Analysing current American geo-strategy By Zahid Mehmood Zahid

The US is accustomed to leading the world order it has engineered since WWII

It is safe to say that no country is more distressed by today’s dynamic global landscape and the tectonic shift in global strategic power than the US. This is why it seems to be in such a hurry to adjust itself against the backdrop of rising China and bellicose Russia. These adjustments include shifting focus from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region, creating a trade war against China, rejuvenating US relations with NATO countries, adopting a conditions based hard-core realist approach in Afghanistan, relocating focus from the Middle East to the South China Sea, and above all, brining Australia, Japan, and India aboard against the much hyped multi trillion dollar Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which the US perceives as a geopolitical device against its interests.
Indeed, US power has not slipped at all; but there are still anxieties which need to be contemplated. It is accustomed to leading the world order it has engineered since WWII. Self-assumed security responsibility and its adventurist military approach in handling world affairs has caused serious economic decline and undermined prestige and influence in the last two decades. On the other hand, China has claimed no international responsibility and its rapid economic growth has raised its stature to the level of second largest economy with defence expenditure second only to the US.
Twentieth century history recognizes that containment has always been the preferred US choice when dealing with powerful enemy states. This strategy is borne out of its leadership’s fear of huge military cost and nuclear war.
Perceiving the Chinese challenge, Trump’s predecessor Obama, in 2011, introduced a half-backed containment strategy with an unprovocative brand – rebalancing strategy — which never worked. China kept rising at the expense of waning US influence all over the world.
Now, with Trump in office, after having the war cabinet completed and pentagon aboard, new national security and defence strategies herald the era of the new cold war, and containment against both China and Russia.
By shrewdly getting Chinese support for UN Resolution 2375, which asks for imposing an oil embargo on North Korea and punitive actions against those ships who defy the mandatory inspection, the US pressed Kim against the wall
Super power rivalry is always global in scale and scope. But, this piece will discuss only two developments: one, the recent thaw between North-South Korean nations and the coming détente between the US and North Korea; two, Indo-Pak diplomatic signalling.
After the successful onset of Olympic diplomacy between South and North Korea in February this year, there emerged a story line about the upcoming meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in May where denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula [though a nonstarter] will be the agenda to start with.
Let us not be dubious about the naïve optimism surrounding the said agenda. But, the question arises, how did it happen? Even North South Korean rapprochement was not that simple, as it was made to look like; given the heated exchange of fury and Twitter rage between Trump and Kim earlier this year.
Still, the principle of fair judgement guides one to conclude that, the said developments are not spontaneous and isolated without the anchoring for a grand design. Two great geo-strategistsZ. Brzezinski and Robert Kaplan advised the US, “Don’t push a small state contagious with a great power too hard lest it should join the other camp”.
Rightly so, by shrewdly getting the Chinese support for UN Resolution 2375, that asks for imposing an oil embargo on North Korea and punitive actions against those ships who defy the mandatory inspection, the US squeezed Kim against the wall, and then offered a deal he[Kim] could not decline.
The question is, why would Kim accept dehumanisation beyond denuclearisation? For sure, denuclearisation is not on the cards for North Korea but, Kim can save his regime, end his diplomatic isolation, and better economy, in return for undergoing US tutelage against China.
China and North Korea were not on good terms in recent years and UN resolution further frustrated Kim, to the extent he considered the otherwise inconceivable option – openness to South Korea and the US.
This development has caused serious apprehensions among Chinese leaders. They interpret this phenomenon as ‘being bypassed by North Korea and Trump’, and a collusion against Chinese interests because China vies as a North Korea a buffer that distances it from South Korea – the home of approximately 29,000 US troops.
Realising the need to befriending its fading ally, China did not waste time and invited Kim to Beijing, where both countries emphasised on the continuity and longevity of bilateral relations between thetwo countries.
Objectively, there can be multiple interpretations of this episode taking place in the pacific. For instance, the US wants to co-opt nuclear capable North Korea to supplement her containment efforts against China. For that cherished purpose, it is ready to compromise on its human rights and democratic principles, by allowing an authoritarian Kim to prolong his rule and nuclear aspirations. Exactly, the way it allowed General Zia and the nuclear program of Pakistan in 1980s, as Pakistan was leading the final battle against the Soviets and Communism in Afghanistan. Conversely, to keep the US-Japan-South Korean nexus on their toes, China would like to see North Korea as a buffer under non-compliant Kim. A US sponsored regime-change or war against North Korea will be disastrous for China’s security interests in the region.
The indispensable Kim is cleverly playing power against power. This move will not only strengthen his position against the US and South Korea, but also ease his economic squeeze. Furthermore, he also eyes to consolidate his grip at home and end his political isolation in the international arena.
In Pakistan’s case, evidently, FATF grey-listing drove it further into the Chinese camp. After realizing the strategic significance of uncompromising Pakistan, US did not push Pakistan to the point of divorce. It is also not a coincidence that amid simmering tension on the issue of Pakistani diplomatic staff harassment in New Delhi, in an unprecedented move, India sent aminister of state, Gajendra Shekhawat to observe the Pakistan day military parade in Islamabad. Pakistan received this friendly gesture from India, a US ally against China in the Indo-Pacific region: exactly similar to the one extended by US ally South Korea to North Korea.
This was inconceivable without the tacit approval of the US, because many Indian politicians and diplomats; Mani Shankar Aiyar and alike, had long been persuading India not to press Pakistan against the wall. This shift is guided by the assumption that the tougher you get on Pakistan, the more it will align itself with China at the expense of US and Indian interests. Although Pakistan – a tough nut to crack that has no second thoughts about China but, keeping options open for Pakistan could serve the Washington-New Delhi camp’s purposes. In that case, even Pakistan would gain leverage in its economic negotiations vis-à-vis China.
China is lucky to have its nuclear shield, North Korea as a buffer in the East; and, Pakistan – a counterweight against India in the West. Both countries are important for the ‘Chinese dream’, and the country’s ‘rejuvenation’. If Beijing is to counter US provocations in the Pacific Ocean; it mustensure energy security through Pakistan, and realise that the ‘Westwards March’ strategy by securing over land silk roads when maritime silk routes in Indian and Pacific oceans are almost under US controls.
Conclusively, guided by zero-sumbelief, the US, the sole super power, intends to shape the international order to its own suiting by preventing the rise of its peer competitor – China. This is where geostrategy transcends geo-economics, and containment remains the last resort under the dictums of offensive realism.
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