Asia-Pacific: Declining US tries to reassert regional domination
Recent official media releases from incoming US Ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse have revealed a great deal about the significance and role of Australia within US-led regional diplomacy.
The media releases have coincided with two major statements from Canberra about proposed joint operations with France and the UK, both diplomatic stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.
All, however, is not what it appears:
In early July, US Ambassador Arthur B. Culvahouse issued a diplomatic communique to mark his first hundred days in office in Canberra and called for Australia to 'play a great power leadership in the Pacific'. (1) The statement was significant for two reasons: it acknowledged the role of Australia within traditional US-led regional diplomacy; it also played upon the vanity of newly-elected Prime Minister Scott Morrison, ever willing to kowtow toward those who he is closely identified with in Washington and the Pentagon.
In recent years US-led military facilities have drawn heavily upon Australia as the southern hub for US interests, operating closely with Japan as a fully-fledged northern counterpart. The triangular diplomacy, based in real-time transmissions and reception has enabled Pentagon-based military planners to sit in the cockpit of operations while Australia and Japan take an increasingly leading role in hostilities, as shown by a carefully-placed media release from the Defence Department which drew attention to 'investments in advanced missile-defence systems interoperable with allied systems in Japan and Australia'. (2) It is, therefore, hardly surprising to see Culvahouse referring to 'Australian leadership in our region', and emphasising 'Australia's standing in the region, with expertise and relationships and sensitivities that exceed ours'. (3) From such statements it is also not difficult to establish the real agenda of US-led regional military planning.
The role of Japan, likewise, was acknowledged in official US diplomatic statements which also drew attention to their more active involvement with Five Eyes intelligence networks and the biennial Talisman Sabre military exercises which began in the second week of July. (4)
The developments have followed the rapid rise of China as a regional power, which has presented the US with a credible challenge to traditional diplomatic and hegemonic positions. US-led military planners have entered into panic mode.
Two further high-level items of diplomatic correspondence linking Australia with France and Britain, during the same period are highly significant:
(1) The US has called upon France to 'boost its influence as a Pacific power to act as a counter-balance to China's ambitions'. (5) The timing of the announcement is highly significant; France, historically, has tended to maintain a separate defence and security system and not had active involvement with the Five Eyes intelligence network. France, however, has a number of regional colonial acquisitions and outposts, which include the following:
Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, south-east of Africa;
St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands group, north of the Kerguelen Islands;
Crozet islands in the southern Indian Ocean, south of Madagascar;
Adele Land in Antarctica;
Scattered Islands around the coast of Madagascar;
Mayotte and Glorioso Islands which form part of the Comoros Group in the
various islands which form part of French Polynesia in the Pacific;
vested interests in New Caledonia. (6)
A closer study has revealed most have highly strategic significance for defence and security considerations, being situated near to shipping-lanes and other sensitive areas; many also exist within a clearly defined arc from the Pine Gap intelligence facilities in Central Australia.
Some of the territories also have a colourful and revealing past, showing the duplicitous nature of French foreign policy. The Comoros Islands, for example, were used by the white supremacist Rhodesian regime of Ian Smith and Apartheid South Africa Defence Forces for a secret Military Intelligence station and a landing strip used for 'black-flights' carrying amongst other cargo, unauthorised arms trafficking. (7)
The fact the Comoros Station existed on the same arc as the Silvermine Maritime Communications Intelligence facilities near Cape Town in South Africa, and similar US facilities on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which were subsequently linked with the same transmission and reception range to Pine Gap, Central Australia, reveal the importance of the small Comoros facilities within wider regional planning. (8)
The various islands have a total of 1.5 million citizens in the region together with 4,500 soldiers based in the Indian Ocean, a further 2,800 in the Pacific and 700 sailors on deployment. (9) French colonial policy, from the former period, was also based upon the cultivation of educated 'French-colonials' who pursued neo-colonial policies to favour French interests. Metropolitan France, while a decaying colonial power has, nevertheless, maintained an important position for the consideration of US-led regional considerations in present times.
The US has now issued directives to take a closer stance with France, the outcome of high-level diplomacy conducted by Trump in the early part of his presidency toward his counterpart, Macron in France. They appear to have discussed grandiose plans for 'US interests', with far-reaching implications for Australia. In a recent media release, for example, President Macron stated that 'he was looking to Australia and France to form an axis in the Indo-Pacific'. (10)
The intended US-led military plan was subsequently placed into the mainstream Australian media with an announcement that 'we need to be thinking about deepening co-operation between Australia and France, not only in the Pacific but also in the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and Antarctica'. (11)
(2) Secondly, a recent statement issued by the office of Australian Defence Minister Linda Richards calling upon Britain 'to be more militarily engaged in the Indo-Pacific region', leaves little to the imagination. (12) Britain, as the leading Commonwealth country, has regional member countries together with long-standing diplomatic links with many others, and appears to be regarded as yet another addition to grander plans. The diplomatic statement issued from the Defence Minister, for example, said that 'the Commonwealth organisation of nations could be another platform to deepen co-operation', of US-led defence and security planning, and included the further casual comment that Australia 'wanted to see more military capable allies' engaged in the region. (13)
The moves have also rested on earlier US-led regional diplomatic moves to reassert traditional positions of leadership during the period of the Obama presidency. Between 2012 and 2014, then President Obama visited numerous countries across the wider region with the specific intention of re-opening military facilities hosted by compliant governments. (14) The high-level diplomacy was primarily concerned with the US 'planning a region wide missile defence system', which was, 'linked to other regional powers', such as Australia and Japan, which included provision for early warning X-band radar systems. (15)
The outcome of the US-led regional military planning gave rise to a massive wave of militarism which continues to sweep across the Asia-Pacific in classic Cold War style, and which is now set to be escalated still further.
Behind the scenes, however, a recent academic publication has perhaps identified one of the main causal factors of the frantic US-led attempts to reassert traditional diplomatic and hegemonic positions.
A new book, How to defend Australia, by Australian National University Professor Hugh White, has suggested the US regional position is in decline, and that, correspondingly, Australia's alliance will therefore 'weaken, and quite possibly disappear', as a result of 'America's declining position in Asia'. (16) The findings are only a revelation to those who remain blinkered; they have been accompanied by other research from those close to Australian corridors of power and the business-classes. A recent Lowy Institute report, 2019 Asia Power Index, likewise, found the US in decline, and that, 'short of war, the US is unlikely to halt the narrowing power differential between itself and China'. (17)
With every new US-led regional military installation accompanied by strengthened diplomatic relationships between allies of expedience, the Asia-Pacific moves closer toward becoming a theatre of war. Those involved in the US-led military planning and war-games appear to be itching to escalate the exercises into real-war scenarios with the flick of a switch or finger on a button or touch-screen!
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. 'Embrace Pacific power role', Australian, 2 July 2019.
2. Risk and reward for Australia as US flexes its muscles in Asia, The Weekend Australian, 22-23 June 2019.
3. Australian, op.cit., 2 July 2019.
4. Ibid., and, China spy mission 'the new normal', Australian, 8 July 2019.
5. Wise to bolster our regional French connection, Australian, 5 July 2019.
6. Wikipedia: French Southern and Antarctic Lands;
The Comoros Islands;
7. Website: South African Military Intelligence – Comoros, Manuel Ferreira, and, Signals Units of the South African Corps of Signals and related services, Walter Volker, (Pretoria, 2010), pp. 627-30.
8. UK decision to leave Persian Gulf – implications, Le Monde Diplomatique, December – 1976.
9. Australian, op.cit., 5 July 2019.
10. PM's French Pacific solution, Australian, 28 June 2019.
11. Australian, op.cit., 5 July 2019.
12. Call for UK to flex muscles in Pacific, Australian, 8 July 2019.
14. See: US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012; and, US signs defence deal in Asia, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014.
15. US seeks new Asian defences, Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012.
16. Australian, op.cit., 2 July 2019; and, Editorial, US embraces Morrison's leadership in the Pacific, Australian, 3 July 2019.
17. US losing its major player powers in Asia, Australian, 29 May 2019.