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Klare writes: "On May 30th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced a momentous shift in American global strategic policy. From now on, he decreed, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), which oversees all U.S. military forces in Asia, will be called the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM)."

Defense Secretary James Mattis waits outside of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2018. (photo: DoD)
Defense Secretary James Mattis waits outside of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2018. (photo: DoD)


Girding for Confrontation, the Pentagon's Provocative Encirclement of China

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

19 June 18

 


There’s no other imperial tradition like it.  For two millennia, dynasty after dynasty rose and fell, spread and shrank, reaching into Southeast Asia and far out into the steppes of Eurasia, its commercial fleets -- 3,500 ships in the fourteenth century -- voyaging as far as Africa.  It’s true that ours is a remarkably westernized and, more recently, Americanized version of history that has left little place for the tale of imperial China, but what a history it had.  It wasn’t known as the “Middle” or “Central Kingdom” for nothing.  And now, of course, it’s back, a new “dynasty,” even if it goes under the more modern rubric of a “communist” state.  The latest version of imperial China has a growing military and plans to create a trillion dollar “One Belt, One Road” infrastructural grid of pipelines, rail lines, highways, and other links of every sort across significant parts of Southeast and South Asia, as well as the former Central Asian "stans" of the Soviet Union and Iran, a future grid that's meant to reach all the way to Europe.  At least in the expansive dreams of China’s new rulers, such a network of infrastructure would bind a vast world of trade and wealth to Beijing.

It’s a vision that should take your breath away and, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare writes today, it has indeed done so in at least one key precinct of this world of ours: the Pentagon.  There, China’s One Belt, One Road vision is being greeted not with enthusiasm but with anxiety and consternation.  The military of the reigning superpower, the last one, the only one, is increasingly unnerved by the latest version of a Chinese dynasty and responding in ways that should make all of us anxious.  Klare describes the obvious dangers that could flow from an American urge to militarily contain the latest version of the Middle Kingdom, as a new great power rivalry rises on a planet that's been bereft of them for more than a quarter of a century.

Unfortunately, when you’re looking at the long record of China and the shorter but distinctive one of that last superpower, history can’t offer us any clues about one thing: What does it mean to have a new and rising power on a planet that shows every sign of itself going down?  What does it mean for two powers to face off, both of whom stand a significant chance of seeing some of their major coastal cities flooded and destroyed in the century or less to come?  What exactly is the point of it all?

-Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch


Girding for Confrontation
The Pentagon’s Provocative Encirclement of China

n May 30th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced a momentous shift in American global strategic policy. From now on, he decreed, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), which oversees all U.S. military forces in Asia, will be called the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). The name change, Mattis explained, reflects “the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans,” as well as Washington’s determination to remain the dominant power in both.   

What? You didn’t hear about this anywhere?  And even now, you’re not exactly blown away, right? Well, such a name change may not sound like much, but someday you may look back and realize that it couldn’t have been more consequential or ominous.  Think of it as a signal that the U.S. military is already setting the stage for an eventual confrontation with China.

If, until now, you hadn’t read about Mattis’s decision anywhere, I’m not surprised since the media gave it virtually no attention -- less certainly than would have been accorded the least significant tweet Donald Trump ever dispatched.  What coverage it did receive treated the name change as no more than a passing “symbolic” gesture, a Pentagon ploy to encourage India to join Japan, Australia, and other U.S. allies in America’s Pacific alliance system. “In Symbolic Nod to India, U.S. Pacific Command Changes Name” was the headline of a Reuters story on the subject and, to the extent that any attention was paid, it was typical.

That the media’s military analysts failed to notice anything more than symbolism in the deep-sixing of PACOM shouldn’t be surprising, given all the attention being paid to other major international developments -- the pyrotechnics of the Korean summit in Singapore, the insults traded at and after the G7 meeting in Canada, or the ominous gathering storm over Iran.  Add to this the poor grasp so many journalists have of the nature of the U.S. military’s strategic thinking.  Still, Mattis himself has not been shy about the geopolitical significance of linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans in such planning.  In fact, it represents a fundamental shift in U.S. military thinking with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Consider the backdrop to the name change: in recent months, the U.S. has stepped up its naval patrols in waters adjacent to Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea (as has China), raising the prospect of future clashes between the warships of the two countries. Such moves have been accompanied by ever more threatening language from the Department of Defense (DoD), indicating an intent to do nothing less than engage China militarily if that country’s build-up in the region continues.  “When it comes down to introducing what they have done in the South China Sea, there are consequences,” Mattis declared at the Shangri La Strategic Dialogue in Singapore on June 2nd.

As a preliminary indication of what he meant by this, Mattis promptly disinvited the Chinese from the world’s largest multinational naval exercise, the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), conducted annually under American auspices.  “But that’s a relatively small consequence,” he added ominously, “and I believe there are much larger consequences in the future.”  With that in mind, he soon announced that the Pentagon is planning to conduct “a steady drumbeat” of naval operations in waters abutting those Chinese-occupied islands, which should raise the heat between the two countries and could create the conditions for a miscalculation, a mistake, or even an accident at sea that might lead to far worse.

In addition to its plans to heighten naval tensions in seas adjacent to China, the Pentagon has been laboring to strengthen its military ties with U.S.-friendly states on China’s perimeter, all clearly part of a long-term drive to -- in Cold War fashion -- “contain” Chinese power in Asia.  On June 8th, for example, the DoD launched Malabar 2018, a joint Pacific Ocean naval exercise involving forces from India, Japan, and the United States.  Incorporating once neutral India into America’s anti-Chinese “Pacific” alliance system in this and other ways has, in fact, become a major twenty-first-century goal of the Pentagon, posing a significant new threat to China.

For decades, the principal objective of U.S. strategy in Asia had been to bolster key Pacific allies Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines, while containing Chinese power in adjacent waters, including the East and South China Seas.  However, in recent times, China has sought to spread its influence into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region, in part by extolling its staggeringly ambitious “One Belt, One Road” trade and infrastructure initiative for the Eurasian continent and Africa.  That vast project is clearly meant both as a unique vehicle for cooperation and a way to tie much of Eurasia into a future China-centered economic and energy system.  Threatened by visions of such a future, American strategists have moved ever more decisively to constrain Chinese outreach in those very areas.  That, then, is the context for the sudden concerted drive by U.S. military strategists to link the Indian and Pacific Oceans and so encircle China with pro-American, anti-Chinese alliance systems. The name change on May 30th is a formal acknowledgement of an encirclement strategy that couldn’t, in the long run, be more dangerous.

Girding for War with China

To grasp the ramifications of such moves, some background on the former PACOM might be useful.  Originally known as the Far East Command, PACOM was established in 1947 and has been headquartered at U.S. bases near Honolulu, Hawaii, ever since.  As now constituted, its “area of responsibility” encompasses a mind-boggling expanse: all of East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and the waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans -- in other words, an area covering about 50% of the Earth’s surface and incorporating more than half of the global population.  Though the Pentagon divides the whole planet like a giant pie into a set of “unified commands,” none of them is larger than the newly expansive, newly named Indo-Pacific Command, with its 375,000 military and civilian personnel.

Before the Indian Ocean was explicitly incorporated into its fold, PACOM mainly focused on maintaining control of the western Pacific, especially in waters around a number of friendly island and peninsula states like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.  Its force structure has largely been composed of air and naval squadrons, along with a large Marine Corps presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa.  Its most powerful combat unit is the U.S. Pacific Fleet -- like the area it now covers, the largest in the world.  It’s made up of the 3rd and 7th Fleets, which together have approximately 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors, pilots, Marines, and civilians.

On a day-to-day basis, until recently, the biggest worry confronting the command was the possibility of a conflict with nuclear-armed North Korea.  During the late fall of 2017 and the winter of 2018, PACOM engaged in a continuing series of exercises designed to test its forces’ ability to overcome North Korean defenses and destroy its major military assets, including nuclear and missile facilities. These were undoubtedly intended, above all, as a warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about what he could expect if he continued down the path of endless provocative missile and nuclear tests.  It seems that, at least for the time being, President Trump has suspended such drills as a result of his summit meeting with Kim.   

North Korea aside, the principal preoccupation of PACOM commanders has long been the rising power of China and how to contain it.  This was evident at the May 30th ceremony in Hawaii at which Mattis announced that expansive name change and presided over a change-of-command ceremony, in which outgoing commander, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., was replaced by Admiral Phil Davidson.  (Given the naval-centric nature of its mission, the command is almost invariably headed by an admiral.) 

While avoiding any direct mention of China in his opening remarks, Mattis left not a smidgeon of uncertainty that the command’s new name was a challenge and a call for the future mobilization of regional opposition across a vast stretch of the planet to China’s dreams and desires.  Other nations welcome U.S. support, he insisted, as they prefer an environment of “free, fair, and reciprocal trade not bound by any nation's predatory economics or threat of coercion, for the Indo-Pacific has many belts and many roads.”  No one could mistake the meaning of that.

Departing Admiral Harris was blunter still.  Although “North Korea remains our most immediate threat,” he declared, “China remains our biggest long-term challenge.”  He then offered a warning: without the stepped-up efforts of the U.S. and its allies to constrain Beijing, “China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia.”  Yes, he admitted, it was still possible to cooperate with the Chinese on limited issues, but we should “stand ready to confront them when we must.”  (On May 18th, Admiral Harris was nominated by President Trump as the future U.S. ambassador to South Korea, which will place a former military man at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.)

Harris’s successor, Admiral Davidson, seems, if anything, even more determined to put confronting China atop the command’s agenda.  During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 17th, he repeatedly highlighted the threat posed by Chinese military activities in the South China Sea and promised to resist them vigorously. “Once [the South China Sea islands are] occupied, China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania,” he warned.  “The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] will be able to use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region, and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea claimants. In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Is that, then, what Admiral Davidson sees in our future?  War with China in those waters?  His testimony made it crystal clear that his primary objective as head of the Indo-Pacific Command will be nothing less than training and equipping the forces under him for just such a future war, while enlisting the militaries of as many allies as possible in the Pentagon’s campaign to encircle that country.  “To prevent a situation where China is more likely to win a conflict,” he affirmed in his version of Pentagonese, “we must resource high-end capabilities in a timely fashion, preserve our network of allies and partners, and continue to recruit and train the best soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coastguardsmen in the world.”

Davidson’s first priority is to procure advanced weaponry and integrate it into the command’s force structure, ensuring that American combatants will always enjoy a technological advantage over their Chinese counterparts in any future confrontation.  Almost as important, he, like his predecessors, seeks to bolster America’s military ties with other members of the contain-China club.  This is where India comes in.  Like the United States, its leadership is deeply concerned with China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean region, including the opening of a future port/naval base in Gwadar, Pakistan, and another potential one on the island of Sri Lanka, both in the Indian Ocean.  Not surprisingly, given the periodic clashes between Chinese and Indian forces along their joint Himalayan borderlands and the permanent deployment of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has shown himself to be increasingly disposed to join Washington in military arrangements aimed at limiting China’s geopolitical reach.  “An enduring strategic partnership with India comports with U.S. goals and objectives in the Indo-Pacific,” Admiral Davidson said in his recent congressional testimony.  Once installed as commander, he continued, “I will maintain the positive momentum and trajectory of our burgeoning strategic partnership.”  His particular goal: to “increase maritime security cooperation.”

And so we arrive at the Indo-Pacific Command and a future shadowed by the potential for great power war.

The View from Beijing

The way the name change at PACOM was covered in the U.S., you would think it reflected, at most, a benign wish for greater economic connections between the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, as well, perhaps, as a nod to America’s growing relationship with India.  Nowhere was there any hint that what might lie behind it was a hostile and potentially threatening new approach to China -- or that it could conceivably be perceived that way in Beijing.  But there can be no doubt that the Chinese view such moves, including recent provocative naval operations in the disputed Paracel Islands of the South China Sea, as significant perils.

When, in late May, the Pentagon dispatched two warships -- the USS Higgins, a destroyer, and the USS Antietam, a cruiser -- into the waters near one of those newly fortified islands, the Chinese responded by sending in some of their own warships while issuing a statement condemning the provocative American naval patrols.  The U.S. action, said a Chinese military spokesperson, “seriously violated China’s sovereignty [and] undermined strategic mutual trust.” Described by the Pentagon as “freedom of navigation operations” (FRONOPs), such patrols are set to be increased at the behest of Mattis.

Of course, the Chinese are hardly blameless in the escalating tensions in the region. They have continued to militarize South China Sea islands whose ownership is in dispute, despite a promise that Chinese President Xi Jinping made to President Obama in 2015 not to do so.  Some of those islands in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries in the area and have been the subject of intensifying, often bitter disagreements among them about where rightful ownership really lies.  Beijing has simply claimed sovereignty over all of them and refuses to compromise on the issue.  By fortifying them -- which American military commanders see as a latent military threat to U.S. forces in the region -- Beijing has provoked a particularly fierce U.S. reaction, though these are obviously waters relatively close to China, but many thousands of miles from the continental United States.

From Beijing, the strategic outlook articulated by Secretary Mattis, as well as Admirals Harris and Davidson, is clearly viewed -- and not without reason -- as threatening and as evidence of Washington’s master plan to surround China, confine it, and prevent it from ever achieving the regional dominance its leaders believe is its due as the rising great power on the planet.  To the Chinese leadership, changing PACOM’s name to the Indo-Pacific Command will just be another signal of Washington’s determination to extend its unprecedented military presence westward from the Pacific around Southeast Asia into the Indian Ocean and so further restrain the attainment of what it sees as China’s legitimate destiny. 

However Chinese leaders end up responding to such strategic moves, one thing is certain: they will not view them with indifference.  On the contrary, as challenged great powers have always done, they will undoubtedly seek ways to counter America’s containment strategy by whatever means are at hand.  These may not initially be overtly military or even obvious, but in the long run they will certainly be vigorous and persistent.  They will include efforts to compete with Washington in pursuit of Asian allies -- as seen in Beijing’s fervent courtship of President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines -- and to secure new basing arrangements abroad, possibly under the pretext, as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, of establishing commercial shipping terminals.  All of this will only add new tensions to an already anxiety-inducing relationship with the United States.  As ever more warships from both countries patrol the region, the likelihood that accidents will occur, mistakes will be made, and future military clashes will result can only increase.

With the possibility of war with North Korea fading in the wake of the recent Singapore summit, one thing is guaranteed: the new U.S. Indo-Pacific Command will only devote itself ever more fervently to what is already its one overriding priority: preparing for a conflict with China.  Its commanders insist that they do not seek such a war, and believe that their preparations -- by demonstrating America’s strength and resolve -- will deter the Chinese from ever challenging American supremacy.  That, however, is a fantasy.  In reality, a strategy that calls for a “steady drumbeat” of naval operations aimed at intimidating China in waters near that country will create ever more possibilities, however unintended, of sparking the very conflagration that it is, at least theoretically, designed to prevent.

Right now, a Sino-American war sounds like the plotline of some half-baked dystopian novel.  Unfortunately, given the direction in which both countries (and their militaries) are heading, it could, in the relatively near future, become a grim reality.     



Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, and Nick Turse's Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead.

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+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-06-19 14:46
"Pivot to Asia" -- the legacy of Obama and Hillary.


"The pivot to Asia was Obama’s biggest mistake

by John Ford

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/01/23/commentary/world-commentary/pivot-asia-obamas-biggest-mistake/#.WylrCiAnbMU
 
 
+8 # DudeistPriest 2018-06-19 18:54
China is on it's way up and the US is on it's way out. used to think that America would be swirling around the drain for several more years, but then they elected a F-ing Moron President and he's driving the ship of state straight for the drain, full speed ahead. In a way, I hope that they do get into a shooting war. China has hyper-sonic ASM's that they been deploying for several years, along with their fifth generation fighters (which actually work, unlike the F-35), and AA missiles that can shoot down satellites Which they demonstrated several years back by shooting down one of their satellites. It would be great fun to watch the Chinese sink a couple of aircraft carriers, and teach the morons that the US isn't so exceptional after all.

BTW I wouldn't count on the Indians joining us against China since we imposed sanctions on them and are threatening more if they go ahead and buy Russia's S-400 AA systems as they plan to.
 
 
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-06-20 04:49
I hope that no shooting war ever begins and I don't think one will. The US never attacks an enemy which has any ability at all to fight back. It only fights very weak and poor nations, or ones that have disarmed. The US prefers to force nations to waste money building weapons and in that way bankrupt themselves -- as pretty much happened with the USSR. But everyone now knows that strategy and won't fall prey to it.

The US is a dying empire. As you say, Trump is feeding the end of US history. He's racing toward the the drain -- good metaphor. The sooner the whole thing is flushed down the drain the better.

I actually favor a break up of the former US into several smaller new nations. California is ready to go. It does not need the east coast sewer dragging it down. The Wash Beltway can become one big insane asylum. Build a Great Wall of Trump around the beltway and lock all the crazies inside, the demos and republicans. Then they can fight it out in a gruesome death match.
 
 
0 # DudeistPriest 2018-06-20 12:22
Rodion, I've become convinced that the only way the US empire is ever going to disappear is following some crippling disaster, either the collapse of the dollar or a devastating military defeat. It's just human nature. People don't change until events force them to. I agree that it's unlikely that the US will do any more than threaten Russia and China, you're right they never attack peer competitors. Having said that the military is full of gung ho, idiot Lt. Colonels who have more power than brains.

However, it's far more likely that America's demise will be led by the dollar. Trump's tariffs, and his and the dysfunctional Congress's sanctions are bringing this to a head much faster then I anticipated even a few months ago.

I posted a link to a piece published yesterday by Dmitri Orlov in a comment below, which looks at the parallels between the factors causing the collapse of the USSR and those occurring in the US today. It's a wonderful, insightful article, well worth reading. It validates my thinking and leads me to hope to see the end of the empire possibly before the 2020 elections. The Russian people are much better off than they were under the Soviet Union, and the American people will be much better off when the empire is slain.
 
 
+5 # dascher 2018-06-20 06:21
India's Modi is far from dependent upon US support... and has not been a US client or puppet state for decades, if it ever was. It was once a leading member of the Movement of NonAligned Nations including Yugoslavia, India, Indonesia, and dozens of others. India has also signed on to numerous agreements with China for building roads and pipelines and for trade. It is difficult to imagine India getting deeply involved with the US in this new anti-China naval club. Modi is an odious nationalist who may tear India to shreds, but he is not a US puppet.
 
 
+5 # dascher 2018-06-20 06:25
China has also been making "threatening" trade and infrastructure deals with Paciic Coast countries in Latin America as well as with countries in Africa. Of course, the US's only response is likely to be military as that is where the largest chunk of our national budget is spent. It's kinda like Sparta. A stupid, near-sighted approach to competition that does not bode well for the next couple of decades.
 
 
0 # DudeistPriest 2018-06-19 19:36
Here. Read it and weep. (or laugh, whatever mood suits you.)

https://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2018/06/imperial-collapse-markers.html
 
 
+5 # DudeistPriest 2018-06-19 20:32
This whole article is just a pile of crap. War with China would be suicidal and those ideologue blowhards in the Pentagon know it. All this chatter is for domestic consumption for the sole purpose of sucking more money into the black hole of the defense budget. Our military can't beat the Taliban, how the hell are they going to beat the Chinese?
 
 
+2 # banichi 2018-06-20 02:04
The founders of the US believed in making friends rather than trying to create an empire and thereby make enemies out of other countries. This has been pretty completely forgotten by the government over the last 60+ years or longer, as we have responded to the desires of the corporations and billionaires to gain access to natural resources throughout the world, along with the degradation of American democracy to keep the people of the U.S. from understanding that the MSM and its propaganda is not telling us anything about the real world, only the elites' version that they want us to believe.

We have spent trillions of $$ on 'encircling' Russia (the Ukraine's regime change caused by Obama and HRC was the latest chapter in that, despite leaving a neoNazi government there) and it has not produced greater safety for Americans. Nor will doing the same thing regarding China be any better.

Based on our history, American "Exceptionalism " is simply one more lie told to get the American people to believe in something that has not existed, if it ever did, for a long time. Reality is much different than this illusion created to lull the people into believing we are the good guys, when our history says we are anything but.

Now Trump wants to create an American "Space Force," which will break long-standing treaties not to do just that.
 
 
0 # Observer 47 2018-06-20 14:31
Very well said, banichi.
 
 
+2 # Working Class 2018-06-20 07:48
Well said DudeistPriest. We should be asking who the military works for and what are their responsibilitie s? Is it the constitutional duty to protect the US and it's citizens from hostile foreign powers? That is what I learned when I went to school. OR, has the military been coopted to make the world safe for US business interest. I believe an honest examination will show that our current, and sadly all to often the past, military strategies revolve around making sure major corporations have access to natural resources and cheap labor under terms beneficial to those corporations. This policy is a major reason we are seen as the "Ugly Americans" by much of the world. It is a major reason terrorist can recruit people to fight the US. The underlying reason for the military strategy described in the article is that China's "One-Belt, One-Road" policy threatens US corporate interest, not the safety of the actual US citizens. Our leaders are afraid that in time China will displace US corporate interest. Rather than compete with economic strategies of our own, something that would take investment in other countries that would actually help them while at the same time solidifying markets, we are responding in an imperialistic military way - we will kill you if you dare to prosper. We think it all belongs to the US. History has seen this before - it does not end well for the bully.
 
 
+1 # PABLO DIABLO 2018-06-20 12:56
Gotta keep the War Machine well fed so it can continue to buy politicians.
 

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