Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eternal war (Chapter n+1)

Panetta’s Pacific Vision by GABRIEL KOLKO
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s declarations the past weeks that the U.S. remains a Pacific power, and will be even more involved there in the future, is far less a reiteration of an old doctrine but actually a search for a new strategy to find a justification for the vast sums the Pentagon will spend over the coming years after the defeats or, at best, stalemates in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The anti-Chinese aim of his visits to the Philippines, India, and Vietnam, was clear.  Without building permanent bases, the U.S. will want rights to use those that exist already. The Philippines will allow the U.S. to use the immense installations at Subic Bay and the Clark Air Base again, which the Americans built and from which in 1992 the Filipinos expelled them.  The U. S. will increase its spending on Philippines arms by three times in 2012 and give it 20 reconditioned helicopters, two or three cutters, and a squadron (12 to 24 planes) of reconditioned F-16 fighters  so that it can resist Chinese claims to islands and territories in the East Asian Sea.  In Vietnam, Panetta went to Cam Ranh Bay, the home of a vast American military complex during the Vietnam War, and where the U. S. again wants (and probably will get) base rights to counter the growing Chinese navy.
But there is a highly tentative quality about everything Panetta is saying, and an indefinite time span of up to 10 years to put a Pacific strategy in place, as if he expects the rest of the world will remain stable, and as if no crippling world economic crises can create an obstacle to lavish American military expenses, and similar optimistic assumptions that, in my opinion, are based on purely wishful thinking about the future. Just as the past decade has been full of surprises the American Government—and all experts, governments, etc.–did not predict or anticipate, the next decade is likely also to be the same.  To plan the future 10 years from now is impossible—to anyone.
But China is already far too strong militarily and economically. It holds over a trillion dollars — $1.15 trillion to be exact —  in longer-term U. S. Treasury notes, and were it to dump them it might hurt itself it in the short-run. In the long-run they would be free of dependency on the American debt. But the U. S. has relied on China to finance its immediate trade deficits and inadequate taxes to cover its budget deficits  and it will not find a substitute to China–unless it pays far more to attract buyers– given the highly fragile condition of the European economy. Militarily, China is already far too powerful to be treated by Western powers as it was during the 19th century.
The Philippines, China, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam claim portions or all of the South China Sea.  The conflict over the Sea therefore also involves many nominal allies or friends of the U.S. who disagree not just with China but with each other. Unless a mechanism is created to resolve this issue, which is very unlikely given China’s insistence that they own the entire South China Sea (along with their superior military power to enforce their claim), the U. S. will eventually be embarrassed by the dispute. So much can go wrong with the Administration’s ambitious  not-so-new, strategy...