What were the intervening variables which drove the United States to transfer a large chunk of its military forces from the Middle East to Asia Pacific? Why the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly becoming a military hotspot? And above all, why the shadow of a balancing coalition is looming over the region — against China? Since the last couple of years, Asia-Pacific has become a central topic of debate among strategists and scholars who are busy in analyzing the various aspects of the growing uncertainty in the area. The growing importance and relevance of Asia-Pacific with that of international politics and especially power politics is something that needs to be probed.
Traditionally, the Asia-Pacific region has remained the pathway of great powers. The islands of the Pacific have acted as military garrisons while ensuring the trade to fuel the ambitions of great powers. Especially during the Second World War, it was imperative for Imperial Japan to dominate the Pacific to guarantee its mastery in the region. The pre-emptive Japanese attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, was the true manifestation of power and ambitions — which in Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s words was “awakening a sleeping giant.” While talking about sleeping giants, French General and Emperor Napoleon declared China to be a sleeping giant long before Yamamoto’s assertion. Nevertheless, is Napoleon’s ‘sleeping giant’ about to be woken?
Historically, when the fierce Mongols invaded China time and again, and unleashed a series of military expeditions resulting in considerable Chinese losses; the latter built the Great Wall — while exhibiting anti-access and area denial tactics that subsequently prevented Mongols from overpowering the Chinese. They could not foresee a naval incursion that slowly yet steadily turned China into a sphere of influence, protectorates, colonies and other means of Chinese subversion to the foreign masters. The nineteenth century witnessed unprecedented injustices done to the Chinese people. Likewise, by the end of the nineteenth century, the US Secretary of State John Hay’s ‘Open Door Policy’ for China was a culminating point of embarrassment for the country. The Chinese activities in Asia-Pacific are the direct result of fears deep rooted in its strategic culture and history.
Traditionally, the Asia-Pacific region has remained the pathway of great powers
Ostensibly, China has resorted to a ‘Ring Defence Policy’ in the Asia-Pacific region. Chinese policies in the East China Sea which are especially related to Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands and in the South China Sea, with the same relation to Paracel and Spratly Islands exhibit clear signs of Chinese desperation. John Mearsheimer, an American political scientist argued in 2004, that “China’s Rise will not be Peaceful” and asserted that China will enforce a ‘Monroe Doctrine’ of its own while ensuring that no extra-regional power can project power in the Asia-Pacific. Realism assumes that all great powers behave the same way and Mearsheimer being an advocate of Offensive Realism is right in his approach. Nevertheless, until now China has shown great restraint and its rise is still peaceful; however, while keeping in view Western provocative activities in the Asia-Pacific it remains uncertain that for how much long the ‘Red Dragon’ remains peaceful.
In May 2013, the United States Navy published a document that outlined a new war-fighting instrument titled as ‘Air-Sea Battle’. The document called for a joint strategy to meet the challenges posed by anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) tactics. The Air-Sea Battle Doctrine was born. The doctrine is interchangeably named as Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC); nevertheless, perhaps, Air-Sea Battle specifically addresses the A2/AD challenges and aims to overpower them by means of overwhelming lethal force. JOAC on the other hand calls to ensure freedom of navigation in the global commons and especially the high seas. However, both terms are used interchangeably. India intends to play a great power role in the Asia-Pacific and its membership in the Malabar Naval Exercise is a testament to that. New Delhi is modernizing its naval forces along with other branches of armed forces to be a part of the action. Interestingly, India provided BrahMos cruise missiles to Vietnam under its Act East Policy — the latter is deeply dependent on American Pivot to Asia Policy; both together are sowing the seeds of confrontation in the Asia-Pacific. Stephen P. Cohen Sunil Dasgupta in their book ‘Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization’ (2010) argued the same.
Geopolitics is now and has always been the pedestal of international relations. The growing heated scenario in the Asia-Pacific has its roots in geopolitics rather than geoeconomic ones. With the increased or perhaps forceful presence of the United States and its allies who have offensive military doctrines, the unprecedented quest for freedom of navigation, the assertive Chinese maritime activities, with the drawing of new lines and turning of islands into military bases whilst building artificial islands for increased exclusive economic zones; foreshadows the coming of a war in the Asia-Pacific.
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Published in Daily Times, October 19th 2018.