The Levers of Power, the Arc of Influence
As the US-led struggle to retain traditional hegemonic positions in the Asia-Pacific region intensifies, it is important to study some of the mechanisms used by Washington and the Pentagon to achieve objectives.
The matter is particularly relevant with the high-level diplomacy between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visiting President Trump in Washington in February.
It is also important to study the side-effects, political fall-out and reaction to aggressive US-led foreign policy, directed primarily at China.
The present period, in the Asia-Pacific region, has been marked by an escalation of US-led economic and military activity channelled through Australia and Japan. Moves, which began a decade-and-a-half ago have now been fully implemented with Australia and Japan fully-fledged regional hubs for 'US interests', linked directly to Washington and the Pentagon. It is, therefore, no great surprise to observe PM Malcolm Turnbull visiting the US in February, following an official visit to Japan in January. High-level diplomatic meetings have been taking place with a view to countering the rise of China as a threat to traditional hegemonic positions and have become an urgent US-led priority on established agendas.
It is also interesting to note, therefore, Turnbull was accompanied 'by the biggest Australian political and business delegation ever to visit Washington'. (1) The delegation, interestingly, was dominated by representatives of the corporate sector, although publicised as aimed at strengthening 'the alliance', which revealed the importance of economic factors with other areas of diplomacy including defence and security. (2) During the three-day visit Turnbull and members of his entourage, for example, met the President and Vice-President together with 'the heads of intelligence agencies, the country's top general, the secretaries of the Treasury and Homeland Security, the Head of the Federal Reserve and a raft of government and key business leaders'. (3)
Some meetings were covered by official media releases, others were not. The details of a conversation conducted between Turnbull and the US Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coates, 'during a private lunch', remain classified. (4) The meeting arranged for Turnbull with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, likewise, where discussions took place about 'the US military posture to the Pacific', received little publicity. (5)
It is, however, the mechanisms used by US-led diplomacy which require scrutiny. In March, the Australian government host the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney. (6) The Turnbull government position toward the regional trade bloc was also noted as 'being recognised as a friend and reliable partner in education, trade and strategic defence'. (7) The grouping of educational provision with the other two diplomatic factors show how the old saying knowledge is power, has been adapted to also include those who provide it in the present context. Publicity for the 10-member state diplomacy, for example, included an official media release stating, 'regional tensions, including with China, will be a key topic of discussion'. (8)
It is particularly interesting to note the US-led regional diplomacy pinpointed Australian institutions as becoming a major provider of educational training for overseas students from the ASEAN countries. Immediately after the March Special Summit an inaugural ASEAN-Australia Education Dialogue in Penang, Malaysia, 21-23 March, has been planned. (9) At present, Australia has a dependency upon overseas Chinese students to bail-out long-term concerted government cut-backs to the tertiary sector; the proposals appear to be designed at replacing them with a significant proportion of ASEAN students.
Other, more covert US-led educational organisations, are also important to consider.
The Washington-based Atlas Network has 475 affiliated free market bodies across ninety countries. Provision of a certain type of business education is clearly a high priority for those in control of the network. Through a system based upon grants, awards, consultations and on-line and other training provision, the network has been quoted as having 'reshaped political power in country after country, and has also operated as a quiet extension of US foreign policy' and as a 'critical arm of American soft power'. (10)
The network specialises in a shadowy existence, suddenly emerging, if and when required. In Brazil, for example, the network boosted its total number of coordinators from about a hundred to over six hundred in a country where a left-wing government was destabilised by pro-US forces. (11) Leaders of the so-called Free Brazil Movement 'that took down Dilma Rousseff's presidency', were noted as having the capacity to spring to life at short notice. (12)
In official publications the network has boasted of training 10,000 recruits in one year, although it had been able to 'reach tens of millions through media outreach' within all continents of the globe. (13) It is through the establishment of circles of influence that President Trump has been able to rally support for threatening North Korea (DPRK) – or ‘tightening the vice’ in Turnbull’s quaint turn of phrase - and a 'possible military option' for Venezuela. (14)
While the Atlas Network website states the organisation is funded through contributions from the corporate sector, studies have revealed 'Atlas-associated think tanks receiving quiet funding from the State Department and National Endowment for Democracy'. (15) In Australia, the Atlas Network has eight listed affiliate organisations with ready access to the corridors of power in Canberra. One affiliate, the H.R. Nichols Society, a bastion of the Liberal Party and well-known advocate of anti-trade union legislation such as Work Choices is subsequently linked to the Hayek Club, a far-right organisation close to supporters of Margaret Thatcher. (16)
In Japan, the northern regional hub for 'US interests', the Atlas Network has two major organisations with access into the corridors of power in Tokyo. Both organisations appear to have working relations with their counterparts in Australia. (17) The total number of Atlas Network coordinators for both countries is not available from official publications although they remain linked into their 'worldwide freedom movement'. (18)
The side-effects, political fall-out and reaction to aggressive US-led regional foreign policy have been interesting to observe in recent times. In Australia, the Turnbull government is deeply unpopular with voters and likely to lose federal elections later this year. Most informed voters regard them as stooges for US interests. In Japan, moves to 're-interpret' the pacifist constitution and transform the Defence Forces into a military capable of policing action elsewhere in the region has met with the revival of a peace movement and political opposition. Moves by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to establish further military bases on Okinawa have become a topical issue in local mayoral elections. In other areas of the country anti-base activists have mounted credible challenges to pro-Abe election candidates. (19)
Elsewhere, in the Philippines, a major stand-off is taking place between the popular movement opposed to US military bases and troops in the Philippines, and the Philippine defence establishment. The latter has, historically, retained strong links with the Pentagon. In recent times the Duterte administration has swung away from traditional US foreign policy positions although military elites remain a conduit for US influence in the country. The recent docking of US Carl Vinson equipped with F18 Hornets, assault helicopters and surveillance aircraft in Manila Bay 'as part of maritime security operations designed to enhance regional security' met with local opposition. (20)
The wave of militarism sweeping the Asia-Pacific region is relentless, a likely outcome remains military hostilities as an extension of diplomacy; the Cold War becomes increasingly hotter and hotter.
1. Highest priority for Turnbull tour de force, Australian, 22 February 2018.
4. US steps up China warning, Australian, 21 February 2018.
5. Intelligence agencies step up warnings on Beijing influence, Australian, 21 February 2018.
6. Let's make strategic engagement with ASEAN a priority, Australian, 21 February 2018.
10. Meddling in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, Z Magazine, (Hull, US, MA, 02045), October 2017, page 9.
11. Website: Atlas Network, 2016 Annual Report.
12. Z Magazine, op.cit., page 10.
13. Atlas Network, op.cit., 2016 Annual Report.
14. Z Magazine, op.cit., page 9.
15. Ibid, page 9.
16. Atlas Network, op.cit., 2016 Annual Report.
19. Abe's deterrence plans face friendly fire, Australian, 19 February 2018.
20. Carrier takes battle of influence to Beijing with Manila visit, Australian, 20 February 2018.