We have learned from a top-level New Zealand official that the Obama administration is projecting its diplomatic, economic, political, military, and intelligence power into the Pacific region in a manner "not seen before" in recent times.... On the heels of Obama's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Honolulu and his attending the East Asia Forum in Bali, Obama has directed the U.S. government to project both "soft" and hard power into the Pacific region to send a message to China, and, to a lesser extent, Russia, that the United States considers the Pacific to be in its sphere of influence....
The United States intends to build its prospective membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), which is now mainly an economic bloc comprising Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore, into something more akin to an economic, political, and military bloc, with the United States in charge. Other nations negotiating to join the bloc are Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Japan, and Vietnam. Once membership is expanded, to possibly also include Canada, Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) will be tasked with expanding the TTP into a military bloc, one primarily aimed at China... Other countries viewed as potential TTP members are Panama, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar....
The U.S. Navy can be expected to increase the number of port visits in the region and there is the possibility that new U.S. naval bases may be established in some of the South Pacific islands.
In the past, the United States has used its ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-United States) military alliance surrogates in Australia and New Zealand to ensure the security of the vast South Pacific. Although the United States is beefing up its intelligence and military alliances with Canberra and Wellington, by establishing five new U.S. military bases in Australia, and improving signals intelligence (SIGINT) cooperation between the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Australia's Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) and New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), it is also going it alone by re-introducing US Agency for International Development (USAID) teams in the Pacific and sending more Peace Corps volunteers into the region. USAID withdrew from the Pacific in the mid-1990s. New USAID/CIA scum regional offices have been opened in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and Suva, Fiji.....
The CIA will be using ethnic Pacific islander U.S. nationals from the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Marianas to establish themselves as official and non-official cover agents in various Pacific locations. In addition, the CIA will also utilize the services of nationals of three quasi-independent "Compact of Free Association" nations -- Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands, and Palau -- to conduct espionage and political influence operations in the Pacific region. To achieve increased intelligence-gathering in the small Pacific island states, the State Department this past summer agreed to allow the three U.S. territories in the Pacific -- American Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas -- to join the Pacific Islands Forum as observers.
Over the past two decades, the CIA has managed to neutralize and co-opt the only threats to U.S. dominance over the Pacific: the Labor Parties of Australia and New Zealand. The United States will no longer have to be concerned about the likes of Australia's Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam threat to have oversight over the joint CIA-NSA espionage base at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, Australia, nor New Zealand Labor Prime Minister David Lange refusing to allow U.S. nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed naval ships to enter New Zealand waters. Whitlam was deposed in a 1975 CIA-engineered constitutional coup d'état while Lange was forced out of office in the late 1980s in a New Zealand Labor Party revolt, covertly backed, in part, by the CIA. The New Zealand Labor Party recently suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the incumbent conservative National Party, led by Prime Minister John Key, a close ally/agent of the United States and Israel. Australia's Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard strongly backs the new U.S. military bases in Australia.
As part of America's new power projection in the Pacific, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI, Homeland Security, the infamous White House Murder INC,....and other official cover espionage assets will be beefed up at U.S. diplomatic posts in the region, including Canberra, Wellington, Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Brisbane, Majuro, Palikir, Melekeok, Apia, Port Moresby, and Suva, with new intelligence outposts established in Nukualofa, Noumea, Honiara, Port-Vila, South Tarawa, Buka, Manokwari, Saipan, Hagatna, Pago Pago, Avarua, Papeete, Alofi, Nukunonu, Funafuti, and Mata-Utu.
The Obama administration's policies, if successful, will transform the idyllic South Pacific into a region that is anything but pacific. The South Pacific will not have seen such a U.S. military and political presence since it battled Japan in the region during World War II.....
The policy, described by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns as a “strategic pivot toward the Pacific,” rests on several key precepts. First is a belief that the Pacific has become the “center of gravity” of global economic activity and that the United States must remain the dominant actor in this region if it expects to retain its status as the world’s paramount power. Second is the realization that China has taken advantage of America’s ten-year obsession with Iraq and Afghanistan to establish powerful economic ties with the nations of Southeast Asia, supplanting the United States as the dominant regional actor. And third, there is the conviction that the United States must make up for lost time and contest China’s recent gains by any means necessary. And because Washington lacks Beijing’s economic clout, it must rely on its one remaining strength: military power.
“As we end today’s wars,” Obama declared in Canberra, “I have directed my national security team to make our presence and mission in the Asia Pacific a top priority…. Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in this region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.”
This strategic shift has several key features, some announced during Obama’s trip to Asia, others still being formulated. Most specific is the decision to establish a base at Darwin, on the Timor Sea, a strategic body of water connecting the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The administration also seeks to bolster US military ties with Indonesia and the Philippines, which both adjoin the South China Sea. While Obama was in Australia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the Philippines to sign the Manila Declaration, a joint statement pledging closer US-Philippine cooperation in military affairs, especially in the maritime arena.
These moves and others -- including a new regional trade pact that purposefully excludes China -- are part of what the administration describes as a “redistribution” of US military capabilities in the region, placing somewhat less emphasis on the northwest Pacific and the areas around Japan and more on the southwest Pacific and the South China Sea.
The South China Sea has had increased prominence in Washington’s strategic calculus in recent years as China has asserted its interests there and as its importance as an economic arena has grown. Not only does the sea sit atop major oil and natural gas deposits -- some being developed by US companies, including ExxonMobil -- it also serves as the main route for ships traveling to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The Chinese say the South China Sea is part of their national maritime territory and that the oil and gas belongs to them; but Washington is insisting it will fight to preserve “freedom of navigation” there, at whatever cost. Whereas Taiwan once topped the list of US security challenges in the western Pacific, Hillary Clinton said on November 10 that “ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is now Washington’s principal challenge.
Focusing on the South China Sea achieves several White House goals. It shifts the emphasis in US security planning from ideological determinism, as embedded in the increasingly unpopular drive to impose American values on the Middle East and fight a never-ending war against Islamist jihadism, to economic realism, as expressed through protecting overseas energy assets and maritime commerce. By dominating sea lanes the United States poses an implied threat of economic warfare against China in any altercations by cutting off its access to foreign markets and raw materials. And, through its very location, the South China Sea links US strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Secretary Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.
Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated US effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will not be intimidated -- resistance to foreign aggression lies at the bedrock of the national character and remains a key goal of the Chinese Communist Party, however attenuated by time. So blowback there will be.
Perhaps the White House believes that military competition will impede China’s economic growth and disguise US economic weaknesses. But this is folly: China has far greater economic clout than the United States. To enhance its position vis-à-vis China, America must first put its own house in order by reinvigorating its economy, reducing foreign debt, improving public education and eliminating unnecessary overseas military commitments.
Ultimately, what is most worrisome about the Obama administration’s strategic shift -- which no doubt is dictated as much by domestic as foreign policy considerations, including the need to counter jingoistic appeals from GOP presidential candidates and to preserve high rates of military spending -- is that it will trigger a similar realignment within Chinese policy circles, where military leaders are pushing for a more explicitly anti-American stance and a larger share of government funds. The most likely result, then, will be antagonistic moves on both sides, leading to greater suspicion, increased military spending, periodic naval incidents, a poisoned international atmosphere, economic disarray and, over time, a greater risk of war.
Michael T. Klare is defense correspondent for The Nation, and professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. His latest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, will be published next year.