November 17, 2011. Darwin, Australia. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, President Obama positioned the US military for what could possibly be the next global conflict.
RAAF troops excited to meet President Obama. Image courtesy of the UK's Daily Mail.
During a visit to Australia yesterday, the US President announced his deployment of an initial 2,500 Marines along with a contingent of Marine air forces. The move was seen more as a loud and clear warning to China than an actual military deterrent. But it increases the likelihood of an accidental conflict. And with most US allies in the region begging America for military help against China, it shines a light on what some consider an unavoidable regional war.
Both critics and supporters of the President’s move agree - if China continues on its present course toward regional domination, it’s going to crash into a number of US allies. Tension has been high recently as American allies in the Asia Pacific region assert their rights, territorial and otherwise. Nations including Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malasia, Indonesia, Brunei and a number of others currently have disputes with China, as well as with each other.
President Obama explained the reasons for the troop movement during his speech to 55 US Marines and 1,600 Royal Australian Air Force personnel in Darwin earlier today. “There is a demand signal from the nations of the region and this is something that we're doing in concert with one of our closest allies" the US President said, "So we believe it's not just entirely appropriate, but an important step to dealing with the challenges of the future of the Asia Pacific region.”
With American military spending on the verge of serious cut-backs in the coming years, President Obama assured Australia and other US allies in the region that future budget cuts would not affect the US military build-up in Australia. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region" President Obama said, "We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace. We will keep our commitments, including our treaty obligations to allies like Australia."
The President also reinforced America’s military responsibility to its close allies, “The US has no stronger ally than Australia, bound by common values and rights" the President insisted, "With my visit, I am making it clear that the US is stepping up its commitment in the Asia Pacific."
Currently, the US consistently stations about 300 Marines in Australia. That force will immediately increase by 250 and is scheduled to reach 2,500 over the next two years. US Marine Brigadier General Ronald Baczkowski was quoted in media reports saying the move was, “geographically distributed, operationally resilient force posture in the Pacific.”
Hariyadi Wirawan, a professor of international relations at the University of Indonesia warns, “The whole idea of creating this new arrangement of security in itself can be seen also as a provocation to China and will expect a kind of harsh response from China, from Beijing.” Chinese authorities in Beijing initially reacted with a deadly warning for its Australian neighbors. Threatening Australia with military action if it lets US Naval forces exercise their might in the South China Sea, China insisted the US ally risked getting, “caught in the crossfire”.
Within hours, Chinese official softened their response. Xinhua news agency quoted Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard asserting the joint military agreement would include humanitarian purposes. “It will be good for our Australian Defense Force to increase their capabilities, by joint training with the U.S. Marines and personnel" she remarked, "It will mean that we are postured to better respond together, along with other partners in the Asia-Pacific, to any regional contingency including the provision of humanitarian assistance and dealing with natural disasters."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin reiterated the Communist power’s official stance, saying that China does not interfere with relationships developed between other nations.
Indonesia, a consistent critic of the US, also raised warnings over deployment of US Marines in the region. The country of islands sits directly between China and Australia and has come close to military conflict with its Australian neighbors to the south numerous times in past decades. Their dislike of the US, and its allies, is also no secret. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Indonesia is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation with 86 percent of its population practicing Islam. It’s also roughly the same size as the United States, population-wise, with an estimated 245 million citizens.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa immediately echoed China’s warnings to the US and Australia. “What I would hate to see is if such developments were to provoke a reaction and counter-reaction precisely to create that vicious circle of tensions and mistrust or distrust” Natalegawa told Australian reporters.
While not mentioned by President Obama during his speeches in Australia, the shift in attention by the US military may be more about suffocating China economically, rather than intimidating them militarily. Blacked-out in much of the world, news outlets and government officials in India are celebrating more than any other country today. They and the country’s corporations would be the direct beneficiary of increased tension, and even military conflict, between the US and China in the South China Sea region. They see the increase in US forces as American assistance in India’s replacing China and the US as the world’s largest economy. Right now, India is third in the world.
That would be the second prong in President Obama’s strategy
Along with providing military assurance and assistance to America’s allies in an ever more tense multi-nation conflict, the US can also use its might to defeat China in an economic war. Unfortunately for the US, India would be the default beneficiary and recipient of millions of additional jobs and the lopsided trade surplus China now enjoys.
The Times of India quoted Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, research officer at the Institute of Conflict Studies in New Delhi explaining, "This is God sent. The more the US ramps up its military presence in the South China Sea, the more it will divert Beijing's attention from India." The first example of India’s newfound windfall of money and increased power in the region came immediately in the form of Australia’s decision to sell uranium to India.
According to unnamed sources, the Times of India reports that the strategic objective of the Obama administration is to steal business away from Chinese state-run corporations and send it India’s way. No other country is close enough in proximity and at the same time possesses the capability and manpower to take on China in a regional economic war.
India’s Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy explained, “Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia will feel more secure. India and Indonesia can get together to control the Malacca Straits, which is the route though which 90 percent of Chinese goods to East Asia passes." The Times of India also points out that China is already nervous about US intentions with the US Navy positioned near Vietnam. The Vietnamese are currently in a multi-nation territorial dispute over the oil rich islands in the South China Sea.
Make that a three-prong US strategy
The Obama administration will send military support to America’s nervous allies, defeat China in an economic war with US ally India becoming the world’s most powerful economy and open the vast oil fields throughout the South China Sea to US and US friendly oil companies. That is already one of the main reasons for conflict in the region. Indian oil company ONGC has begun working with Vietnamese oil companies to explore for oil deposits off the coast of Vietnam. China has already condemned the move by India and demanded ONGC cease operations in the area.
India, the new China
It appears the US, European and Japanese cooperative goal is to assist India in replacing China as the largest supplier of goods in East Asia. Whether or not that would benefit the American economy remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, it can’t be any worse than when China was “America’s Most Favored Nation”. China was originally granted MFN status during the Reagan administration. Since then, both Republican and Democratic Presidents alike have renewed the economically beneficial trade pact. In the two and a half decades since, the Communist dictatorship has virtually raped the US of millions of manufacturing jobs leading to an annual trade imbalance that has cost the US trillions of dollars. While the Obama strategy doesn’t bring those jobs back to the US, it does attempt to shift many of them from China to India. With an American ally replacing China as the number one power in the region, militarily and economically, the US may just benefit in the end.