Days of Revolt: The Militarism of U.S. Diplomacy

December 16, 2015

Days of Revolt: The Militarism of U.S. Diplomacy

In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and author Vijay Prashad trace the acceleration of U.S. militarism since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and discuss the consequences of U.S. domination over global affairs.

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of sixteen books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK, 2012), (co-edited with Paul Amar) Dispatches from the Arab Spring (2013), and No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (Leftward Press, 2015). Vijay’s latest book is Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation. Vijay is the chief editor at Leftward Press, and writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Jadaliyya, Counterpunch, Himal and Bol.

CHRIS HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt. Today we’re going to discuss the propensity of the United States to center its foreign policy around military intervention. That’s not a new phenomenon. Something that we have seen certainly since the Spanish-American war of 1898. A series of disastrous military interventions in Iran and Guatemala, 1953 and 1954. But it’s accelerated with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the invasion of Panama in 1989. And joining me to discuss the nature of American military intervention and its consequences, not only for the world but for the United States itself, is Vijay Prashad, who is a professor of international studies at Trinity University as well as a columnist for the Indian magazine Frontline. He is the author of 17 books, including Arab Spring Libyan Winter, The Karma of Brown Folk, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting, Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, as well as The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.

PRASHAD: Thanks a lot. Thank you.

HEDGES: So America is unique in a sense that unlike European empires, the British in India, we colonized ourself, internally, through Westward expansion. The campaigns of genocide against indigenous communities. The war against Mexico. And then after [02:34] that internal colonization, we moved. Cuba, the Philippines, which many people forget was a horrific war, up to one point 5 million Philippines, Filipinos, were killed in gruesome acts of torture, you know, scorched earth policies.And then with the rise of the Cold War, and proxy wars, we had a series of interventions. As I mentioned, the overthrow of Mossadegh, the elected, democratically elected, prime minister in Iran. [Arben’s] government. So it’s not a new phenomenon. But I think you argue that since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has come to dominate American foreign policy. And maybe you can first address that acceleration.

PRASHAD: Yes. There has indeed been an acceleration. And you’re quite correct to say, to use the, the, the example of Panama. In 1989, when the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed but was really in, on its last legs, the United States decided to conduct an operation in Panama at a scale which resembled the operation in Grenada in 1983, when the U.S. Marines essentially landed there, overthrew the government of Maurice Bishop, and then turned, you know, the country over to their proxies.But the scale of Panama, despite the fact that it resembled Grenada–again, big U.S. presence, went in there, snatched [inaud.].

HEDGES: We were overthrowing Noriega, right.

PRASHAD: Manuel Noriega. Snatched him.

HEDGES: Who we, who we kidnapped.

PRASHAD: We kidnapped him. Brought him to Florida. He was put in prison, where he sits. So at the surface level, Panama looks like Grenada. You know, the U.S. goes in, grabs the guy, overthrows him, et cetera.But there was something very interesting in the way in which the assault took place in Panama. The scale of the bombardment was incredibly much greater than the bombardment in Grenada. Second grammatical feature of this new invasion was the use of special forces to dive in there, actually rappel down from helicopters, grab Noriega in a very quick raid.But this second piece is very important, because it becomes, you know, part of, as I said, the kind of grammar of American regime change. Massive aerial bombardment, special forces go in, grab the bad guy, get him out of the country. And you really don’t care about what comes next, you know, it’s just left to rot. And Panama for a long while after, you know, sort of simmered in a chaotic state.Very soon after Panama, this grammar was perfected in Iraq, where you had–again, incredible level of bombardment. And the aftermath was not seen as relevant.

When you think about Iraq 1990-91, the test of why this was, you know, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its demise is important, is that inside the presidential palace Saddam was sitting with his senior advisors. One of his main ministers, the minister of culture, Hamdani, was sitting there. Hamdani and Saddam are talking to each other. This was all recorded by Saddam. Hamdani says where, where is the Soviet Union? Why aren’t they objecting? Because they knew intuitively, and I think by now, in hindsight we can show, that the collapse of the Soviet Union opened the floodgates of a kind of American unipolarity, where the full force of this incredible military machine that has been built up can be utilized. This is not limited force. This is not CIA dirty tricks, you know, which is what Kermit Roosevelt did in [inaud.] in 1953.

This is a different kind of barrage, against civilians, using mainly aerial bombardment. And that is why I say from [07:35] then on we’ve seen this grammar become normal.

HEDGES: Well, it once, some people say Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a foreign policy, it just has money. We don’t have a foreign policy, we just bomb. Isn’t that the transformation? It’s the kind of eclipsing of diplomacy, and you see it in the composition of embassies. I was 20 years overseas as a foreign correspondent. And I watched the composition of the embassies essentially change so that they were dominated by the CIA, by military intelligence.

PRASHAD: Well, when you look at the WikiLeaks cables in Yemen it becomes patently clear that when David Petraeus came to town, you know, Abdullah Saleh, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the head of the whole country, the president, would take David Petraeus much more seriously than the U.S. ambassador. It is quite correct that a corrosive influence came after the fall of the Soviet Union. And it, it’s a funny thing. Because you’d imagine that during the time of the Soviet Union, you’d have much more care for military-to-military contact. That was true to some extent. But they didn’t define the space.

HEDGES: Well, because it was dangerous. Because if you provoked the Soviet Union there were consequences. And so therefore you needed–whereas diplomats, you know, to handle situations like Tito’s Yugoslavia, or the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia or Hungary. Whereas now, you know, to what extent is it just the unleashing of the arms manufacturers, who essentially, you know, have now a kind of funnel through the military by which they can make, you know, almost unlimited profits. The bombing of Libya, where you’re dropping Tomahawk cruise missiles, I think they’re $1.4 million each. In a matter of days you’ve just spent half a billion dollars.

To what extent do you think that–because it’s not rational. I mean, I spent seven years in the Middle East. What we’re doing in the Middle East is, you know, creating one failed state after another, which give rise, you know, quite logically to groups like ISIS and others. Do you think it’s, it’s essentially being driven by these corporate arms manufacturers?

PRASHAD: I think it’s very complicated. One of the very serious problems for U.S. foreign policy that predates 1989 is an old assumption, well, I think, articulated by the late Samuel Huntington in a book that he did in the 1960s, where he made, I think, a fairly interesting argument that in countries that had been colonies or semi-colonies the colonial power, the British, the French, Portuguese, Spanish, you know, essentially created a society without reasonably good institutions. So that educational structures weren’t created. The state structure was not fully created for the benefit of the population.

HEDGES: Well, is that true in India? Because India–.

PRASHAD: India is an exception to some of this.

HEDGES: Okay. All right.

PRASHAD: You know, and India indeed has been an exception. But this is true, they would argue this is true in Pakistan. Because it was a new state, after all. You know, it had to create everything from scratch.

But what they argued, what Huntington argued, what others argued, was that the one institution that was based in modern principles was the military. And this was a theory that they called military modernization.

So therefore, the military has to be taken seriously. And you see that even till today where, when there’s a military coup in Egypt, the gov–the United States government, has–they don’t articulate it, because they don’t want to say it outright. But they’ll say if you actually allow democracy, then the Muslim Brotherhood will govern, and they are not a modern force. So if you want to modernize Egypt, well, the generals are not so bad. You know, they’re okay, fine, they are brutal here and there, but they’re not as bad as a force that is not committed to modernity.

So this military modernization plays a role. Second thing is plain old-fashioned racism, that these people simply don’t know how to be democratic. So therefore if they have a military or a dictator, these people know how to keep the divisions in place. You know, there is an understanding that in the global South the populations are too [fractious]. They don’t like each other enough. You know, Hindus and Muslims are at each other’s throats. The Shias and Sunnis are at each other’s throats. If you have a dessicated view of the population, you don’t give them any sense of confidence that you can actually create a society that is not driven by ancient identities.

PRASHAD: So let’s, let’s add another piece to it. Because I, I agree that there has been an eclipsing. So just as in the commerce side, in the economics policy side, you have a kind of religion of neoliberal policy, in the side of making policy about the world a new religion does develop. And I think this religion has also undermined the old hands in the State Department. That is why I think some of these ambassadors are [new] to complain, because they understood these societies are more complicated. You know, if you’re going to come and visit Egypt, you should meet, you know, somebody who’s not necessarily a Mubar–Mubarakite. You should talk to perhaps some of the liberals. You should talk to, you know, maybe some of the religious people. Have a broad view of society. That’s what they would have liked to have done. But they were sidelined.

And so this sidelining is parallel in the foreign policy side. Why it happens is a very fascinating question. But why this is happening, some of it has to do plainly with the understanding that we can shape the world now. We have the opportunity to do so. We were held back by the Soviet Union, that we–that because the Soviet Union existed, this alternative set of, of, you know, perhaps third-world-ism emerged. What Alan Dulles, you know, very derisively used to call neutralism, has infected the planet. We need to wash the planet of all these things. Get rid of our enemies, you know.

This messianic view doesn’t start with George W. Bush’s administration. You know, we like to now look back at it and say, you know, Bush was the one who rode roughshod and invaded Iraq. Actually, this goes back to his father. I mean, the new world order language that comes to us is from George H. W. Bush.

HEDGES: Right after the first Gulf War.

PRASHAD: Right after the first Gulf War. He said, we now can reshape the world.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: And they begin to hammer an agenda through the United Nations. They begin to sideline the General Assembly with a great deal of robust pressure on the various, you know, institutions of the United Nations, focusing everything into the Security Council.

You know, if you look back at it, if you look before 1989, yes of course the Security Council was important. But the General Assembly had–was able to assert itself. You know, that is why when Moynihan is sent there his task–by the way, Moynihan’s memoir of the years in the, in the UN, is called A Dangerous Place. Why was it a dangerous place–because the United States government couldn’t force a policy through. It was constrained by the General Assembly. By the time Bill Clinton comes in the ’90s, they pushed an agenda against the General Assembly, brought power to the Security Council, you know, invented this idea of humanitarian intervention. After Rwanda.

HEDGES: Samantha Power.

PRASHAD: Samantha Power comes even later than this, because Rwanda, when Susan Rice was at the African section of the State Department, Rwanda was to their mind a great error. But Rwanda allowed them, after Rwanda, it allowed them to push this theory that we can intervene and should indeed intervene to so-called help civilians.

And from 1985-2005 when they passed the responsibility to protect directive of the UN, the idea of humanitarian intervention had narrowed so deeply from being help civilians to what serves U.S. interests.

HEDGES: To what extent do you think the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, which I think we both agree, it was ultimately going to have disastrous consequences, already has within the regions such as the Middle East that are visited by this indiscriminate lethal power, but also internally. But to what extent was it driven by the fact that the military as an institution within the United States became unassailable?

PRASHAD: So, now, the ground was prepared long before 1989 for this particular piece. And it’s, it’s so deep that it would be very hard to pull the roots out. How did this work? You know, it is now an established process in economics to know that even countries run through business cycles. There is an up cycle and then a down cycle. And Keynesianism’s, you know, John Maynard Keynes, his perhaps contribution was to say that at the time when the business cycle starts to go down, you have to have counter-cyclical spending. That means the government has to ratchet up spending in order to prevent the decline to deepen and then go out of control. What he was thinking of of course was the great depression and the, the collapse in Europe. So you need to have counter-cyclical spending.

In most countries in the world, counter-cyclical spending is done on the social side. So you have expenditure for health, expenditure for education, expenditure for–. In the United States, social expenditure is kept suppressed. Counter-cyclical spending from the 1930s was done on the military side of the books. So you had massive military spending, which helped stabilize the waves of, you know, countries’ economic cycles. Secondly, very cleverly, and this came over the course of decades, almost every single congressional district in the United States–.

HEDGES: Yeah. Has–.

PRASHAD: Either has a base or it has military production. You know, I mean, I live in Northampton, Massachusetts, perhaps one of the most liberal cities in America, in many different ways. Socially liberal, politically liberal. Our city council passed a, a resolution for Syrian refugees. Nonetheless, we have a military firm there, [inaud.], which makes sighting systems for bombers. Every single congressional district is implicated, and the structure of spending from the government through a balancing out, you know, the waves of [inaud.] is done through military expenditure.

But it allowed you to have, you know, this massive apparatus grow up of military bases overseas. You have incredible power held in by the Soviets on the one side, held in also by the third world project. You know, these collapse around the same time. You have the collapse of the Soviet Union pretty much by ’86-’87. You have Gorbachev comes to power. He starts talking about perestroika, glasnost, it’s over. The third world goes into a serious debt crisis in 1983. So around the same time you see the collapse of these two major bulwarks against the wholesale use of American power.

And so from around 1990 till about 2005, or maybe till 2015, you had essentially fair game. You know, you don’t like Gaddafi, take him out. You don’t like somebody, take him out. You know, somebody’s a bad guy. We’re coming to get you. In world history, we have only seen barbarians talk about other people like that. You know, a barbarian leader would stand up and say, we’re gonna come and get you. I mean, it’s, it’s undignified of a world leader.

HEDGES: So what, what are the consequences of this? What do we–.

PRASHAD: Remember, I said from 1990-2015.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: Something changed in the 2000s. Of course, George Bush’s war in Iraq was a major dent to the idea of humanitarian intervention. For many reasons. One reason of course is it, just [parochially] in West Asia, it [unsheathed] Iran. You know, it gave Iran incredible freedom. And the history of the region since 2003 has been how to put Iran back in the box.

HEDGES: No, they won the war.

PRASHAD: They won the war. I mean, they hated the Taliban.

HEDGES: We fought it, they won it.

PRASHAD: Exactly. They hated the Taliban, they hated Saddam, we took them both out. So that’s a parochial problem in that region. More dramatically, Bush’s entry of, in 2003, dented ideologically the idea of humanitarian intervention. So the United States government pushed very hard in the UN to move this theory called responsibility to protect, which the UN adopted in 2005. And sort of cleaned up, burnished humanitarian intervention after Bush had essentially spat upon it. And this was provided to the world.

Now, at the same time you have the rise of these major countries. Brazil, India, South Africa, all oppose the 2003 Iraq war. Quite, you know, strongly. In fact, India had a right-wing government, nonetheless opposed the Iraq war. China has been gradually moving away from its Treaty of Westphalia understanding of interstate politics. You know, China’s view used to be you do your thing, we do our thing. Don’t tell us how to run our country we won’t tell you–they’re slowly walking away from that. And Russia under Putin has rebuilt their military. It had collapsed under Yeltsin, it had gone into freefall even, during the first Putin term. You know, with the war in Chechnya and Dagestan. He has rebuilt the military.

So when Libya took place in 2011, it was the first major use of the responsibility to protect doctrine of 2005. When that vote came before the Security Council, under immense pressure, Russia and China decided to abstain. India and Brazil also abstained. It happened that South Africa was also on the council then. These are the five BRICS countries. South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, got a personal phone call from President Obama, who begged him to vote for it, and South Africa broke ranks.

Now, I remember interviewing the ambassadors right afterwards. And they said the same thing. They said that we gave the West, essentially, the power to do [inaud.] responsibility to protect mandate. To protect civilians in Libya, what did they do? Before you could blink your eyes they went for regime change.

HEDGES: Right.

PRASHAD: And so we will never give them again blanket mandate through the Security Council. That’s why Syria would never receive any R-to-P mandate. You know, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, use of force. They will never get it. Why? Because they thought that Obama is not Bush. They didn’t see this–it’s amazing, Chris, you know, these are sophisticated countries, with Brazil particularly as an–and India, very sophisticated foreign ministries. And yet they were swayed by the personality difference, not seeing that there’s a structural problem here. They thought, we’ll give it to Obama, and Obama will make sure that this is merely responsibility to protect. Of course Sarkozy was already bombing, the French already–.

The point I’m making is that we have entered a different phase now where American unipolarity has come to an end. American unipolarity began in 1990 or 1989. It has come to an end between 2011 and 2015. When the Russians entered Syria–now, I’m not talking about whether it’s good or bad, or you know, I’m agnostic on that for a minute. When the Russians entered Syria militarily, what they said for the first time since the 1980s is, you cannot do this. They annulled regime change in Syria. Now it’s impossible.

HEDGES: And you know, for–when we, before we went on camera, you were talking about signs of morbidity. Just–which I think is right. I mean, what is–what did you mean by that?

PRASHAD: Ah. So, you know, there’s a person that I like to read a lot. His name is Giovanni Arrighi. And Arrighi wrote a tremendous series of books, but the last book was called Adam Smith in Beijing. He had this theory that empires go in waves. You go from, you know, the Italians to the, you know, to Amsterdam, to Britain, to America. And what he, he saw in looking at the evidence is as you go through these phases, the size of the imperial corp gets larger. Its imperial footprint gets bigger. But its time of imperial hegemony is less and less and less.

And there are a couple of reasons for this. Technology being one of them. But he said that there are two crises that take place in the history of these modern empires, capitalist empires. The two crises that he looks for. One is called a signal crisis, and the second is a terminal crisis. The signal crisis is detected when finance, which is obviously international and not national. But when finance ceases to see the core country, the main, hegemonic country, when it ceases to see that country as being a good investment for itself. And it flees. So we see that finance fled, say, you know, the states of, of, of Italy, and went to Amsterdam. Then finance fled Amsterdam, went to England. And in the ’20s went to America. You know, finance–now, he says, finance is fleeing America. It’s a little more complicated, it’s not fleeing to China, it’s fleeing globally. So he says that’s a signal crisis.

He says a terminal crisis is when the contradictions of the country can no longer be managed, and you go to other extremely irrational solutions because there is no rational solution. What is a rational solution to the problem of America? First you have to define what is the problem of America. The problem of America is that capital, American capital, international capital, has decided that they don’t want to hire Americans. What you want is you want highly-skilled Americans designing very sophisticated new things, which will be produced by suppressed labor elsewhere and sold to Americans who borrow money from the Chinese to buy them. There is no solution on the table, because the American political class hasn’t even defined the problem clearly to its own public.

You know, to say I’m going to make America great again, to say we’re going to put factories in America, who’s going to be doing the investment? Which capitalist is going to come back and invest so heavily that the American, you know, labor force is going to be revitalized? If you don’t articulate the problem clearly you will never articulate a solution. So you have instead signs of morbidity. Attack immigrants. Attack Muslims. Bomb somewhere. Believe that if we strongarm China they’ll revalue the currency, and that somehow is going to revitalize America. These are signs of morbidity.

Donald Trump, actually, is, is to my mind not a special problem. He is the most vulgar sign of morbidity. But in fact if you run from Trump all the way down, everybody is a sign of morbidity, because they are not capable of turning to the public and saying, friends, nobody wants to hire you. We have to think of new ways to raise capital. That means you’re going to have to go after the American 1 percent, 0.1 percent, that has been on tax strike for the last 45 years. They’ve refused to pay tax. So that needs a new political understanding. It’s not here now.

HEDGES: No, it isn’t. Thank you very much.

PRASHAD: Pleasure.

HEDGES: And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.

Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia

December 16, 2015

Number 333 | December 15, 2015

Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia

by Lyle J. Morris

A significant but under-appreciated component that has emerged from the U.S. “rebalance” to Asia has been maritime security capacity building efforts in Southeast Asia. Such efforts came into focus briefly when Secretary of State John Kerry announced the “Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative” in December 2013, which committed $25 million in U.S. government funds to train, equip, and provide facilities to maritime law enforcement agencies of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At the time, the initiative was lightly covered in the press and quickly forgotten.

It took November’s high-profile visit by President Barack Obama aboard the Philippine Navy flagship vessel Gregorio del Pilar in Manila and the subsequent announcement of an additional $250 million in U.S. aid to the region — to include the transfer of a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and naval research vessel — for the issue to garner the attention it deserves in the media. With this recent announcement, the United States is positioning itself as an indispensable contributor to maritime capacity building and has become the largest and most important partner in coast guard capacity building in the region.

Xi and Obama

The U.S. aid package comes at a particularly opportune time for the region. Archipelagic states such as Indonesia and the Philippines increasingly view with alarm efforts by the Chinese Coast Guard to assert sovereignty over disputed territory in the South China Sea and seek to bolster their own maritime law enforcement fleets to counter the threat.  The United States is thus filling a major need for many countries during a time of uncertainty regarding Chinese actions in the region.

The $250 million aid package will provide training, infrastructure construction, and vessels and other assets to bureaucracies charged with maritime security in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. According to the White House Fact Sheet released in tandem with Obama’s visit to the Philippines, the capacity building efforts aim to help countries “respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region.”  The Fact Sheet emphasizes the “software” component of capacity building to “strengthen institutions and enhance practical skills to develop sustainable and capable maritime forces.” Such an emphasis represents an important recognition that human capital needs to remain just as important as hardware within many of these countries.

The aid package builds upon the 2013 initiative but goes several steps further in enhancing capabilities. First, the United States will transfer two large capacity vessels to the Philippine Navy: a high-endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, USCG Boutwell, and a naval marine surveillance and survey vessel, the R/V Melville. The two vessels will nearly double the number of operational high-endurance and large tonnage vessels in the Philippine Navy fleet, and significantly increase its capacity to patrol its exclusive economic zone. The transfer is a major gain for Philippine maritime security as a whole, especially since the Philippine Coast Guard lacks any high endurance cutters of its own. The remaining $79 million in funds is to be allocated for building training and logistical bases for the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, as well as to hold “increased and more complex exercises and training with U.S. government agencies and U.S. Pacific Command to increase interoperability and professionalization.”

Second, as part of a $40 million aid package to Vietnam over two years, the United States will lift the ban on sales of “maritime-related lethal capabilities” to Vietnam. This presumably would pave the way for the United States to sell arms for deployment on Vietnamese Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement vessels, for example. The move marks a significant thaw in relations and builds on the two sides’ landmark 2011 Memorandum of Understanding and 2015 “Joint Vision Statement” between the U.S. Department of Defense and Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense to enhance defense exchanges and capacity-building. During the signing of the 2015 “Statement,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also pledged $18 million to the Vietnamese Coast Guard to purchase U.S.-made Metal Shark patrol vessels.

Finally, a heavy emphasis was given to increasing personnel training; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance integration; and inter-agency coordination among all four recipient countries. Inter-agency coordination is a major issue among all maritime law enforcement agencies in the region, but it is particularly daunting for Indonesia, which is to receive $21 million over two years as part of the package. With 17,000 islands and over 54,000 kilometers of coastline, Indonesia has a vast maritime domain to defend and patrol, and has recently created a supra-bureaucracy called the Maritime Security Agency, or BAKAMLA, to integrate over a dozen maritime law enforcement actors. The consolidation process has proven difficult, however, with vested interests and structural inefficiencies forestalling progress. Thus, U.S. assistance that promotes inter-agency coordination will go a long way towards streamlining Indonesia’s maritime agency reforms.

Non-military maritime security and law enforcement capabilities are increasing in significance as countries in the region seek to bolster maritime domain awareness and protect vital marine resources from exploitation. They provide increased presence in contested waters and around maritime features in the South China Sea to counteract concerns over increasing assertiveness and quantitative advantages of China’s coast guard vessels in the region. China’s use of its coast guard as an instrument of statecraft designed to coerce rather than carry out law and regulations enforcement at sea has fundamentally altered security perceptions in the region. Countries are now compelled to develop their own coast guards, as opposed to navies, to counterbalance China, yet many lack the funds to so adequately.

By contributing to coast guard capacity building by donating, the United States has found an important and politically viable avenue to bolster maritime security to partners and allies in the region. The United States’ recent aid package signals a desire among U.S. policy-makers to widen its strategic involvement in the region but in a manner that is not overtly confrontational with China. The package will open the door for deeper engagement with coast guard fleets in Southeast Asia going forward.

About the Author

Lyle J. Morris is a project associate at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He can be reached at

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.
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From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

December 1, 2015 (30 days to 2016)

From Timor Leste into Murky UMNO Waters of Malaysia

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“In history, truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost … especially against the narrow and futile patriotism, which, instead of pressing forward in pursuit of truth, takes pride in walking backwards to cover the slightest nakedness of our forefathers.”

– Col Thomas Aspinwall


Henceforth my commentary on our failing state will be sparse. Others are doing a fine job of wading into the murky UMNO waters of Malaysia.

Since returning from my academic hiatus in Timor Leste or as my Indonesian friends refer to it as Tim Tim, I will be looking back on a life and professional career spent in the service of a country fast becoming foreign to me.

Everything old is new again. In diplomatic circles and among academics, the South China Sea, the efficacy of regional cooperation but especially the influence of China, dominates the discourse.

Depending on who you talk to, generally cynicism replaces what popular spin du jour the power brokers far more interested in political survival than regional stability are serving up. As one ambassador told me, “there is no country without a ruler”.

All this talk of an ASEAN community is merely propaganda for a neo-Cold War between hegemonic interests that small troubled countries find themselves caught between.

As the late S Rajaratnam (who was then serving as Singapore’s Foreign Minister) said at the formation of ASEAN – “a stable Southeast Asia, not a balkanised Southeast Asia. And those countries who are interested, genuinely interested, in the stability of Southeast Asia, the prosperity of Southeast Asia, and better economic and social conditions, will welcome small countries getting together to pool their collective resources and their collective wisdom to contribute to the peace of the world” – alluding to the powerful vested foreign interest that signified the Cold War.

The neo-Cold War dominated by American and Chinese interests, will eventually change the political and social landscape of Southeast Asia. Behind the political rhetoric and yes, the economic advantages brought upon by so-called regional cooperation, lays the dark truth that the constant struggle for individual autonomy and self-interest is in conflict with broader hegemonic stratagems.

ASEAN Community

ASEAN, or the ASEAN community, has to deal with a whole range of issues ranging from a black economy, human trafficking, political corruption and the very real threat of Islamic extremism. The feel-good economic numbers are not one part of the story; it is the least important part when it comes to maintaining regional stability and individual integrity.

Next area of global conflict

In the early 80s, I attended the Indonesian Naval Staff and Command College course (Seskol at Cipulir, Jakarta).

During a seminar about potential areas of conflict, I presented a seminar paper to the commandant of the Staff College and four senior officers from the Indonesian Navy. I posited that the next area of conflict would the South China Sea and gave detailed socio and political commentary about the realities of regional interests and conflicts.

The commandant, Vice Admiral Adang Safaat and two admirals chewed me up. They berated me on the fact that I did not acknowledge the efficacy of Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan), another Cold War relic signed in Kuala Lumpur in 1971. Furthermore, they were horrified that I did not place emphasis on the bilateral joint military exercises amongst ASEAN countries.

The two colonels were strangely silent. After the presentation or humiliation as I saw it, the two colonels, Lt Col (Navy) Krisna Rubowo and a retired colonel of Chinese ethnicity who was an active participant of Indonesia’s war of independence (he facilitated the smuggling of arms from Singapore to the Freedom Movement in Indonesia), met me in private.

They told me in confidence that although they did not want to contradict their senior officers, they agreed with my summation. The South China Sea would be the next area of global conflict.

Before I go any further, I wish to speak of the enigma who is General Abdul Haris Nasution. The former Defence Minister and Security Minister of Indonesia is a Batak from Sumatra and a member of Generasi 45, who fought and played a key role in the Indonesian War of Independence.

General Nasution was also a key player and confidant of Sukarno who was one of the founding fathers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and a close friend of Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito.  He had written books on guerilla warfare informed by actual experience and was on a personal level subjected to the worse of political infighting with the murder of his five-year daughter as collateral damage.

I will expand more on the nature of my friendship with the good General in subsequent pieces, but here was a man who was figuratively and literally scared by military and political life.

I needed a reality check. Was my paper the result of youthful anti-imperialism and seeing shadows where they were none? We were living in the nuclear age and those of us who served in the military felt the resulting anxiety most keenly. I needed the clear-sighted opinion of someone who was close to power but not enthused by it.

Systemic dysfunctions

General Nasution had the reputation of wanting to clean up corruption in the military and someone so inclined had very little use for pandering to conventional wisdom.

I took my seminar paper to General Nasution, who took them and told me he would review them. I got word to meet him a week later in his house. His house was not the palatial structures of most senior retired military personnel. It was small modest house; behind it, was General now President Suharto’s house when he was in the army.

Nasution (photo, in white shirt with author) agreed with my paper but with some caveats. Concerning Zofpan, he was skeptical as to how small nations, with small navies could “persuade” larger hegemons to maintain the integrity of Zofpan.

He was also skeptical on continued allegiances to so-called regional pledges of community building and neutrality when individual successive governments found it profitable to align their interests, with specific hegemons in lieu of maintaining regional solidarity.

The former Defence Minister was well aware of the political vagaries that were part of the reality of Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia’s own experience as (some would refer to as American proxyism) a pawn in American hegemonic interest in this part of the world, demonstrated the disconnect between regional harmony and state self-interest, that fueled the Cold War and now the neo-Cold War.

What I took away from my discussions with people from various military and civilian disciplines at that time was a deep pessimism of speaking with “one voice”. This problem arises not because of diversity or even self-interest. This problem arises because of the systemic dysfunctions that plague individual Southeast Asian countries.

If you listen carefully, we can hear the same sentiment in what Rajaratnam cautioned, “we must also accept the fact, if we are really serious about it, that regional existence means painful adjustments to those practices and thinking in our respective countries.“We must make these painful and difficult adjustments. If we are not going to do that, then regionalism remains a utopia.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. Having spent some time in Dili, Timor Leste, the former Naval Commander is back home for good in the murky UMNO waters of BolehLand. I hope he will find to time to write about his experiences of living and working in a newly emerging country, which is seeking to be a member of ASEAN.

I  was in Dili when Tim, Tim was emerging from Indonesian colonialism– thanks to the farsighted President B. J. Habibie– for a MIER-Sosokawa Foundation forum on Preparing TL for entry into ASEAN some years ago (2007). I am today a supporter of Timor Leste’s entry into ASEAN. At that forum I presented a Paper titled Lessons from Cambodia in ASEAN, which was later issued by The Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace– [PDF]Cambodia’s Engagement with ASEAN: Lessons for Timor ……/Working%20Paper/CICP%20working%20paper%20…by D Merican – ‎2007. –Din Merican

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Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

September 27, 2015


Few dispute that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is in deep trouble. From the US perspective, China’s reckless behavior in the South China Sea, unrestrained cyber attacks against American targets, protectionist economic policies, and escalating political repression at home have demolished the belief that a globally integrated China would be a responsible and cooperative partner. Indeed, recent Chinese actions directly challenge vital American interests and core values.

Chinese leaders, for their part, view America’s strategic “pivot to Asia” as a thinly veiled step to tighten its geopolitical containment of China. Moreover, they have become obsessed with US dominance in international finance and technology and, most important, America’s ideological commitment to liberal democracy, which they regard as an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The toxic mix of mutual mistrust and tit-for-tat behavior has brought Sino-American ties to their lowest point since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. There is now widespread concern that the US and China may be headed for a new cold war. —

Addressing Strategic Domain Issues in U.S.-China Relations

 by Wang Dong, Roy Kamphausen, and Travis Tanner

Wang Dong is Deputy Executive Director of the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange, Peking University; Roy Kamphausen is Senior Vice President for Research at the National Bureau of Asian Research; and Travis Tanner> is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the 100K Strong Foundation.

On September 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Seattle and began a state visit to the U.S. that will culminate in a summit meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Xi in the White House. Mr. Xi came at a critical moment, especially as recently there have been signs of emerging strategic rivalry in U.S.-China relations.

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Barack Obama (L) chats with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they walk from the West Wing of the White House to a private dinner across the street at Blair House, in Washington, September 24, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

For a bilateral relationship that is becoming increasingly more complex and interdependent in the areas of cyber, maritime, nuclear, space, military to military relations, and people to people exchange–what can be defined as “strategic domain issues”–are among the most consequential ones. How to expand cooperation while managing differences in those strategic domains will, to a great extent, determine the strategic trajectory of U.S.-China relations.

In a major project run jointly by The National Bureau of Asian Research and the Institute for China-U.S. People to People Exchange at Peking University, leading Chinese and U.S. scholars are studying these strategic domain issues. Based on the joint study our team has done, we believe it is of crucial importance for the leaders of our two countries to face squarely strategic-domain issues, which are among the most sensitive and thorny issues in U.S.-China relations. Below we recommend initial steps toward bilateral progress in each of these strategic-domain areas.

China and the U.S. are highly interdependent in cyberspace, notwithstanding cyberespionage concerns. Our two countries have shared interests in countering cybercrimes and cyberterrorism. These areas can become the first steppingstones toward building mutual trust and expanding cooperation in the cyber domain. The two countries should also seek common ground on cyberattacks, Internet governance, and cyber infrastructure. Essential to this will be a return to a dialogue mechanism to reach agreement on how to protect key information infrastructure and establish a code of conduct in cyberspace.

Maritime security is the strategic domain that China and the U.S. have perhaps the greatest potential for cooperation and mutual benefits—though also great potential for conflict. Put simply, the South China Sea is not and should not be the whole picture of U.S.-China relations. The two sides should clarify their strategic intentions and avoid misunderstanding or misperception. Both sides have shared interests and responsibilities in ensuring freedom of navigation as well as maintaining regional peace and stability. We should put in place crisis prevention and management mechanisms and other confidence-building measures (CBMs). The U.S. and China should sign the air-to-air annex to the U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) On the Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters signed last November. The two coast guards should expand cooperation in law-enforcement missions, and the two navies in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Nuclear weapons are a critical dimension in U.S.-China strategic relations. On the basis of changing understandings of a credible Chinese second-strike capability, the two sides should begin a nuclear strategic stability dialogue. The two presidents should reaffirm their commitment to denuclearization, particularly as North Korea has restarted its nuclear facilities and is posed for a missile launch. They should impress upon Pyongyang that a nuclear North Korea will never be accepted by the international community, take measures to actively head off the looming crisis, and try to break the impasse by resuming the Six Party Talks.

Space is a strategic domain characterized by high risk of strategic competition with relatively fewer common interests. In order to control strategic risks, China and the U.S. should actively seek to expand cooperation. For instance, the two sides should consider establishing a periodic notification mechanism and regularly exchange information regarding space debris. The two sides should also consider promoting CBMs in the space domain, such as reciprocal commitment to not to disrupt or destroy the other side’s space assets.

A mature and stable U.S.-China military-to-military relationship is crucial for fostering a new model of relations between the two countries. The two militaries should consider bilateral or multilateral military cooperation in non-traditional security arenas. For instance, the two sides might begin with exchanges on peace-keeping operations. The two militaries should deepen their cooperation in maintaining regional security and stability, including in Afghanistan.

People-to-people exchange has become one of the solid pillars of U.S.-China relations. Using people-to-people exchange as a strategic mechanism will help to reverse negative trends and address the trust deficit in the bilateral relationship. The two sides should invest in more opportunities for student exchange and language learning, ensuring these future leaders are equipped with the skills to collaborate with each other.

When the two Presidents meet for a summit in Washington, D.C. on September 25, it is imperative that they engage in a real conversation on these strategic-domain issues. Fully addressing those areas head-on will help mitigate the signs of budding strategic rivalry between China and the U.S., chart the roadmap for the new type of great-power relationship between the two, and anchor U.S.-China relations on a more stable and durable basis in the years and decades to come.

President Xi’s 6-Point Proposals for China-US Relations

by Xunhua News

WASHINGTON, September 25 (Xinhua) — Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday put forward a six-pronged proposal for next-stage development of China-U.S. relations.

Xi and ObamaXi made the suggestions in his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, which culminated his four-day first state visit to the United States.

– The two sides should maintain close exchanges and communication at all levels. Major bilateral mechanisms like the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange should be brought into full play.

– The two countries should expand and deepen practical cooperation in various fields, including economy, trade, military, anti-terrorism, law enforcement, energy, environment and infrastructure.

– China and the United States should promote people-to-people exchange and consolidate the social basis for bilateral relations.

– The two countries should respect their differences in history, culture, tradition and social system, as well as development path and development stage, and learn from each other.

– The two sides should deepen dialogue and cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs.

– They should jointly deal with regional and global challenges, enrich the strategic connotations of their relations, and provide the international community with more public goods.

The Chinese and the U.S. sides agreed to continue the endeavor to build a new model of major-country relationship between the two countries.

Noting that the China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties in the world, Xi pledged to push it forward along the right track.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 36 years ago, China-U.S. relations have forged ahead and achieved historic developments despite ups and downs. Xi said since he and Obama reached consensus on building a new model of major-country relationship between their countries at the summit in Annenberg Estate in June, 2013, bilateral ties have kept making new progress, bringing abundant benefits to the people of the two nations and the world at large.

The President said China is ready to work with the United States to hold fast to principles of non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, to constantly expand practical cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels, to manage differences and sensitive issues in a constructive way, so as to push forward bilateral ties always along the right track.

Obama said the United States and China shared common interests on many issues and have made important progress in cooperation in many areas.

The U.S. side thanked China for its important role in such areas as Iran‘s nuclear issue, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and reconstruction in Afghanistan, Obama said, adding his country is willing to maintain close coordination with China in these respects.

The U.S. President called on the United States and China to also enhance cooperation in areas such as climate change, health care and in fight against smuggling of wild animals and plants.

Before visiting the U.S. capital, Xi concluded a busy two-and-a-half-day stay in the West Coast technology and aviation hub of Seattle, where he put forward a four-point proposal on developing a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States.

Xi-Obama-12The Chinese President will be in New York from September 26 to 28 for a series of summits and meetings marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland

June 18, 2015

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland ( Part 1)

by Andrew KORYBKO (USA)

“As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar“.–Andrew Korybko

As complex as it may appear at times, the main consistency of US foreign policy is that it covers its pursuit of geopolitical self-interest with humanitarian and democratic rhetoric. There’s always an ulterior motive behind the US lecturing countries about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, and those two key words should raise immediate red flags to any concerned decision makers in the targeted state that the US is addressing. Being the expert image manipulator that it is, the US never shies away from exploiting human tragedy for its own strategic ends, a lesson that everyone would do well remembering when considering the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. While there certainly are some legitimate grievances that the Rohingya are leveling against the authorities, it’s evident that the US is already exploiting them for its own geopolitical ends. Washington wants to establish a military presence in the Bay of Bengal in order to control China’s pipelines through Myanmar (both of which go through Rohingya-inhabited Rakhine State), but in order to get to that point, it first needs for the Rohingya to have their own autonomous or independent government there.

The first part begins by unraveling the layers of complex context related to the issue, before going into the specifics of the current migrant crisis. Part II then explains how the US aims to create an autonomous or independent Rohingyaland by capitalizing on this tragedy, and concludes with an examination of the multifaceted benefits it would receive through the creation of the South Asian “Kosovo”.

Unscrambling The Context

The plight of the Rohingyas and their place in the bigger picture of American geostrategy against China can appear to be an overwhelmingly complex topic, but it can be subdivided into three simpler categories of general understanding; American grand strategy; Myanmar’s domestic affairs; and the Rohingyas’ situation. By breaking down the bigger, thematic picture into smaller, finer details, one should be able to acquire a more solid understanding of how the US is relentlessly pursuing its own self-interest at the Rohingyas’ expense.

American Grand Strategy:

The US’ post-Cold War foreign policy has hinged on adhering to Brzezinski’s ‘Eurasian Balkans’ concept, which essentially stipulates that the US could manipulate preexisting ethnic, religious, and territorial issues in Eurasia in order to prolong its control of the supercontinent. This can be done in two ways: the method of indirect disorder has the US utilizing proxy actors to stir endless chaos, much as it’s currently doing with ISIL in the Mideast; while direct control involves the US conventionally asserting its on-the-ground dominance, just like it did by building Camp Bondsteel (one of its largest European bases) in occupied Kosovo after the 1999 War on Yugoslavia. Indirect disorder can be used as a modus operandi for establishing direct control, and this is precisely the game that’s at play with Rohingyaland along the Bay of Bengal.


No place in South or Southeast Asia is more susceptible to the Eurasian Balkans concept of American-directed strategic state fragmentation than Myanmar, which has been fighting the world’s longest-running civil war since 1948. To unduly simplify the conflict, it involves the majority Burmese ethnic group in the central part of the country fighting against the myriad minority groups along its periphery, with the rebels seeking a federation but the government fighting for the status quo unitary nature of the state. While the war has been at a stalemate for quite some time, the opening of a new rebel front in the Rohingya’s Rakhine State could be the strategic shift that’s needed to turn the tide against the government, as none of the other rebelling regions or ethnicities is located along the coast.

This factor is exceptionally important since it could enable a slew of foreign patrons to ship massive amounts of material support to the rebels, perhaps even using plausibly deniable methods such as flying other nations’ flags above their arms-running vessels. The inland rebels have no such tactical advantage in this regard, which may be part of the reason why they have yet to be successful in their half-century-long campaign. The addition of a pro-federation rebel movement capable of receiving such supplies could make the decisive difference in finally tipping the balance of power against the government’s forces.


The demographic subject of the present article is at odds with the Myanmar government over its identity. The 800,0001-million-plus Rohingyas claim that they constitute a unique ethnic group, but Naypyidaw sees them as nothing more than the descendants of illegal Bengali migrants, some of whom even fought against the state on several occasions. As such, the government refuses to confer them with citizenship, thus leaving them stateless and unwittingly complicating the present migrant predicament (to be described in the next section). Worse still, because they’re not considered to be citizens, the state is reluctant to actively protect them from the sectarian purges carried out by the ‘Buddhist Bin Laden’ and his pro-Western hyper-nationalist thugs. Instead, it’s settled on a policy of segregation, preferring to force them into separate communities ostensibly out of concern for their own safety. Many Rohingya protest these living conditions that some claim are contrary to their human rights, hence why so many of them have decided to flee the country. Sensing a convenient opportunity for geopolitical benefit, the US has taken up the torch of Rohingya guardianship, advocating loudly in their favor and becoming their de-facto international patron.

The Current Crisis

The Rohingya had already been on the Western media radar since their 2012 persecution, but it’s the current migrant boat crisis that’s made their cause seemingly more urgent. While there are no clear-cut numbers available, the UN estimates that around 100,000 of them have fled by sea in the past three years, which would represent between 10-12% of their total population in Myanmar. These discomfiting numbers clearly indicate that there are some serious domestic issues in Myanmar motivating their exodus, but in and of themselves they’re not cause for direct humanitarian concern. The problem arose when it was reported in early May that around 6000 Rohingya were thought to be lost in the Andaman Sea after having been abandoned by their human traffickers, and genuine horror was experienced when 139 graves were later unearthed in Malaysia, believed to be of dead Rohingyas who perished before reaching their ultimate destination. The squalid camps alongside the Thai-Malaysian border that the illegal Rohingya migrants are regularly kept in have led many to believe that they’re either being abused or held captive by their traffickers. All of these dangers have combined to generate what the UN referred to early last month as a “looming humanitarian crisis”, and the deluge of fake images and internet memes related to the issue have contributed to a feeling of global urgency in addressing it.

Regional Response:

Aung San's Hands Up for GenocideHands Up for Genocide

The destination states of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia don’t want to accept any more migrants, having already absorbed tens of thousands of them in the past couple of years, and previously refused to let the stranded boats land on their territory. According to officials, Malaysia already has received 120,000 Rohingyas, while Thailand claims to be housing 100,000 as it is. Nonetheless, because of the exorbitant international pressure directed against them, all three states countries have agreed to temporarily house the at-sea migrants until they can be sent back home or to a third country, thereby abandoning their earlier policy of turning back the boats. While this may temporarily de-escalate the crisis and give the floating migrants a safe reprieve from the dangerous high seas, it doesn’t address the root cause of why the Rohingya are risking their lives to leave Myanmar in the first place, which is something the US intends to resolve.

Official Myanmar And Bengladeshi Positions:

The issue becomes even more complicated when one takes into account Myanmar’s official position on the matter. Naypyidaw asserts that human trafficking networks are to blame, not government persecution, and that many of the illegal migrants in question are actually from Bangladesh. Government representatives have accused some of them of pretending to be Rohingyas so as to receive preferential aid from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they wouldn’t be able to procure with their actual Bengali identity. While critics might hark that Myanmar is lying about Bangladesh’s connection to the migrant boat crisis, the latter’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decreed that those leaving the country illegally would be punished because they’re “tainting the image of the country in the international arena and putting their life into danger”, on top of being “mentally sick” in their pursuit for money abroad. No matter how one feels about Hasina’s comments, the fact that she addressed the topic in such a way confirms that the Bengali government acknowledges that their citizens are involved in this crisis and that it’s not completely about Rohingyas. Her statement lends credence to Myanmar’s claims that many of the migrants may actually be Bengali and inconveniently dismantles the Western media myth that anti-Rohingya persecution is to blame for the boat crisis.

The American Plan for a South Asian “Kosovo” In Rohingyaland (Part 2)

Carving Out The Asian “Kosovo”

There was no way that the US could resist politicizing such a tempting geopolitical crisis, and as expected, it found a way to diplomatically intervene. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell spoke out against the Myanmar government and sprinkled his statement with strong shades of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’ rhetoric when he announced that “There’s the need for the government to do all it can to protect and assume responsibility for members of a long-suffering religious minority group, the Rohingya, thousands of whom have been forced to take to the high seas on dangerous makeshift vessels to escape persecution .” By claiming that the government is responsible for whatever happens to the Rohingya overseas (an utterly ridiculous assertion to level against any state), McConnell is slyly inferring that it has blood on its hands for initiating the highly publicized crisis. This opens the door for the US to potentially deepen its involvement in ‘mediating’ the situation and dictating proposed ‘solutions’ for bringing it to an end. In fact, President Obama already drew a connection between ‘democratization’ and the government’s treatment of Rohingyas, and the State Department demands that they be given immediate citizenship. The US is clearly pursuing ulterior interests by using the humanitarian crisis as a cover for lecturing Myanmar, but what exactly is its end game?

Towards A Federation Model:

More than anything, the US wants to weaken the centrality of the Myanmar state and impose a federation model on the country. While such a governing template could be constructive step towards resolving certain countries’ internal crises (e.g. Ukraine), in others, it may only accelerate the unravelling of the state. Myanmar falls into the second category, as a federation system would inevitably lead to an archipelago of autonomous nation-states scattered all along the country’s periphery, and empowered within their new framework, they can more efficiently oppose central rule. Not only that, but they’d be extremely vulnerable to foreign lobbying in support of their anti-government positions, and the US could coopt them in order to guarantee that Myanmar remains weak and divided for the foreseeable future. If need be, the US could also manipulate each of the autonomous nation-states against one other in order to manufacture a territorial or political crisis that it could then exploit in intensifying its involvement in Myanmar’s internal affairs. It might even one day make the decision to dismantle the Union of Myanmar (the official name of the state) entirely, using the bloody Yugoslav model as a precedent in coaxing a disastrous ‘Reverse Brzezinskiintervention from China.

The Rohingya Autumn:

To get to this point, however, the US needs to deal a critical blow to the Myanmar government so that it reverses its decades-long policy of unity and finally accedes to devolving into a federation.   As explained previously, the most conceivable way in which this could be achieved is if the Rohingya begin a full-scale rebellion against the authorities. A serious uprising in the coastal Rakhine State could more easily be supported by foreign patrons (i.e. the US) than the ones that have been ongoing for decades along the periphery, but if the latter are strategically ordered to renew their anti-government campaign in concurrent coordination with a Rohingya rebellion, then the authorities would be placed in an extremely precarious and unprecedented situation.

The trigger for all of this destabilization could likely be the upcoming autumn general elections, scheduled to take place in either late October or early November. It’s for this exact reason that the US is so insistent that Myanmar grant the Rohingyas citizenship, since it wants them to partake in the election and throw the results for Rakhine State in a predetermined direction. This could take the form of voting for a fringe ‘protest candidate’ or party that has scarcely any hopes of an electoral victory, and when the Rohingya-affiliated candidate or party predictably loses, it could be a general signal for them to initiate their preplanned protest movement against the government. Under such a scenario, the Rohingyas could stage a Color Revolution demanding autonomy or outright independence as ‘compensation’ for what they allege was a ‘rigged election’ (echoing expected US and Western statements on the topic), and per the US’ new patterned approach to domestic interference, this could easily transition into a full-fledged Unconventional War. A similar scenario is that a Rohingya Color Revolution/Unconventional War breaks out sometime this summer in the run-up to the elections, which would be intended to pressure the government in making political concessions to them and the other ethnic rebels prior to the nationwide vote.

The Syrian Model:

The US’ Hybrid War against Myanmar could most likely follow the Syrian Model in extensively involving supportive regional states, in particular, those in which many Rohingya have already settled. This means that Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are candidates for joining the covert ‘coalition of the willing’ against Myanmar, as each of them could potentially train some of their Rohingyas in Color Revolution and/or Unconventional Warfare techniques before sending them back to their home country for future deployment. Such a plan would mirror what Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are doing against Syria, since each of them has already been training regime change-minded Syrians (and members of dozens of other nationalities) on their territory for years now. What the highlighted Asian states would be doing against Myanmar is no different, since it follows the same tried-and-tested pattern that the US has perfected in the Mideast.

Not all of those four countries may participate, however, since political considerations in Bangladesh and Thailand might preclude their involvement. Malaysia and Indonesia, while having their respective reservations, might be tempted to play an active role in the forthcoming conflict if the US succeeds in convincing them that they’d be fighting against anti-Muslim discrimination in Myanmar. It could also sweeten the deal by throwing in certain economic incentives, such as agreeing to bankroll most or all of the operation so long as those respective countries’ territories can be used as training bases. Additionally, it might pressure Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta by making the continuation of existing support (be it political, military, or economic) contingent on them joining the ‘coalition’ in their intended capacities. In exchange for their cooperation, the US might assure them of its support in combating ISIL if it ever establishes a foothold in the Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc, as was nervously speculated upon at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting late last month. It doesn’t matter whether the US is sincere in this pledge or not (it might even receive some strategic benefit by setting ISIL loose in the region), but what’s important here is that this promise alleviates Malaysia and Indonesia’s greatest insecurity fear and consequently influences them in agreeing to the Rohingya operation.

Chaos For Creative Ends

Weakening Myanmar isn’t the only reason why the US is supporting the Rohingyas, as it has more grand objectives in mind which would be greatly facilitated as well. Here’s what the US has in store for South Asia:

US Bases:

The creation of an independent or largely autonomous Rohingyaland could lead to the establishment of the first American base in mainland South Asia, just as the manufacturing of “Kosovo” led to Camp Bondsteel as its first outpost in the Balkans. The US may exploit the humanitarian concern surrounding the Rohingyas to press for Western ‘observers’ to ‘monitor’ the situation in Myanmar, and the outbreak of any large-scale rebellion there could possibly invite an international intervention (‘justified’ on the false basis of ‘humanitarian intervention/responsibility to protect’) for their support. Whichever way it develops, it’s evident that the US has an interest in gaining a strategic military foothold in the region, since this would then allow it to simultaneously exert more direct influence on the rest of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Northeast India (which the US could contribute to further destabilizing in order to punish Modi for any major forthcoming multipolar moves), and China’s multiethnic and pivotal province of Yunnan.

Break Tf04da2db112214f8b07818he BCIM:

The US’ interest in this corner of South Asia is predicated on the BCIM trade corridor that would connect Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar. Should this ambitious plan be implemented, then the resultant South Asian Silk Road would markedly decrease tensions between India and China, stabilize India’s restive Northeast and Myanmar’s rebellious periphery, and lay the groundwork for tangible development in this impoverished cross-border region. All of these benefits would advance multipolarity within the four-country corridor and fortify its defenses against creeping unipolarity, hence why the US has an important stake in sabotaging the project via its Rohingya manipulations.

Pipeline Ploys:

Energy geopolitics is the guiding motivation for the vast majority of American geopolitical decisions, not least of which is its described designs against Myanmar. China recently opened two strategic oil and gas pipelines running through the country, which incidentally end in Rakhine State. As is known, Beijing is disproportionately dependent on energy shipments transiting the Strait of Malacca chokepoint, and the opening of alternative routes is of the highest strategic order in ensuring China’s energy security. While its moves in Myanmar are certainly a step in this direction, if Rakhine State is destabilized with a future crisis (Color Revolution and/or Unconventional War), or becomes autonomous/independent under American tutelage, then the strategic benefit that Beijing derived from these pipelines would be nullified and conversely become a considerable vulnerability.

Anti-China Proxy War:

The article earlier mentioned how destabilization in Myanmar could be exploited to tempt China into a conventional intervention, which is certainly probable, but it could also be used to destabilize it by other means as well. A return to full-scale warfare could lead to a humanitarian crisis in Yunnan with hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into the province. Limited fighting between the Myanmar government and Kokang rebels earlier this year created a minor international sensation when an unexpected number of people fled to China, some of whom were supposedly turned back. The People’s Republic has reportedly had difficulty accommodating the refugees, demonstrating that it was relatively unprepared for the situation. One should understand that the fighting which prompted the humanitarian exodus was relatively small scale and of minor intensity, and that any real resumption of ethnic warfare along the entire Myanmar-China border would dwarf the earlier refugee crisis and create severe challenges for Beijing.

Jihadist Playground:

Last but not least, the Rohingya issue could become a rallying cry for international jidhadists due to the shades of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence. Experts are already warning that ISIL could recruit disgruntled Rohingyas, and one mustn’t forget that its Al Qaeda rival is also looking to set up shop in the region as well. While a plethora of exploitable regional opportunities present themselves for whichever jihadist group is interested , the Rohingya cause is the only one which has already received global recognition and near-universal sympathy, thereby implying a degree of ‘moral legitimacy’ for aspiring terrorists. Should ISIL or Al Qaeda nest themselves in Rakhine State, the destabilizing repercussions would be enormous and reverberate throughout the entire region. In fact, it might even prompt India and/or Bangladesh to stage some sort of intervention, especially if Rakhine-based terrorists carry out attacks against their countries. Suffice to say, the introduction of Islamic terrorism to Rakhine State would assuredly lead to the further internationalization of the Rohingya issue and constitute a dire security threat for the region’s governments.

Concluding Thoughts

The plight of the Rohingyas elicits understandable concern from many, but the unfortunate aspect is that the US is manipulating the world’s short-term emotional response to the current migrant crisis in order to pursue its long-term geopolitical interests in South Asia. The intended creation of a pro-American autonomous or independent Rohingyaland is akin to the same strategic pattern that it first spearheaded in “Kosovo”, except the US can now achieve its goals via the indirect Hybrid War lessons that it’s perfected in Syria. The crusade for state creation is inherently tied to the destruction of the targeted host state, which in this case would see Rohingyaland (and perhaps many other ethnic nation-states) being baptized through a sea of fire in separating from Myanmar. The US has concrete geopolitical reasons for why it supports the Rohingyas, chiefly concerning the establishment of its first intended base in mainland South Asia and its desire to cut off China’s non-Malacca pipeline routes through Myanmar. Additionally, with a firm regional outpost in Rohingyaland (whether direct or via proxy), the US can obstruct the multipolar BCIM trade corridor and leverage influence in Bangladesh, Northeast India, the rest of Myanmar, and perhaps even further afield in Yunnan Province. The coming months will be indicative of how far the US plans to go in supporting Rohingyaland, but by all current indications, it seems that this is a cause which Washington won’t give up on anytime soon.

Andrew Korybko is the political analyst and journalist for Sputnik who currently lives and studies in Moscow, exclusively for ORIENTAL REVIEW.

China at the Crossroads

June 17, 2015

Elliot School of International Affairs @ The George Washington University, Washington DC:Lecture by Dr. David Shambaugh–China at the Crossroads

Published on May 1, 2015

Professor  Dr.David Shambaugh discusses China’s political future and the reform challenges faced by the ruling Communist party.

CSIS on China