China.

Obama’s Defence Strategic Guidance, envisages about 15% cut in the defense budget, and a two track mode of employment of the military power. One. There will be no direct intervention, like Iraq and Afghanistan. Allies and coalition partners will do the needful, as in Somalia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere. The regional surrogates, like Israel and India, would help project American power and interests. Two. A number of Combat Groups comprising heliborne Special Forces, supported by strike aircrafts, will be deployed around the world to carryout surgical operations, similar to the one launched in Abbottabad in May 2011. Drones will be used extensively for intelligence gathering and engagement of opportunity targets.

The strategic shift from Euro-Asia to the Asia-Pacific is very significant for Pakistan and the countries in the region. Afghanistan would be the main beneficiary, as the “mother of all evil – foreign aggression was vacated.” Now, US has no choice, but to knock on Taliban doorsteps, seeking help for a safe exit, which is also a challenge for Barack Obama “to concede for the Afghan people the very minimum privileges of an Arab Spring, so that Islamism could reconcile with democracy – quintessentially, expecting the US to be on the right side of history.” M.K. Bhadra Kumar. “Islamism, there, is winning out because, it is the deepest and widest channel into which discontent can flow.” John M. Oven. The world has to reconcile with Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and their broad-based government, to ensure peace and stability. There is no other viable option.

Iran’s Strategic Defiance since 1979 has added new dimensions of resilience and self-reliance to the nation. Iranians have developed “an asymmetric hybrid strategy, supported by advanced technology weapons.” Iran also “has levers, exploiting their interior lines of operation. Their anti-access and anti-denial capabilities are proven. We (America) would have a difficult time” Cronin. Therefore, war is not the option any more. The recent sanctions imposed on Iran, restricting sale of oil has been blown into the faces of the European importers. China, India and Pakistan would benefit and continue to trade with Iran, at a premium, while Saudi Arabia and Russia will sell oil to the European buyers at $ 130-150 a barrel, putting greater burden on the fledging European economy. Geo-strategically, “Iran lies between Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Caucasus the Caspian Sea, Central and South Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, a broader network of trade is nearly impossible without it.” In particular it has the potential to reshape Afghanistan’s strategic future. It’s not possible to build a new security and economic structure in South and Central Asia, without Iran. Sanctions would serve no purpose.

Pakistan has suffered immensely since 1979, due to foreign invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Now its woes and sufferings would gradually wane, with the departure of the occupation forces from Afghanistan. Geo-strategically, Pakistan is as important if not more, than Iran, for a broader network of trade and commerce, between South and Central Asia, East and West Asia. Pakistan can contribute significantly, reshaping lives in a free and independent Afghanistan and build a new security paradigm in the region. However, it carries the burden of “American bear hug” – demanding a foot-hold in Pakistan after exit from Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan has to adopt skillful diplomacy to shake-off this burden without jeopardizing national security interests.

The shifting of the ‘Strategic Pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific is of special interest to Pakistan, as the geo-political play begins between the Emerging Regional Centres of Power. China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, constitute the first regional power base. The second is Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan triangle, emerging as the power base of the Muslim world, meeting the much needed ‘Strategic Depth’ of security. And the third is China – India – Japan, Korea and Australia, to ensure balance, under the American umbrella, in the Asia Pacific region. In this complex geo-political game, America’s role would be important, as the dominating power and would become more meaningful if it draws on the interests and wisdom of ascending Asia and engages constructively with them.

This is a period of great opportunity for Pakistan, as the geo-strategic shift is taking place, defining new contours of balance between the Emerging Centres of Power, from Euro-Asia to Asia-Pacific. Pakistan has to find its rightful place, playing the role of a ‘facilitator, i.e., consolidating a regional cooperative relationship regime, based on the Chinese principles of Peace, Cooperation and Engagement.

Part — II

After disengaging from two

futile and expensive wars in

Iraq and Afghanistan, America has shifted its Strategic Pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. The objective of this shift has been defined under the Defence Strategic Guidance: • The US will equip itself for an Ocean War “in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region and South Asia.” • US will support a quasi-alliance of Japan, India and Australia, to dilute Chinese influence and make China face the pressure of economic and trade hegemony of the Alliance. Thus one of the most important tasks of “American statecraft, over the next decade will be to lock-in a substantially increased Chinese investment-diplomatic, economic and strategic.”• US will forge the Trans-Pacific-Partnership to restrict China, through a deal for a free trade bloc, linking the Pacific Rim States. • US will rebalance its posture in the region, through a more balanced distribution of its military resources, which had long been concentrated on North East Asia.• There will be no direct intervention, like Iraq and Afghanistan. The coalition partners will do the needful as in Somalia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere. • “The future of politics will be decided in the Asia Pacific region, and the US will be right at the centre of the action,” Hillary Clinton – “and will intervene militarily on Senkakus Islands conflict with China.” Thus US will allow increase in the role of Japan’s Self Defence Forces, with an aim to bolster regional military cooperation.• The ‘Swing Players’ must endeavour to balance the interests of US, while taking sides of either, in order to maximize their own national interests.

The Defence Strategic Guidance is conceptualized around three premises. First, the belief that US will be able to restore its military and economic prowess, to play the role in the new world order, as they did during the 20th century. Second, the US will be able to draw China into the open, to play the cold war game of the last century. Third, that the regional powers as well as the “Coalition of the Wiling” would help to implement the strategy. These lofty objectives are difficult to achieve, because during the last thirty years, the US ambition to play a dominant role in the new world order has remained subdued and suppressed due to opposition by the Islamic Resistance, rising from the soil of Afghanistan-Pakistan. The global order also has turned multi-polar, with the emergence of new regional powers. The strategy to draw China into the open, is not going to work either, because China’s priorities are different and it is no mood to play the game on American terms. The policy to contain and curb China’s rising power, therefore “will generate dynamics that would increasingly threaten to undermine America’s primacy goals. This strategy is also in danger of enhancing rather than reducing bad security outcomes.”

China is a rising power and is the biggest holder of hard currency, with a reserve that exceeds US$ 2.7 trillion, whereas US with a fledging economy after the two expensive wars, owes over US$ 4.0 trillion to China in debt. The economic compulsions, therefore do not promote the strategy of Asia Pacific Pivot. Historically China has been a proselytizing power. They have been subjected to aggression over the centuries forcing them to build the protective Great Wall.

China does not seek influence and domination over others land. They do not impose their ideology on others. They pose no existential threat to US either. China’s main concern is, search for oil and energy and mineral wealth, to raise the living standards of their people, equal to one fifth of the humanity. Thus during the last two decades, China has entered into long term deals, committing over a trillion US$, with countries of the world, who could offer oil, gas or minerals, creating economic linkages through diplomacy and not through the use of military power “China plays the role of a facilitator, consolidating a regional cooperative relationship regime,” based on the principles of Peace, Cooperation and Engagement.

Therefore, the interest of America and their allies would be better served by developing ‘regional cooperative relationship regimes’, using the ‘soft power’ and reducing global military commitments. The new geo-strategic realities that have emerged from three decades of wars, conflicts, revolutions and upheavals, demand an entirely new approach to world affairs. The times have changed and “the US policy makers, ruefully, now have to change their mental outlook towards the so called Islamic Extremism.” If one continues calling the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Somalia and Yemen, etc as “Al-Qaida terrorists”, one becomes the very victim of such self-inflicted clichés, as of now.

We have been cursing ourselves for the Kargil blunder of 1999, but gets little consolation either analyzing the two futile and expensive wars of Afghanistan and Iraq where the US and the allies had been chasing Al-Qaeda, blamed for causing 9/11, yet this “powerful enemy” has not retaliated even once, during the last twelve years of this bloody struggle. Jonathan Power rightly comments: “We must look at the lessons of history. Since 9/11 there has not been one successful attack on US. Not one of the (so-called radical Islamic) countries has produced one militant with a foreign agenda. By bombing the militants in their violence, post transition has been made most difficult. Military intervention rarely works.”

PS. As the US disengages from this region and shifts the Strategic Pivot to the Asia-Pacific, the decision by the Pakistan government, to handover Gawadar port to China and accelerate the work on Pak-Iran gas pipeline, is timely and diplomatically very appropriate. Indeed it is a befitting parting-gift for the next government in power in Pakistan.

—The writer is former Chief of Army Staff .

Share this post

PinIt
    scroll to top