Paper no. 5447 Dated 04-Apr-2013
By Dr. Subhash Kapila
East Asia has figured high in the United States strategic calculus ever since the end of the Second World War. Right till China made a strategic swing away from the former Soviet Union, the Eastern littoral of Asia resting on the Western Pacific presented a solid shield of Communist States allied to Russia namely China and Vietnam.
United States was fortunate that at that time neither China nor Vietnam had Navies worth the name to tilt the balance against the United States. The United States with its awesome power attributes and force projection capabilities of the US Navy and the colossal power of the US Air Force dominated East Asia militarily.
The end of the Cold War did not bring in any peace dividends for East Asia or the United States with the diminishing of the Soviet Threat. A new threat was in the making in East Asia and this time it was in the form of Communist China, which was no longer tilted to the United States but was swinging back towards a militarily diminished Russia. For a decade or so until Russia’s resurgence materialised under President Putin, China assumed a superior air and attitudes as the senior partner in the evolving China –Russia strategic nexus.
However, equations changed in the Russia-China strategic relationship in the decade following when China had to overwhelmingly depend on Russian energy supplies, Russian armaments and defence technology. Russia and China while proceeding along with their so-called strategic nexus were aware that neither ideological affinities nor strategic convergences of any substantial content joined them together. It was a downright ‘marriage of convenience’ which like all such marriages could dissolve at the drop of a hat.
At the time of this writing in 2013 the strategic picture in East Asia, briefly emerges as follows:
• The China Threat has emerged as a serious strategic concern for the United States and its unquestioned strategic supremacy in Asia Pacific
• The China Threat has emerged in menacing contours to all Asia Pacific countries extending from Japan and all the way to India.
• The China Threat has substantial military capabilities to challenge the status-quo in East Asia
The United State has belatedly resorted to the strategic pivot to Asia or what the United States now terms as rebalancing of force deployments in Asia Pacific. United States deferring to China may call it what it wishes but the central fact is that this is a belated putting into effect a strategy of containment of China.
The United States is being hypocritical when it justifies its existing approaches to China as a policy of “Congagement” that is a simultaneous strategy of ‘Containing China” as well as “Engagement of China”. It reflects a critical dilemma for the United States and its emphasis on “China Hedging Strategy”.
The world has a right to ask the United States pertinently as to for what eventualities or what scenarios it is persistently pursuing “China Hedging Strategy”? Other questions that comes to one’s mind in this connection are does the United States still fears Russia’s return to a bipolar equation with the United States? Or whether in that eventuality would China once again swing to a quasi-strategic nexus with the United States? And whether China would prove to be a steadfast ally of the United States against Russia?
The United States may still be the mightiest power on earth and continue as such for some more decades but that mightiness has not prevented it from committing some of the mightiest strategic blunders in East Asia and these needs to be highlighted when perceptions are gaining ground that the United States power is on the decline.
In terms of strategic blunders committed by the United States in East Asia all of them virtually relate to United States wrong assessments on China and can be termed as ‘original sins’ of the United States and the list is so long that it is difficult to decide where to begin from.
Let us begin with China’s intentions against the United States in East Asia. China challenged the United States with an outright war on the Korean Peninsula in early 1950s, when the United States was the only power with nuclear weapons. China chose to range against the United States in the decade long Vietnam War ending in a stalemate in the 1970s. China has created a nuclear weapons monster in North Korea threatening the United States and East Asia stability. China since 2008-2009 is challenging the United States on the South China Sea disputes and denting US strategic image in Asia arising from any substantial ripostes from the United States.
The biggest strategic blunder that the United States has committed in East Asia in light of the above backdrop is to be oblivious/permissive/ and not checkmating the military rise of China despite its proven credentials of propensity to resort to conflict to settle territorial disputes with its neighbours. The United States whether by acts of omission or commission has facilitated the rise of a militarist and aggressively adventurist China
The original strategic blunder which the United States committed to facilitate the above was underwriting the economic resurgence of China which today fuels China’s aggressive postures not only in East Asia but also challenging United States strategic intentions to stay embedded in East Asia.
In contemporary review the strategic blunder that the United States continues to persist in is not calling to account China for the nuclear waywardness of China’s military protégé North Korea. Here the question that needs to be asked of the United States is to why the US is displaying ‘double standards’ on nuclear proliferation, especially when North Korean nuclear weaponisation is a direct and potent threat to United States’ staunchest allies in East Asia , namely, Japan and South Korea?
At the global level it needs to be pointed out that in the decades to come historians would rate the mightiest strategic blunder of the United States in ignoring the co-option of Russia as a strategic partner for maintenance of peace and security in Asia Pacific as a whole. The irony is that when it comes to re-setting US-Russia relations, there exists in Washington a large community of “Cold War Gladiators” who distort any moves in this direction. These “Cold War Gladiators” seem to be welcoming a US-Threatening China in preference to Russia with whom the United States has had the experience to work and manage during critical phases of the Cold War era.
It is also forgotten by the Washington policy establishment that while the US may have some shaky strategic convergences with China but in the entire Asia Pacific region virtually all the countries have no strategic convergences with China. Rather unlike the United States, to these Asian Countries The China Threat is live and threatening.
The last strategic blunder therefore that one wishes to record of the United States in East Asia is a noticeable US-Asian countries strategic dissonance on The China Threat and their dissatisfaction with the United States applying two different standards in the management of The China Threat.
Paper no. 5447 Dated 04-Apr-2013