Tuesday, December 12, 2017




Two important factors arise with the wave of US-led militarism sweeping the Asia-Pacific and wider region:


The US is failing to maintain its traditional hegemonic position economically and militarily despite developing highly sophisticated weaponry. The military option is the only one left open for the US.


Secondly, US military planning is increasingly making greater use of regional allies to defend 'US interests' with war plans.

The US war-drive in the Asia-Pacific is relentless: the joint US-ROK Vigilant Ace four-day military exercise in December, 2017, involving 12,000 US personnel alongside ROK counterparts has taken place. (1) It included 90 ROK and 150 US aircraft including six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters together with strategic bombers and spy-planes with the aim of raising tensions still further on the Korean peninsula. (2)  
As one exercise ends, another begins. The exercises tend to make extensive use of simulations for real-war scenarios, particularly on the Korean peninsula. A recent media release, for example, dealt with the military planning to evacuate 28,500 US troops, diplomatic personnel and other embassy workers from the ROK as 'conflict with North Korea was getting close'. (3)
Behind the action-packed scenes, however, official defence department media releases reveal a far more sombre approach to US-China diplomacy and the tilting balance of forces toward Beijing.
It is generally acknowledged the US 'military superiority in the region is under strain'. (4) It has further been noted 'the US military technological advantage, an aspect of its strategic power since the end of the Cold War, is eroding'. (5) The US military position, however, rests upon economic practicalities which are being eroded by the rapid rise of China: Japan has already been pushed into third place, the US will be dislodged as the biggest economy in the world in the next decade.

                                         GDP GROWTH – (ANNUAL PERCENTAGE)
                                           UNITED STATES                              CHINA
                           1961                   2.3                                            - 27.3                                     
                           2016                   1.6                                               6.3  
                                                       (SOURCE: WORLD BANK)

The continued decline in economic leadership will be a major problem for decision-makers in Washington in the future. The economic option for resolving problems will become more difficult, if not impossible. The US is therefore more likely to opt for quick military solutions, making greater use of allies. An official Defence Department media release noted the US was 'particularly committed to the rebalance' together with their intention to remain with 'our effort between now and the early 2020s of ensuring sixty per cent of our naval and air force strength in the Pacific'. (6) What happens after the early 2020s has yet to be clarified.  
Diplomatically, US defence department media releases have acknowledged the economic constraints upon military spending with 'US dominance is increasingly costly. Sustaining America's military and strategic position with its present capabilities is straining the Pentagon's fiscal resources'. (7)
Studies of the increasing US defence budget has revealed it has increased from $611 bn in 2015 to a further projected $54 bn this year, totalling an 8.84 per cent increase. (8) China, by contrast, has a defence budget of $215 bn set to increase by only a small amount this year. (9)
With such practicalities in mind US military planners have embarked upon the development of new technologies to enhance their military position against adversaries. It was noted in a recent report 'the question is not whether the future of warfare will be filled with autonomous, A1-driven robots, but when and in what form'. (10)  Initiatives have already begun to reform US defence institutions to 'take advantage of private sector developments faster' with bodies such as the Defence Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) which 'aims to bring the Pentagon to Silicon Valley'. (11)
Another US military initiative has been to use 'manned-unmanned teaming' where Apache helicopters guide large numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) with the specific intention of doubling or tripling 'capacity of our fighting formations'. (12) The teaming exercise rests heavily upon 'ground systems and their inclusion into day-to-day military operations' and are clearly planned for aggressive action because, in the words of the Defence Department, we 'cannot wait for an existential threat'. (13)
The development forms part of the US-led Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) which has Japan as a northern hub for US interests and Australia as a southern counterpart. The triangular military plan has included Japan and Australia taking a more active role in the region at the behest of the US as seen with recent Defence Department statements using the term 'cross-pollination' for military planning with Australian facilities through 'digital interoperability with both armies'. (14)
Japan, likewise, reached high-level defence co-operation with the US with a defence agreement which 'replaces guidelines geared exclusively toward the defence of Japan with new rules that eliminate any geographical restriction'. (15) The development can be viewed as a departure from usual defence strategies to more aggressive initiatives including pre-emption. Over a decade ago, for example, official defence statements from Tokyo included 'the military be given the capability to launch pre-emptive strikes' on adversaries, 'a move that would deviate from Japan's long-held defence-only policy'. (16)
The US-led military planning would appear to make greater use of small, secretive military facilities with the re-opening of numerous bases across the Asia-Pacific region which were closed either after the Vietnam War or in the 1990s. They have now been re-activated with recent military planning including 'the idea that the US government is committed to helping its allies in the face of external threats'. (17) It is not difficult therefore to observe the small, secretive bases, across the region being referred to 'lily-pads', specifically to enhance the reach of military aircraft and their cargoes of drones intended for furthering 'US interests'. (18) They, however, require reliable allies for their maintenance. The allies, also, risk being drawn into regional hostilities between the US and China, which may not be in their interests.
The US-led military planning will also make use of the Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) to 'send hundreds of additional spies overseas'. The 2012 initiative, 'includes military attaches and others who do not work undercover', and rested upon a 'new five-year period by the deployment of a new generation of clandestine operatives'', trained by the CIA and working with the US Joint Special Operations Command'. (19) 
What is not coincidental is Australia has entered into a Cold War-type of place reminiscent of the 1950s with endless media outlets warnings about spies, problems in the South China Seas and how China is a 'communist nation'. (20) Chinese students studying in Australia have also been targeted although it is generally acknowledged 'we've got an extraordinary number of Chinese students in Australia and the whole education sector – universities are now totally dependent on those fees for their economic survival at the moment'. (21)
The US military planners would appear to live a schizophrenic existence, the pivot has already swung against them. Trade between Australia and China for the present financial year has reached $175 bn, as opposed to trade between the former and the US which remains 'steady' at $66 bn. (22) There are other examples, with Australia a popular destination for Chinese tourists, the trade generated $9.2 bn last year in spending. (23)
The problem of the changing balance of forces has already been noted by some serious defence and security analysts. They have stated 'how the US maintains its security commitments to its allies in a security environment where it is no longer dominant is an enormously challenging problem', due to 'commercial linkages with China will be too great to consider antagonising Beijing'. (24)
1.     US bomber flies, Fox News, 6 December 2017.
2.     Every day we're nearer to a war with Kim, says US security chief, Australian, 5 December 2017.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Indo-Pacific arm wrestle as US-China power play unfolds, Australian, 5 December 2017.
5.     China taking lead in Indo-Pacific arms race, Australian, 5 December 2017.
6.     US eyes our navy for South China Seas, Australian, 14 October 2015.
7.     Australian, op.cit., 5 December 2017.
8.     Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Fact Sheet, April 2017; and, Trump to seek $54 bn., New York Times, 27 February 2017.
9.     Ibid.
10.   A1 wanted on ground to protect and attack, Australian, 1 October 2017.
11.   Indo-Pacific, op.cit., Australian, 5 December 2017.
12.   A1, op.cit., Australian, 1 December 2017.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Ibid.
15.   Japan to extend military reach beyond self-defence, The Age (Melbourne), 29 April 2015.
16.   Japanese top brass plan for future pre-emptive strike, The Age (Melbourne), 2 October 2004.
17.   US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014; and, US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012.
18.   Common challenges provide platform for regional co-operation, Australian, 27 November 2017.
19.   Pentagon plays spy games, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
20.   China fires up diplomatic row, 7 December 2017.
21.   Australian National University Chancellor, Gareth Evans quoted in, Evans warns on spy threat at unis, Australian, 5 October 2017.
22.   China, op.cit., Australian, 7 December 2017.
23.   Editorial, Safeguarding our democracy, Australian, 8 December 2017.
24.   Renewed talks rock Beijing's boat, Australian, 15 November 2017.

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