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Changing Balance of Forces Between Rival Imperialisms in Our Region

Written by: (Contributed) on 7 May 2021


Understanding the minds behind military planning invariably includes their ability to identify adversaries, to conduct comparisons between military powers and their assessments of the prevailing balance of forces.

A recent statement from a retired US military hawk, providing reference to all three criteria is, therefore, an addition to our understanding of the changing balance of forces for the US, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, when compared to other similar assessments.

In light of the recently announced upgrades to four key military bases in the Northern Territory in Australia, the assessment has provided a rather different picture to the one given by the Morrison coalition government in Canberra.

A number of other related factors also give serious cause for alarm.

In late April, the Australian published a feature-spread by Seth Cropsey, a former deputy under-secretary for the US navy during the Reagan and Bush administrations, which was a central position in the Pentagon. The retired military hawk was allowed 45 column centimetres to push an argument which effectively challenged the political line of the Australian government. (1)

Rapid air deployments or a battle of the navies?

Coming the day after the Morrison coalition government formally announced planned upgrades to four key military facilities in the north of the country, the Cropsey article suggested any forthcoming hostilities between the US and China 'would be a naval one', and be primarily concerned with denying China's 'use of shipping lanes between it and the Middle East, and operate effectively to command the South China Seas, East China and Yellow Seas'. (2)

The position taken by the present Australian government would appear primarily focussed upon rapid air deployments to regional trouble-spots to challenge China. (3) Forming part of a $270 billion defence spending spree, announcements that they were intended 'to ensure the ADF can respond to emerging challenges', appeared more along the lines of political spin than a sensible discourse. (4)

The differences of military opinion reflect widespread concern in the Pentagon about the changing balance of forces across the Indo-Pacific region and China's credible challenge to traditional hegemonic positions.

It follows a US congressional report published in November 2018, that 'the US is no longer clearly superior to the threats it faces around the world and that it would struggle to win wars against China and Russia', revealing a changing balance of forces. (5)

Further concerns, by Jim Molan, former chief of operations for coalition forces in Iraq and now a right-wing Senator in NSW, likewise warned 'the sombre reality that war is not just possible in our region, but likely', together with a timespan of between 3-5 years before hostilities begin, has provided a chilling assessment of what Australians are likely to expect in due course. (6) He also concluded his recent assessment with the statement, 'an honest assessment of the ADF, even with its additional $270 billion investment over 10 years, reveals it might be able to win one or two battles, but not run a campaign, win a war, or defend Australia'. (7)

The Cropsey article, furthermore, provided an elaborate analysis and comparison of military power: while pushing a naval military perspective, he stated the US, at present, has 101 ships deployed around the world. The entire US fleet is 297 strong, as compared with nearly 600 in the period of the Reagan presidency. He concluded 'the fleet doesn't have enough ships to meet global commitments', and, 'the Chinese navy would be a formidable foe'. (8)

At no time, however, have military planners delved more deeply into the rising competition taking place across the Indo-Pacific region to consider causal factors of the present diplomatic tensions between the US and China: 'US interests', while based in economic reasoning, also include defence and security considerations; China's, by contrast, are usually solely economic-based. Beijing has been able to build strong diplomatic links across the region through favourable trade and skilful diplomacy while the US has become more concerned with swashbuckling military-style bravado and preconceptions of 'US interests'.

With large numbers of US military personnel already based in facilities in Australia in preparation for the Operation Talisman Sabre war-games scheduled for August, a sensible observer might ask what type of diplomatic message is being conveyed toward countries in the Indo-Pacific region with extensive joint training together with 'security operations and high-end live-fire exercises' having already been planned. (9)

Nearly a decade ago a statement from the Pentagon included reference to the military centre of US operations 'walking a fine line' where their goal was to 'reassure its anxious regional allies' about foreign policy. (10) They acknowledged that while many countries wanted to retain US support, they also 'did not want to provoke China, and they aren't sure Washington, given its fiscal constraints, can counter Beijing's rapid military modernisation'. (11) That was, however, a regional diplomatic assessment from a previous period.  

US imperialism pushing "allies" to do more of its work

Today, US-led regional foreign policy is more concerned with directing allies to take sides, with a massive wave of militarisation taking place. The US is clearly preparing for real-war scenarios, through their allies including Australia. It is not difficult to establish the scale of the wave of militarisation taking place: the ADF are currently replacing 59 Abrams M1A1 Battle Tanks and buying 160 additional ones together with four Chinook helicopters from the US at a total of $2.5 billion. They have been noted as providing a 'unique armour package', although no further details have been released by the Defence Department. (12)

It is not particularly difficult to point the finger of blame: a sensible analysis might well conclude that as China has successfully dislodged 'US interests' across the Indo-Pacific region, it is hardly likely to want to fight a war which will interfere, if not destroy, its favourable trade and diplomatic relations.

The recent military assessments have shown the US to have become increasingly desperate as it confronts China in an economic challenge which it cannot automatically win. In fact, it may well have already lost. The likelihood of real-war scenarios has, therefore, become a very realistic possibility as they seek to reassert traditional hegemonic positions:

                                         We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     America's naval strategy all at sea on China, Australian, 29 April 2021.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Let the war games begin, Australian, 28 April 2021.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Study: US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
6.     Complacency an enemy as reality of conflict sets in, Australian, 3 May 2021.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Australian, op.cit., 29 April 2021.
9.     Australian, op.cit., 28 April 2021.
10.   US seeks new Asia defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012.
11.   Ibid.
12.   $2.5 bn for US tanks and choppers, Australian, 4 May 2021.


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