On July 1, the U.S. published its new national military strategy, just a few months after China released its own. Both papers are intended for broad public consumption; neither addresses specifics about weapons and strategy. Taken together, they paint an interesting contrasting portrait of the military thinking guiding the two superpowers.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for efforts to create and fulfil an Asia-Pacific dream, saying China’s economy will bring huge opportunities and benefits to the region and the world. Addressing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, which attracted over 1,500 business people from 21 APEC member economies and 17 other countries and regions, Xi said Asia-Pacific region has a strong impetus for development and a bright future, with a rising standing in the world, but it now stood “at a crossroads.”
In reality China has made plain that, while it is happy to bully lesser states such as the Philippines, it has little appetite yet for an open confrontation with the United States which can still–but for how much longer?–bring overwhelming naval and air assets to bear in the western Pacific.
The British, in particular, are worried. War looms in Mali, yet Washington seems happy to let the French take charge, showing even less interest than it did in Libya two years ago. Cheerleaders for the ‘special relationship’ accuse Obama of taking a back seat, of failing to show leadership and even of betraying his country’s oldest friends. They look back to that much-discussed episode when the new President removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office and point out that he has steadily sought to disentangle America from its strategic partnerships with Europe ever since. Now, the man who once committed 30,000 more troops to the allied fight against the Taleban is planning to withdraw almost all American troops from Afghanistan before the end of next year. Is the President an isolationist? Is he anti-West?
The Pacific Islands region is in the midst of an information and communications technology (ICT) revolution that could have profound implications, particularly for democratic governance and the region’s development. Approximately 60 per cent of Pacific Islanders now have access to a mobile phone and this figure continues to climb. Mobile Internet is leapfrogging obvious barriers to Internet access such as geographical remoteness, financial cost and availability. A boom in mobile phone use has facilitated the rise of social media in the Pacific.
The Pacific and the Indian Oceans are “now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A ‘Broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form. Our two countries have the ability — and the responsibility — to ensure that it broadens yet further and to nurture and enrich these seas to become seas of clearest transparence.”
With those words Shinzo Abe, now re-elected Prime Minister of Japan, began a historic address to the Indian Parliament in August 2007. To an audience that had not yet absorbed the full import of the historic shift Mr. Abe was seeking in Japan’s relations with India, he added: “This is the message I wish to deliver directly today to the one billion people of India. That is why I stand before you now in the Central Hall of the highest chamber, to speak with you, the people’s representatives of India.”
On the small, spectacular island of Jeju, off the southern tip of Korea, indigenous villagers have been putting their bodies in the way of construction of a joint South Korean–US naval base that would be an environmental, cultural and political disaster. If completed, the base would hold more than 7,000 navy personnel, plus twenty warships including US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers carrying the latest Aegis missiles—all aimed at China, only 300 miles away.
The conventional wisdom holds that the future of American conflict will be dominated by drones, SEALs, and a massive combined naval/air team in the Pacific. This scenario envisions little purpose for land power outside the limited but potent capabilities inherent in Special Operations. But there is an alternative view that believes the conventional wisdom to be utopian and unwilling to consider the most likely conflicts to occur in the future.