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Beware of Bears and Dragons in Their Own Backyards

At the UN General Assembly in September last year President Obama declared without a trace of irony that “History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires, who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case. You can count on that.”

A week later the US-NATO  military alliance approved a plan to double the size of its expeditionary force to 40,000 and decided to create “two more NATO force integration units . . .  in Hungary and Slovakia, in addition to the headquarters already set up in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania”  surrounding Russia. This is a regrettable case of believing that “might always makes right” as these actions are intended for no other purpose than to menace Russia, which Washington considers to be essential for growth of its domestic weapons’ industry and the “military-industrial complex” in general.

(President Dwight D Eisenhower’s Address to the nation in 1961, in which he coined the evocative and damning phrase ‘military-industrial complex,’ is rightly regarded as one of the most predictive and far-sighted speeches in US history.)

US Defence Secretary Carter, the very model of the modern “false prophet” is proud of the fact that the US armed forces have “more than 450,000 men and women serving abroad, in every domain, in the air, ashore and afloat” — which is more than the total number of troops deployed outside national borders by every other country in the world.

Two weeks after US-NATO announced the most recent of its confrontational threats against Russia, the US Navy destroyer USS Lassen was ordered to conduct a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” in the South China Sea, by sailing close to territory claimed and occupied by China.  This needlessly provocative exploit succeeded only in making it clear to China that it was being challenged militarily in its own backyard by a country that has no territorial rights or interests in the region.

According to Reuters “a senior Obama administration official” said the aim of the South China Sea confrontation operation was to “advance our strategic objectives in the Pacific region, including on maritime issues.”

Modern-day American international perceptions resemble more and more those of the Cold War era, when President Reagan, for example, had an election advertisement showing a predatory bear
A History of the Pakistani Army by Brian Cloughleyroaming the woods with the commentary that: “There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous.  Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear?”

It was obvious that the bear was Russia.  The dangerously bellicose General Breedlove, military leader of the US-NATO group, “said that for too long, the United States has ‘hugged the bear’ of Russia. But now, he said, it’s time to get tough. This toughness should come in the form of more US troops to Europe, he said, and more ‘high end’ training to prepare American forces for a potential battle against the former cold war foe.”

Naturally he ignores the fact that Russia wants to forge mutually beneficial trade ties with its neighbours, and especially with European Union countries, and would be pointless to try to destroy such economic links.

The bear wants to trade and prosper.  But if the bear is prevented from doing so and continues to be maliciously provoked, there might be problems ahead for the “indispensable nation” .

* * *

When contemplating the future it is advisable to reflect on Napoleon’s reply when asked during his final exile what he considered might be the greatest concern to the world in centuries to come. It is said he declared that this would be “When the Dragon wakes.”

Now the Dragon has woken and is being challenged for doing so.

The South China Sea has nine littoral states of which most have sovereignty claims within the Sea, and some are more reasonable than others.  One country with no claim whatever to sovereignty over anything anywhere the South China Sea is the United States which has a vast fleet and military bases throughout the western Pacific, surrounding China, just as it menaces Russia in Europe.  (Remember that proud declaration about “450,000 men and women serving abroad, in every domain, in the air, ashore and afloat” by Defence Secretary Carter, who, Forbes states, was “a consultant to defence contractors and when he went back to the Pentagon in 2009, had to get a special waiver because of his work for companies like Mitre Corp, and Global Technology Partners, a defence consulting firm.”)

None of the islets in the South China Sea was taken over by imperialists in the days of colonial expansion, but more recently there has been considerable interest in the region.  Naturally this is based on economic imperatives, although estimates of the amounts of oil, gas and rare minerals under the waves vary greatly.

No matter what nationalistic advantage may be sought, there is the problem of legally apportioning spots of rock to any one country. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; ratified by China — but not by the United States ) says sensibly that “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no Exclusive Economic Zone or continental shelf.”  But if a subaqueous oil gusher spouts a few kilometres away from your tiny lump of rock, you’re going to build a platform on it and grow vegetables and then declare that your rocky paradise is inhabited and self-sufficient.  It therefore has an Exclusive Economic Zone extending for 200 nautical miles all round. The US objects to this.

So over the years the US has stepped up its military might in the region — and has now 70 warships, over 300 aircraft and 40,000 Marines to confront China in its own backyard. Washington’s Pentagon chief claims that it does this in the interests of “freedom of navigation” — ignoring the fact that not one single commercial vessel of any nation has been or ever will be prevented by China from traversing the South China Sea.  Indeed it would be commercial suicide for Beijing to even attempt to interfere with such shipping, which carries such vast quantities of China’s exports and imports.

The US is confronting China, and the fact that conflict is looming closer is hardly the fault of the Chinese whose position, in the words of  Xinhua, is that “the tree craves calm but the wind keeps blowing.”  There is one thing certain, however :  the Chinese tree will whip back if the Washington wind increases its intensity.  China and Russia are aware that the world in general craves calm, but have been forced to realise that the out-of-control US military machine, in an expansionist wave of unprecedented energy, is hell-bent on global domination.

President Obama boasts that the US is “the one indispensable nation in world affairs” but he would be well-advised to exercise care in his policy of aggressive confrontation — especially considering his wise observation that “History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires.”

Washington’s war-lovers should bear in mind what Napoleon said two centuries ago, and realise that the Chinese Dragon has woken. And when Dragons wake it’s not altogether clever to threaten them. They had better beware of Bears, too.

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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