SECURITY PROBLEMS IN ASIA AND CERTAIN ASPECTS OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY
Makhir Lhalifa-Zadeh, Ph.D. (Hist.), political scientist, Ecology, Economy, and Energy International Association (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Starting with the mid-1990s the United States has been shifting its foreign-policy and security interests toward Asia. Back in 1998 the Pentagon presented a report that described potential threats to the United States’ domination in the world and formulated the key propositions of Washington’s new military doctrine. The report said, in particular, that in the next 10 to 15 years the world would enter a strategic pause and that no new superpower would appear to challenge the U.S. global might (in the manner the U.S.S.R. had done). At the same time when analyzing a possibility of such challenge in the foreseeable future the report pointed to Asia as a potential source of threat. The authors proceeded from the continent’s dynamic growth, its vast economic, natural, demographic, intellectual, and military resources that may be enlisted to threaten the White House. In short, Asia was described as a continent capable of producing a global rival of the United States.1
At the same time, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, believes that a country (or a group of countries) may come to the fore in Asia in the strategic perspective to compete with the United States on the global scale. In his The Grand Chessboard he has written that China possesses all necessary parameters to develop into a superpower.2
One has to bear in mind that the recent global political developments and the fundamental changes in Asia (the nuclear status of India and Pakistan, Russia’s withdrawal from Indochina, a greater authority and influence of Islam, and China’s growing might) gradually shifted the focus of American politics to Asia. To remain the global leader Washington has to extend its influence in Asia, therefore it has been concentrating to an ever growing degree on the Asian problems. The United States is beaming its political, diplomatic, and military activity to the continent—this has become especially clear after the unprecedented terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001.
The war the U.S. president declared on international terrorism, the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, and the idea of the “axis of evil” (formed by the rogue countries that support international terrorism—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea) President Bush formulated in his January address to the nation allow to conclude that for a long time to come Asia will remain under Washington’s close scrutiny and an arena of its active political involvement.
In light of the above, political developments in Asia, particularly in the south and southeast, potential threats to the American interests and American security and possible new initiatives designed to downplay such threats and strengthen security are of especial interest.
The U.S. strategic interests and security are closely connected with security and political stability in South and Southeast Asia. The region is the crossroad of technological, industrial, economic and military might of Northeast Asia, the Hindustan peninsula, and the Middle East. It is the place where the main trade and communication routes from Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Australia meet. The straits and shipping lines around it are of exceptional military importance for the U.S. Navy that moves between the Pacific and Indian oceans and approaches the Middle East. The leading American analytical groups have identified the following threats to region’s stability and security and the U.S. national interests: an armed conflict with the use of conventional and nuclear weapons; threats by international terrorist organizations; threats created by domestic political situation in the region’s countries; and proliferation of components of mass destruction weapons.
In addition, it was noted that China, which is developing into the leading regional power, and its “appetites” in the South China Sea might cause an armed conflict in the region.3
It should be added that the PRC is working on a strategic program of creating a modern and highly mobile Navy capable of delivering military might and protecting the Chinese interests in any point. Beijing spares no political and diplomatic effort to promote its influence in the regions left by the U.S.S.R. China is an active member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that has good prospects of becoming the key regional organization in Asia.
One can expect that China’s aggressiveness will grow with its might, therefore some of the Asian countries may look at the United States as a guarantor of regional stability and security and an important balancing factor.
At the same time, experts say that the People’s Republic of China will hardly unfold a large-scale conflict with the use of conventional weapons. In the foreseeable future, however, experts do not exclude hostility between China and the Southeast Asian countries caused by the desire to gain control, in particular, over the energy fuels. There is a possibility of an armed conflict between America and China over Taiwan.4
However, there are serious factors curbing China’s aggressiveness and a possibility of conflicts between it and the region’s leading countries: the country engaged in large-scale reforms and modernization needs good relations with the neighbors and the United States. In case of America Beijing needs an access to latest American technologies and investments and to the capacious American market for Chinese products. In addition, good long-term relations with the United States allows China to preserve the strategically needed leeway and the freedom of maneuver when competing for leadership in Asia, with Russia in the first place. The latter has its own long-term plans there (containment of Chinese and American influence and recapturing its lost positions) and is sparing no effort to strengthen its influence in the region.
From this it follows that Beijing needs strategic stability in Asia for a long time to come—any armed conflict will disrupt international trade and worsen the investment climate. This will cripple China’s ability to maintain fast economic growth, one of the key factors of China’s development into a world power. (Today economic growth rates here are faster than in the United States.) One cannot exclude a possibility that Beijing will alter its priorities: together with its economic growth its desire to dominate Asia will increase and may create new aggressive challenges.
American Approaches to the Regional Security Problems
One should point out that the events of 11 September, 2001 have produced a deep-cutting effect on the U.S. interests on the global and regional scales. This is true of the Asian continent, in particular, of South and Southeast Asia.
There are other factors that are pushing the U.S. toward formulating its new integral strategy and new approaches to security and stability: China’s strengthening, the newly acquired nuclear status of India and Pakistan, proliferation of missile and nuclear technologies, and an increasing strength of North Korea.
One can look at the antiterrorist operation under the U.S. aegis in Afghanistan and stationing of forces (that are actually NATO forces) under the flag of the international peacekeeping forces as a new milestone in ensuring security and strategic interests of the U.S., and the West as a whole, on the Asian continent. In this context, the systems of regional security should be modernized and revised so that to fit the new strategic requirements and interests of the U.S. national security created by the events of 11 September.
It seem that within the framework of new aims and interests Washington will actively work toward an adequate configuration of the security systems best suited to the American interests that will ensure a favorable balance of forces in the strategic perspective. I believe that some of the elements of the new configuration are already in place. I have in mind the consistent process of stationing American troops (or those of its NATO allies under the peacekeeping flags) in earlier inaccessible places of South, Central, and Southeast Asia. The United States has been stepping up its involvement in the key Asian organizations, especially in those in which Russia and China are present.
At the same time, the U.S. interests require stability of its allies and partners. Experts believe that much effort should be poured into reorganization of the already existing security structures and creating new ones that will tie together the United States, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, and South Korea into a single system of regional security.5 Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair has pointed to the following threats to the interests of the United States and its allies that endanger Asian stability and security: international terrorism, proliferation of mass destruction weapons, arms trade, international criminal structures, and illegal migration. He believes that after the events of 11 September and the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan his country has been facing the need to formulate a strategy designed to strengthen the U.S. and its allies and to allow them to move against the threats to security and stability. The admiral is convinced that the following factors should become the linchpins of the new American strategy: considerably improved operational characteristics of the U.S. armed forces and of those of its allies, and cooperation with the region’s countries in the sphere of intelligence on a vaster and deeper scale.6 Admiral Blair is convinced that to strengthen its influence and to effectively oppose new threats the U.S. should extend more active support to its allies and partners in Asia. He believes that it is important to support cohesion, political stability and territorial integrity of the key South and Southeast Asian countries (Pakistan and Indonesia). He is also convinced that the United States should help the ASEAN members develop their economies, increase their trade turnover and investments, and speed up national programs of economic reforms. The U.S. Administration should revise certain aspects of military cooperation in the region (in particular, with Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, India, and Japan) and work hard to extend it.
According to South Asia Monitor, an authoritative British journal, the antiterrorist operation pushed Pakistan into the focus of American policies in South Asia.7
This is true. Despite strong anti-American feelings and wide-scale criticism of the United States among the broad popular masses, President Pervez Musharraf displayed courage and responsibility when he decided to support the United States. Pakistan pledged to let America use its air space, to share intelligence and other information with it and to closely cooperate with the U.S. in the course of the antiterrorist operation. Aware of Islamabad’s strategic importance, its role and political weight in the region Washington lifted the limitations on the government aid imposed in 1998 after the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan. President Bush and his administration decided to write down about $2.5 billion of Pakistan’s debt and opened a credit line to allow Pakistan to buy latest American weapon systems for its army.
One cannot exclude a possibility that to lower general tension in South Asia the U.S. will try to diminish a possibility of an armed Indian-Pakistani conflict by urging the sides to start a direct dialog on the Kashmir problem. At that same time, the White House will keep aside of a direct involvement to avoid being bogged down in the process of settlement. During her visit to India and Pakistan in May 2002 Christina B. Rocca, Assistant Secretary of Department of State for South Asian Affairs, confirmed her country’s readiness to promote a continued dialog on the settlement, and not more.8
In the wake of 11 September the Bush Administration has become resolved to revise its political priorities and to strengthen its cooperation with India. One should say that after a long period of cool relations with Washington Delhi is demonstrating its firm desire to change the spirit and nature of their relations. Recently, the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee has introduced the term “natural allies” into the vocabulary of its country’s relations with the United States. It seems that Indian foreign policy has received new strategic trends toward stronger and broader cooperation with America.
Robert D. Blackwill, U.S. Ambassador to India, has identified the following trends that are of special importance for general security in Asia: the role of nuclear armaments in the system of international relations; energy security and navigation security in the Indian Ocean; and continued stability in Asia. He has pointed to cooperation between India and the U.S. in the spheres of defense, intelligence, law enforcement, and antiterrorist activity as the most important aspects of the two countries’ cooperation. In the nearest future the United States intends to supply components for India’s satellite, spare parts for its combat helicopters, aircraft engines, submarine equipment, patrol anti-missile aircraft, and other military hardware.9
It seems that the recent reassessment of the relations with India being done by the Bush Administration is caused, first and foremost, by the gigantic political shifts in the world following the 11 September events, India’s newly acquired nuclear status, its new role of an Asian leader, and its vast political, military, intellectual, economic, and demographic potential.
By moving toward India the United States is consistently removing a possibility of an anti-American bloc.
On the whole, the U.S. in Asia is working toward containing its possible rivals, stemming the growth or appearance of a country (or a group of countries) able to undermine Washington’s role and influence in Asia and challenge it on the global scale.
One should say that the terrorist attack on the United States created a new understanding of the political situation in the world and became a powerful factor of reassessing by political elites of the leading states potential threats and challenges to peace, strategic stability, and security.
The events of 11 September may open a new ear of the world’s political history—a retreat from the “post-Cold War” realities to a qualitatively new world order.
We can discern new outlines and new roads leading to ensuring global security and strategic stability such as the recently formed “NATO at 20” (The NATO-Russia Council). All this can be regarded as a result of what happened on 11 September in the United States.
The drawing closer of the U.S. and NATO to Russia gives control over Russia’s foreign and defense policies and diminishes, to a great extent, a possibility of an anti-Western alliance under Moscow’s guidance.
It should be added that the terrorist attack on the United States demonstrated that the country was not adequately protected. The American political elite has to work on a new strategy of national security and to revise the global and regional strategic interests, in Asia in the first place.
The U.S. Administration and President Bush are facing the need to formulate a new strategy that will allow to create and preserve the balance of forces between China, India and Russia and to extend American presence on the continent. This strategy should rule out a possibility of any of them (or all three together) gaining domination over the United States in Asia.
One cannot exclude a possibility that after 11 September and the beginning of the antiterrorist operation the U.S. will base its foreign medium-term policy and security on its strategic interests in Asia. This is supported by the major threats to the U.S. security and might coming from Asia.
In this respect, certain U.S. political trends (enlargement of NATO, cooperation with Russia, etc.) seem to be differently orientated and to be subordinate to its strategic interests in Asia.
While entrenching in Asia and extending its influence there the White House will probably manage to retain its global superiority and to ensure, in this way, general political, intellectual, economic, and technological domination of the West. One can expect that Washington will need NATO support. Despite swelling anti-American sentiments and anti-globalist actions the European allies, in their turn, know that global superiority of the West cannot be achieved without the United States.
From this it follows that the United States together with its NATO allies have all possibilities to preserve leadership in world politics in the foreseeable future and to ensure general superiority of the West in global politics.
1 See: USIA Information Bulletin, 18 June, 1998.
2 See: Z. Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books, New York, 1997.
3 A.M. Rabasa, Southeast Asia After 9/11: Regional Trends and U.S. Interests, RAND Corporation [http://www.rand.org/publications/CT/CT190/CT190.pdf].
5 See: Ibidem.
6 See: “Asia-Pacific Security After September 11th,” Washington File, 27 February, 2002 [http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/ea/easec/blair12.htm].
7 See: “The U.S. and South Asia: New Priorities and Familiar Interests,” South Asia Monitor, No. 38, 1 October, 2001 [http:/www.csis.org/saprog/sam.38.htm].
8 See: The News International, Pakistan, 16 May, 2002.
9 See: “Transformation of U.S.-India Relations ‘Picking up Speed,’” Washington File, 27 February, 2002.