US imperialism: All dressed-up, but running out of places to go
A couple of media releases about US foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region have revealed just how dysfunctional the White House and Pentagon have become in recent times; following all the characteristics of befuddled and confused thinking, US-led military planners appear to have finally acknowledged their strategically-placed facilities are a genuine target for adversaries.
The planning, at a time when the US is desperately attempting to reduce its military budget, would appear to fly in the face of reason; that is, if those responsible for the planning actually possess that faculty within their mind-sets.
In February, two articles placed in the Australian covered the precarious state of US-led foreign policy toward the region. In the first, a major statement by US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, drew attention to the rapidly changing balance of forces and the fear the US 'will fall irreversibly behind'. (1)
US being out-manoeuvred by Chinese economic expansion
The rapid rise of China across the region has seriously threatened the traditionally dominant position enjoyed by the US from the end of the Second World War until comparatively recently. The problem, for the US, has not proved straightforward: their main concerns have tended to be geo-strategic, whereas China is far more concerned with expansion through basic economic and trade considerations. US-led military planners have therefore had to contend with what they refer to as 'inter-state strategic competition', as a 'primary concern in US strategy'. (2)
Most countries across the region now regard China as a major trading partner.
The problem has also been compounded by US-led military planners expanding traditional borders to now include the Indian Ocean, under the glossy terminology of Indo-Pacific region. Esper, almost out of an act of desperation, stated that 'fixing the mismatch between the US's vast geographical aims and limited means is a gruelling task. In an era of constrained budgets, it requires decision-makers from the White House and congress down to individual military services to embrace difficult trade-offs that prioritise the Indo-Pacific'. (3)
New demands on US defence budget
The US recently announced their 2021 Pentagon spending plan which included the largest request they have ever made in seventy years of a further US$106.6 billion for boosting technological development, research and experimentation. It, however, rests upon a defence budget which is 'weighed down by two-thirds it must allocate to personnel, operations and maintenance'. (4) The present US defence budget could best be described as cumbersome.
Almost hidden within the media release, however, lay reference to the need for the US to prepare for high-end deterrence 'and war-fighting scenarios in the region … larger allocations will be required'. (5) US-led military planners would appear an ambitious breed, despite serious financial constraints.
Australia a compliant support state for US imperialism
A week later, a second media release was issued; couched within references to recently released planning to upgrade the Tindal Air Base, it noted it was 'a key step in the progressive rollout of the US's commitment to Australia and our theatre'. (6) There was an absence of meaningful discussion from the Australian parliament, and the US-led military planning would appear to have been rubber-stamped in Canberra.
Within the media release, however, lay reference to the use of Australian-based military facilities specifically for US personnel. Reference was provided, for example, to the ability of the US to use Australian bases for strategic aircraft and northern or western Australian naval bases being used for storage with US crew being 'flown in and out as necessary'. (7)
There was, once again, a total lack of open parliamentary debate about the proposals.
It was, however, reference to alternative US troop rotations which revealed an even more grandiose military plan, drawing Australia ever closer to direct involvement in US-led real-war scenarios. The US rotates troops through Australia and into the wider region on the annual basis; they train with defence personnel from the ADF, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, over six-month periods. (8)
The military training exercises tend to follow one another, with one ending, another one starting. In 2018, for example, a total of fifteen such regional exercises took place, in various locations hosted by foreign governments. (9)
“Host” governments to serve US war plans
The second recent media release contained information about US-led proposals for altering troop rotations and the increased use of host governments. It was announced moves were afoot by the US over a long-term process 'to disperse its forces throughout the Indo-Pacific'. (10) No reference, however, was given to whereabouts their basing would be. Reference was, nevertheless, given to the problem of sensitive military facilities housed on Diego Garcia and Guam being ready-made targets for adversaries 'in the event of military conflict between the US and China'. (11)
Taking such a mind-boggling starting-point, it is important to note:
Both Diego Garcia and Guam remain central to US-led global defence and security provision. They both exist on an arc from Pine Gap in central Australia, which swings across the wider region. Both hubs are centres for military operations with extensive facilities developed over decades which include large-scale landing strips, berthing and housing, linked to Darwin harbour as a support centre. (12) The triangular relationship between the centre and the hubs could hardly be replicated elsewhere either quickly or without also being highly conspicuous.
Studying the parts of the region through which the arc from Pine Gap swings, which include Malaysia and the Philippines, would appear to rather limit the US choice of re-locating such sensitive intelligence facilities. US-led military planners would appear all dressed-up with no-where to go: Malaysia has entered into serious political turmoil, the Philippines is developing a more independent foreign policy away from US-led dictate. There are now no formal US military bases in Thailand. Elsewhere, US regional diplomacy is hardly a rising force; a US Congress Commission, in November 2018, concluded, for example, with the announcement the US no longer had regional military superiority. (13) The US, in reality, is being forced out of the Indo-Pacific region.
With US-led regional military planning displaying a trajectory from the real world of easily accessible assessments and appearing more in line with Dr. Strangelove scenarios:
We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Defence holes show as U.S. tries to do more with less, Australian, 14 February 2020.
6. Upgrade a boon for security in the region, Australian, 21 February 2020.
8. More US troops than ever head for Darwin, Australian, 23 March 2018.
10. Australian, op.cit., 21 February 2020.
12. US intensifies military presence in the Indo-Pacific, Global Times (Beijing), 24 July 2018.
13. Study: U.S. no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019; and, Top End air base for US bombers, strike fighters, Australian, 21 February 2020.