The Shadow of Cold War?
War is war. They are either blocking North Korea and
China or they are not blocking either of them. The cold war era
encirclement strategy is over but what is not over is how to continue Cold War by other means. Given China’s sound status in global economy, it is not possible for Washington to build up a military encirclement around China but it is always possible to build up an encirclement to contain China by taking advantage of South China sea territorial disputes between China and some South-east Asian countries including Vietnam and the Philippines. One way to exhibit military might is military exercise. The US Pacific Command participated in 172 multilateral and bilateral military exercises with 24 countries in the region in 2011. The biggest one was held in June 2012. The 2012 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC-2012) multilateral naval exercise conducted from June 29 to August 3, was the largest in history, involving 22 countries, 42 ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft as well as 25,000 personnel. Strangely enough, Russia, a former adversary to American cold war strategy was a participant in the drill for the first time. The American military strategists were explicit enough to dub the exercise as a measure to keep vigil in the face of China’s growing military strength.
For the last more than two decades, since the collapse of Soviet superpower, the US without being challanged from any quarter has been continuing one war after another, in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, to preserve its exclusive sway over global matters and reverse its economic decline. America is withdrawing from Afghanistan only to redeploy its marines on Okinawa Island.
North Korea is an excuse. They are more concerned about China, more precisely about China’s development of anti-ship ballistic missiles that could threaten the mighty naval fleet of America. They are talking of stragetic friendship but they are talking of strategic conflicts as well. South China sea is quickly becoming a hot spot because of huge oil reserves lying untapped beneath the sea floor. The Philippines is a stakeholder in the oil gambling and in any event of hostility the US would come to defend its ally—the Philippines—as they have a mutual defence treaty in place.
Incidentally India has been dragged into the South China sea oil dispute as India is aiding Vietnam in exploring oil in the disputed waters. It’s unlikely for India to antagonise China beyond a certain point. They know it well China is a hard nut to crack when it is the question of territory. The Chinese side has not budged an inch from their stated position on territorial disputes with India since the border war in the Himalays in 1962.
After so many rounds of talks on the border question both India and China have achieved very little in terms of permanent solution to the vexed question of disputed boundary. After each round of talk diplomats and negotiators smile, shaking hands before the media persons while the issue remains as rigid as it was in 1962, when India was humiliated by its neighbour who was regarded as a good friend before the war. Everything changed suddenly and peace as enunciated in the panchsheel diplomacy went into smoke, precipitating a lasting hostility the legacy of which continues still.
The increasing military exercies in the Asia-Pacific region by America, are billed as boosting non-traditional security in areas such as marine navigation safety, disaster management, rescue operations and counter-piracy. But the Chinese don’t believe it. They see in it a return of cold war psyche. The other aspect of the game is economic as the Asia-Pacific region appears to be new hope for the financial and debt crisis-ridden western economies. The China factor is kicking in more ways than one. And they are talking of detering China, even publicly, before it is too late.
American economy is dependent on war. It may be cold war or hot war but it is war. Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy is basically aimed at reinforcing American military presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. In other words it’s precisely a blue-print for encircling China militarily. In response to this strategy China too is expanding its military capabilities in the region as it is reflected in the growing imbalance of power across the Taiwan straits. China is reportedly developing advaned ballistic missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles that could target US naval forces in the region.
Afghanistan is a liability for America and its allies. Nor is Iraq showing a desired stability as perceived by Washington before pulverising that country to the stone age. The Asia-Pacific region is now regarded as the engine of the world economy, thanks to rise of the Dragon. ‘The annual trade volume between the United States and the region is higher than that of the United States with any other region’. And quite expectedly Washington is shifting its focus to the region where the White House stragegists think, a major strategic adjustment is required.
As the notion of China being the elephant in room, is gaining currency, it is quite natural for America to return to cold war diplomacy, though on a different plane with different strokes that were absent during the Soviet era.
Vol. 45, No. 11, Sep 23 -29 2012
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