America’s Pacific century and its strategic pivot

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Mirza Aslam Beg

Jumada' al-Ula' 20, 1434 2013-04-01

Special Reports

by Mirza Aslam Beg (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1434)

As the US has been defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has shifted its focus to the Pacific region to contain the rising power of China. General Mirza Aslam Beg, former chief of the Pakistan Army, argues that countries like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are well-placed to assert their rights in this new architecture.

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.”

The US will support a quasi-alliance of Japan, India and Australia to dilute Chinese influence and make Beijing face the pressure of economic and trade hegemony of the proposed 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.” Washington will forge the Trans-Pacific-Partnership to restrict China, through a deal for a free-trade bloc, linking the Pacific Rim states. It will rebalance its posture in the region through a more balanced distribution of its military resources, which had long been concentrated on Northeast Asia.

There will be no direct US military intervention a la Iraq and Afghanistan. America’s coalition partners will be required to do the heavy lifting 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,” said Hillary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State. She added that the US “will intervene militarily in the Senkakus Islands conflict with China.” Thus Washington, in reversing its seven-decade old policy, will allow an increased role for Japan’s Self Defence Forces, with the aim to bolster regional military cooperation. The “Swing Players” must endeavor to balance US interests in order to maximize their own national interests.

America’s Defence Strategic Guidance is conceptualized around three premises. First is the belief that the US will be able to restore its military and economic prowess to play a leading role in the new world order, as it 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, the regional powers as well as the “Coalition of the Willing” would help to implement this strategy.

These lofty objectives are difficult to achieve because during the last 30 years, the US ambition to play a dominant role in the new world order has remained subdued and suppressed due to opposition from the Islamic resistance, rising from the soil of Afghanistan-Pakistan. The global order has also turned multi-polar with the emergence of new regional powers. The strategy to draw China into the open is not going to work either. China’s priorities are different and it is in 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 reserves that exceed US $2.7 trillion, whereas the US with a struggling economy after the two expensive wars, owes more than US $4 trillion in debt to China. The economic compulsions, therefore, do not favor the strategy of the Asia Pacific Pivot. Historically China has been a proselytizing power (not a military one). It has been subjected to aggression over many centuries forcing the Chinese 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 the US either. China’s main concern is the search for oil, energy and mineral wealth, to raise the living standards of its people that constitute one-fifth of humanity. Thus during the last two decades, China has entered into long term deals, committing over a trillion dollars, with countries of the world, that 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.

By developing regional cooperative relationship regimes, using soft power and reducing global military commitments, the US and its allies would create a better environment to secure their interests. The new geostrategic realities that have emerged from three decades of wars, conflicts, revolutions and upheavals demand an entirely new approach to world affairs. Times have changed and US policy makers, ruefully, now have to change their mental outlook toward so-called Islamic extremism. If one continues calling the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Somalia and Yemen, etc. as “al-Qaeda terrorists,” one becomes the very victim of such self-inflicted clichés.

We in Pakistan have been cursing ourselves for the Kargil blunder of 1999 but get little consolation analyzing the two futile and expensive wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. The US and its allies have been chasing al-Qaeda, blamed for causing 9/11, yet this “powerful enemy” has not retaliated even once during the last 12 years of a 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 the US. Not one of the [so-called radical Islamic] countries has produced one militant with a foreign agenda. By bombing the militants in [using our violence against] their violence, post-transition has been made most difficult. Military intervention rarely works.”

A final word is in order as far as Pakistan is concerned. As the US disengages from this region and shifts the Strategic Pivot to Asia-Pacific, the decision by the Pakistan government to handover Gwadar port to China and accelerate work on the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline is timely and diplomatically very appropriate. Indeed it is a befitting parting-gift for the next government that will come to power in Pakistan after the May 2013 elections.

The writer is the former Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army and currently heads the Islamabad NGO, Friends Foundation

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