Bush launches a new Asia strategy against power of China

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 09, 1422 2001-06-01

Special Reports

by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 7, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1422)

There appears to be no method in George W. Bush’s madness; since becoming president in a dubious presidential election, he has unleashed a flurry of policy statements and directives that have irked friend and foe alike. From reneging on the Kyoto environmental agreement to the scrapping of the anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972, Bush has fired from both hips like a cowboy galloping into town. If he means to prove that America is a mad superpower, then he is doing a great job.

Two recent developments point to the more belligerent policies being pursued by the team of cold warriors assembled by Bush in Washington. One is the release on May 16 of a Rand corporation study, “The United States and Asia: Towards a New US Strategy and Force Posture.” The other is the testimony before the US congress of Christina Rocca, nominated US assistant secretary of state for South Asia. Both provide strong clues about current thinking in Washington.

The Rand study urges the US government to formulate a new and integrated Asia strategy “to deal with a host of critical challenges, from the rising power of China and India and the regional proliferation of missiles and nuclear weapons to the continuing threat from North Korea and the shaky status of Indonesia and Pakistan.” It suggests that the new strategy be based on strengthening “our existing bilateral security alliances, pursuing a balance-of-power among China, India and Russia and promoting an inclusive security dialogue among all Asian states.”

While couched in diplomatic language, the unmistakable thrust of the study is containment of China, the emerging superpower, which hitherto had been engaged. With Bush’s assumption of power, containment has replaced engagement as the preferred mode of dealing with Beijing. Led by Zalmay Khalilzad, Rand’s corporate chair in international security, who has now joined the White House as special assistant to the US president and senior director at the national security council, the study outlines ways to deal with Beijing by a well-hedged mixture of engagement and containment tactics, as well as by reviving the US military presence in the Pacific. Augmenting this policy is the expansion of access to bases in Southeast Asia and perhaps in South Asia and Oman as well, by forging military-to-military ties with India, Pakistan and Indonesia, and encouraging security co-ordination among such core US partners as Japan, Australia and South Korea. In a leaf taken straight out of cold war manuals, the study says American regional capabilities should be further improved by building up Guam as a power projection hub, developing new concepts for joint Air Force-Navy operations that maximize the leverage of their combined theatre forces, and giving greater emphasis to longer-range combat platforms when planning future force structures. Options of the latter include additional heavy bombers, “arsenal planes” that could be loaded with large numbers of standoff “smart weapons”, and development of a small fleet of high-speed, long-range strike aircraft.

The American thinktank study reflects current government thinking. It is important to understand that such thinktanks are not independent entities, despite claims to the contrary. Rand and zionist-controlled bodies such as the Washington Near East Policy Institute are used as revolving doors for jobs in the US government, especially on the national security council. Khalilzad’s appointment as Bush’s advisor and as senior director at the national security council, therefore, should come as no surprise.

The Rand study preceded by a day Christina Rocca’s senate testimony in which she heaped praise on India as a new “global power.” This sudden elevation of India to global power status is not without purpose as far as Washington is concerned. Following its now predictable pattern of behaviour, the US has traditionally used other states to advance its own policy objectives. India is being groomed as a potential rival to China. While India’s designation as a “global power” will be music to most ears in Delhi, it comes up against the harsh reality of life in a country where more than 350 million people live below the poverty level. An even greater number sleep in sewers or under the open sky. Even as India savoured its newly-conferred status, residents of Delhi were stricken by the fear of a “monkeyman.” This half-human, half-beast like creature has struck terror in the hearts of Delhi’s populace, with even the prime minister’s staff getting in on the act.

Notwithstanding the monkeyman’s wrench in India’s celebrations, Rocca welcomed the role India is playing beyond South Asia. “But with that new role come new responsibilities — economic, political and military. In those areas, the United States and India can, with effort and cooperation, be partners,” she said. There was also something to smooth the ruffled feathers in Islamabad over arch-rival India’s higher status. Rocca said: “In the case of Pakistan, ours is a friendship of long standing, and one that must be sustained and enhanced.” She also revealed that US secretary of state Colin Powell had invited Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar to Washington in June for an in-depth discussion about relations, which have been turbulent in recent years. “Those discussions,” Rocca went on, “will be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness.” In diplomatic terminology, “openness” means blunt talk. She admitted that “the Bush Administration is committed to working through difficult economic, political and social challenges now facing Pakistan. Where we can cooperate, in areas such as counter-narcotics, we must continue. Where we do not cooperate optimally, for example on Afghanistan, we must work harder to show Pakistan the shared threat we face from the regime in Kabul.” Almost as an afterthought, she added: “Pakistan is an important regional power and an important Islamic power,” and suggested that the US must work with it.

Itemizing the list of US concerns, Rocca said that terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass-destruction and drug-trafficking posed new challenges to the US. Interestingly, it was as a result of India’s nuclear explosions in May 1998 that the nuclear genie was uncorked from the bottle in the subcontinent. It is also India’s militaristic policies that have got it global status, yet the US has accepted and welcomed India’s new role and power projection while attempting to corner Pakistan to do its bidding. The fight against drug-trafficking is a case in point. Pakistan has suffered greatly for serving American interests. From no drug addicts in 1980, today it has more than six million by allowing American drug-enforcement officials to keep the lethal substance largely confined to Pakistan. Afghanistan is another interesting case. The Taliban banned poppy-cultivation and the US promised US$3 billion aid. Not a penny has been given despite the people suffering great economic hardship as a consequence.

America’s new strategy is aimed essentially at containing and thus undermining China, whose giant economic strides are causing enormous worry in Washington. The US does not believe in open competition, despite drum-beating about the virtues of free trade. For Americans, free trade means they should be free to export their goods to other markets but others must not bring their goods to the US. Almost all economists agree that, should China continue to maintain the growth rate it has achieved in the last 15 years, in 20 years’ time it will have the largest economy in the world. This is something the US is determined to prevent; hence its provocative policies and statements concerning China. India is being groomed through trade offers and enhanced military and political interactions to take on China. Will India live up to America’s expectations? Is it capable of playing the kind of role assigned to it by the US?

There is something incongruous about conferring global status on a country ridden by the caste-system as well as a society which boasts of 350 million starving people. Global status does not put food in the begging-bowl.

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