Sunday, December 29, 2019

Naval exercises: China, Russia, Iran steal a march on US imperialism

Written by: (Contributed) on 29 December 2019 

(Above: Xi Jinping inspects the guided missile destroyer Xining which has been sent to the naval exercises)

A naval drill involving China, the Russian Federation and Iran in the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean in December 2019 has revealed a changing balance of forces in two distinct areas traditionally regarded as an important part of a traditional US sphere of influence.

The military exercise has also shown the importance of developments in Syria.

Toward the end of December, China, the Russian Federation and Iran staged a joint naval exercise intended to 'deepen co-operation between the three countries' navies'. (1) Code-named Marine Security Belt, the areas covered by the military drills are important for international trade, security and US regional influence and evolved from an earlier joint drill between China and Iran in 2017. (2)

In recent times the Russian Federation has developed 'growing military and diplomatic ties' with Iran. (3) Iran is a regional power in the Middle East and centre of Sh'ia Islam. China has also developed strong trade and diplomatic links with Iran in recent decades.

 The timing of the joint naval exercises has also proved a sensitive issue for Washington; while the Trump administration proposed a US-led military exercise in the same areas in mid-2019, military planners in the Pentagon have yet to make the necessary arrangements with regional allies. The Marine Security Belt operation has, therefore, sent a clear message to the US in relation to diplomacy in the areas concerned.

The Gulf of Oman, is regarded by the US military as particularly sensitive, in the northern part of the Arabian Sea and close to US allies Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which has hosted the US Fifth naval fleet since 1995. It also is a sensitive stretch of water linking into the Straits of Hormuz which carries about a fifth of the world oil supplies, including about half of Iran's oil imported by China. The Indian Ocean, likewise, forms part of the US-led Southern Ocean Defence Plan, with sensitive intelligence facilities based on Diego Garcia, linked into Pine Gap, Central Australia.

The naval exercise can be regarded as important for two reasons.

Firstly, as friction has increased following President Trump pulling out of a nuclear diplomatic deal made with Iran in 2015, tensions have risen between Washington and Tehran. The US position is a classic Cold War-type stance, aimed at polarising the region between Sh'ia and Sunni Islam. It has, however, backfired: traditional US ally, Saudi Arabia, the centre of Sunni Islam, has been pushed back onto defensive positions in recent times with the widespread defeat of the jihadists they finance and support elsewhere.

Secondly, the US decision to withdraw troops from Syria has had serious implications for US-led regional diplomatic positions. The Russian Federation, through supporting the Assad administration in Damascus, has subsequently strengthened its position in the wider region. (4) Iran, likewise, through its strong support for President Assad, has been drawn closer to the Russian Federation; both countries have had exchanges of military advisers. (5)

Elsewhere, growing diplomatic ties between Turkey and the Russian Federation have sent shock-waves into the heartlands of the Pentagon. The changing balance of forces has also drawn Turkey into the diplomatic realignment; Turkey recently installed a Russian Federation-made missile system and a recent threat to close two strategically-placed US military bases has shown the Trump administration they are no longer dealing with a compliant government and country at their beck and call.

The response of the Trump administration toward recent regional diplomatic developments has, therefore, been interesting, to say the very least. Mainstream media coverage has been extremely limited, using the bare minimum of factual information without even an official comment from Washington. It would not be unreasonable to suggest they have been left aghast.

As Australia has formed part of US-led regional operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan for nearly two decades, we should perhaps watch recent developments and the changing balance of forces with apprehension. Australia has little to gain from participating in wars and military incursions in a region so far from our shores, with no relevance whatsoever for our defence and security. 

We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     China, Russia Iran join forces for Indian Ocean naval drills, The Weekend Australian, 28-29 December 2019.
2.     China, Russia, Iran, The South China Morning Post, 21 September 2019.
3.     Iran's Defence Diplomacy with Russia, Modern Diplomacy, 30 January 2019.
4.     Syria's Assad gets a prize for US withdrawal, AP., 24 October 2019.
5.     Modern Diplomacy, op.cit., 30 January 2019.

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