Many critics of the far-right Trump administration in Washington see recent developments on the Korean peninsula as an example of the confrontational foreign policy of US imperialism. There is, however, a great deal more to the problem than meets the eye at first glance.
The US foreign policy guidelines were established over fifteen years ago with the Bush administrations and their Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) as part of their so-called New World Order.
Now fully operational, the GTDS has set US diplomacy onto a war-footing in the Asia-Pacific region: from earlier planning by then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Bush administrations, to a more circumspect position adopted by the Obama administrations to the now more aggressive approach of the present Trump administration, a common strand has linked the three. And they target China.
Soon after taking office, President George Bush Jnr began preparations for confrontational military positions. Full-scale military interventions into Iraq and Afghanistan led to prolonged occupation of the two countries. The approach toward the Asia-Pacific region was to encircle and contain China as a threat to US hegemonic positions. It was no less aggressive than forays in Iraq and Afghanistan although based on longer-term planning.
A central feature of the preparations included planning and eventual implementation of the GTDS; Japan would be transformed into a fully-fledged regional hub for 'US interests' in the northern part of the region. The provision also included Japan being transformed from a somewhat passive 'client state' by rewriting parts of its pacifist constitution to serve Pentagon military planning.
Australia, likewise, was the regional hub in the southern part. The two hubs were then given responsibility for establishing effective diplomatic relations with allies as part of their triangular relationship with the Pentagon, maintained through regional diplomacy and trade agreements.
US planning also included both Japan and Australia being used for military training and logistics together with hosting sensitive facilities for use with drones and other equipment.
During the past decade-and-a-half the GTDS has been fully implemented and it should therefore come as no surprise that we see confrontation in sensitive areas of the region such as the Korean peninsula. For US military planning, however, the northern Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) would appear considered a softer, trial-run before bigger confrontations with China.
During the early part of the Obama administrations despite official denial about China, Steven Hildreth of the Congressional Research Service was actually quoted stating 'the focus of our rhetoric is North Korea, the reality is that we're also looking longer term at the elephant in the room which is China'. (1)
The US diplomatic position was likewise also clarified by Admiral Denis Blair who was director of National Intelligence in the Obama administration. Following his retirement, he stated 'I'm not in the Pentagon anymore' and 'confirmed China is the principal target of a major US war plan'. (2)
A media release from the Pentagon laying out a twenty-year defence strategy in early 2006 also included the statement 'China is seen as having the greatest potential to compete militarily with the US'. (3)
During the Obama administrations US diplomacy was marked by two distinct features: an emphasis upon shifting away from military confrontations, and re-opening military facilities for later use with military hostilities across the region.
The former was marked by the US leading by example and a seemingly less aggressive foreign policy. (4) It was a clever ploy, making extensive use of diplomatic silence. In fact, when President Obama made an official visit to the Pentagon in early 2012 he made not a single reference to China. It was noted, however, Obama was 'determined to beat back any Chinese bid for hegemony in the Asia-Pacific'. (5)
The latter, included favourable US diplomatic positions toward the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, together with other countries 'in response to a rising China'. (6) The US intended allies in the region to counter China, if and when required.
The period was also marked by a Pentagon project to transform the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with 'hundreds of additional spies overseas' as part of a plan showing the 'Obama administration's preference for espionage and covert action over conventional force'. (7) The same Pentagon media release noted 'the DIA has long played a major role in assessing and identifying targets for US forces'. (8)
Australian foreign policy, likewise, has remained close to US positions through the alliance and its Asian allies. During the final stages of implementation of the GTDS Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews provided guidelines in a carefully worded lecture in London, where, the rise of China was considered 'a key consideration for Australian planning and policy-making' and how 'Asia responds to China's rise will be a major driver of the Indo-Pacific's strategic future'. (9)
The southern Republic of Korea (ROK) remains a key part of US regional military planning; its primary role is for rapid deployment with the doctrine of “defence of Japan” at time of regional conflict. The two countries therefore have close intelligence links through US-led systems. The relationship between the ROK and Japan, however, is best described a problematic due to the legacy of Japan’s war-time atrocities. Secondly, the ROK has been allocated a role of maintaining a strategy of tension with the northern DPRK. It has not been popular with many ROK citizens.
The problem has also been compounded by decades of repression in the ROK where a succession of presidential administrations forced political opposition underground to serve 'US interests'. The ROK is a divided society, often where political allegiances are not openly acknowledged. Attempts by then President Roh Moo-hyun to repeal the National Security Law in 2004 proved highly controversial, for example, lifting the lid on past repression involving large numbers of Korean people. (10) Under most circumstances the legacy of the problem would have remained hidden.
It is therefore perhaps not surprising the Roh administration used the opportunity to assess the extent of the problem. A seemingly accurate survey found about twenty per cent of the ROK population 'would support North Korea if it came under attack by the US'. (11) The methods used by the US and their ROK cronies in dealing with this problem are interesting to monitor.
In conclusion, with the GTDS now fully operational the US is on a war-footing in the Asia-Pacific region. It is likely to drag allies into military hostilities to serve 'US interests' as they seek to contain and encircle China.
1. US seeks new Asia defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012.
2. US war strategy 'targets China', The Age (Melbourne), 9 August 2012.
3. US boosts elite forces in 'long war' strategy, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 10-16 February 2006.
4. US signals foreign policy shift away from military might, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 6 June 2014, contains reference to a speech by President Obama to cadets at the US Military Academy, West Point, New York, and US foreign policy positions.
5. China: the hidden agenda in US strategy, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 13 January 2012.
6. US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012; and, US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014.
7. Pentagon plays the spy game, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
9. China's rise will drive defence policy: Andrews, Australian, 28 April 2015.
10. Uneasy Korea braced for America's big squeeze, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 10-16 December 2004.