Thursday, August 9, 2018

US imperialism, the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific


The implementation of the US-led Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) has had far-reaching implications for the Asia-Pacific region. It has been in the forefront of a rising tide of US-led militarism sweeping the region.

The GTDS has also had fewer intended implications for parts of the region such as the Korean peninsula. Older regional military planning has now been superseded with GTDS-linked developments.

It remains to be seen how quickly the US imperialists realign their military forces and discard previous military facilities. Alternatively, they may choose to retain existing facilities and add to newer ones in order to increase their regional military position.


The recent full implementation of the GTDS had formally linked Australia with Japan directly into the Pentagon as two regional hubs for 'US interests'. The triangular diplomatic relationship now forms the basis of US-led defence and security provision for the Asia-Pacific region and their moves toward real-war scenarios. There is little ambiguity with the US position. The rapid rise of China has dramatically altered the regional balance of forces so that the US now seeks to defend its hegemonic position.


Reliable estimates show China will replace the US by 2030 as 'the greatest economic force in history', meaning the Asia-Pacific region is likely to become a theatre of heightened diplomatic tensions and possible real-war scenarios within the next decade. (1)


With Japan now a fully-fledged northern regional hub, US military planning from the previous Cold War and Defence of Japan doctrine has, in reality, become largely obsolete. The nearly 30,000 US military personnel based in South Korea (ROK) specifically for rapid deployment to Japan which had a pacifist constitution foisted upon it in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, now no longer have that specific role. 


During the past twenty years successive Japanese governments at the behest of their US masters have 're-interpreted' Clause 9 of their constitution to enable Japanese military forces to follow US-led operations elsewhere. (2) Many of the 22,000 US military personnel based in Japan remain actively involved in mentoring their Japanese counterparts.


Japanese foreign policy and diplomacy, In recent times, has also been solidly supportive of US-led initiatives in the Indian Ocean to counter the rise of China. (3) The development has been particularly significant in light of the US renaming their Pacific Command in Hawaii, the Indo-Pacific Command last May. The Indian Ocean has become a central concern for US military planners.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech - America's Indo-Pacific Economic Vision - at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on July 30 defining the Indo-Pacific as stretching "from the United States west coast to the west coast of India," basically the previous Asia-Pacific plus India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives (3a).


The moves have followed US military planning to develop their facilities on both Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean with Guam in the western Pacific, linked on a radial arc from Pine Gap, Central Australia. (4) The two military facilities have been transformed into hubs for operations, with Darwin Harbour, northern Australia as a support centre. (5)


It is therefore particularly significant to note the US-led regional Malabar military exercises this year, with active Japanese involvement, took place near Guam. At present, the US have 7,000 troops based in Guam, which is far more centrally placed for rapid deployment elsewhere across the wider region than the ROK, to the north. Geo-political positioning was also part of initial GTDS military planning where it was actually recognised 'the Pacific Ocean is the most likely theatre of major US military operations, as China becomes more powerful'. (6)


The military concerns about the rise of China by the US have also been accompanied by political developments inside the ROK. The country now has President Moon Jae-in, a supporter of greater dialogue with the northern DPRK and stated intentions of re-opening the Kaesong Trade Park in the DPRK with funding from China. In fact, in recent decades the ROK has been drawn closer to China through favourable trade relations. As China is also a major trading partner with the DPRK, the future of the three countries has become ever closer.


Today, the ROK is no longer a client state of the US, but a country in transition toward a rather different future. And anti-US sentiments are not uncommon in the ROK. In 2004 a survey found twenty per cent of ROK citizens 'would support the DPRK if it came under attack from the US'. (7)


It is against this backcloth the recent high-level diplomatic meetings in Singapore took place between the DPRK and US. Interestingly, in the immediate lead-up to the summit, the Trump administration apparently commissioned a military intelligence assessment of the Korean peninsula, and, it was noted, Trump 'had instructed the Pentagon to develop options for troop removal'. (8)  

When questioned about the revelation, an official White House media release further noted that there was the 'possibility of doing so later'. (9)


Whether the US actually takes the initiative to withdraw its military personnel from the ROK remains to be seen. It might be regarded as a means of distancing themselves from possible future diplomatic tensions and hostilities on the peninsula. The Pentagon might, however, decide to leave existing military facilities in place for possible future use in the same manner as numerous other bases across the region which have been quietly re-opened over the past decade with 'visiting forces' agreements and only made fully operational with military exercises. (10)


And what proportion of the present US$716.3 bn. US defence authorisation bill has been allocated for real-war scenarios officially planned as military exercises remains, as yet, to be established. It remains highly likely, however, to be the whole US$69 bn. allocation specifically for 'overseas contingency operations'. (11)


1.     Gearing up for China's power rise, Australian, 31 May 2018.

2.     The Normalisation of Japanese Policy in the Indian Ocean Region, Future Directions International, 21 June 2018.

3.     Ibid.

3a.  Indo-Pacific strategy more a geopolitical military alliance, Global Times, 7 Aug 2018

4.     Peters Projection, World Map, Scale 1: 1,230,000,000
5.     US Intensifies Military Presence in Indo-Pacific, Global Times, 24 July 2018.

6.     Rumsfeld signals shift to Pacific in overhaul of defence thinking, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 March – 4 April 2001.

7.     Uneasy Korea braced for America's big squeeze, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 10-16 December 2004.

8.     New York Times report, quoted, Trump, Washington Post, 4 May 2018.

9.     Ibid.

10.   US signs defence deal in Asia, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014; and, US eyes return to south-east Asian bases,  Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012, provides lists of those countries which have allowed the US military access to their facilities under various agreements.

11.   $969 bn defence bill sent to the White House, Australian, 3 August 2018.

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