The gunboat diplomacy over welcoming US troops

The pace of change in US policy over recent weeks has been frenetic, partly to position Barack Obama for the presidential race next year, partly to take attention away from the failure of Afghanistan and partly because it seems the US has regained its nerve.

Over the past 10 years, while China beavered away making money and rebuilding its navy, the US was spending its money in pursuing terrorists in the deep, dark canyons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama now tells us he has had enough of the Middle East and all the action is in the Pacific and Indian oceans.The US wants India on side. Australia has been pressured by US to sell uranium to India. So we will. The US is not worried about India adding to its stockpile of nuclear weapons; in terms of China they probably think it a good thing. As Pakistan and Afghanistan slide away, they need India and they need India to help counter Chinese naval power.

At the same time Obama was in Australia, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was in the Philippines to sign a Philippine-US Partnership for Growth (PFG), but really she was there to urge the Philippines to help front down China. The US believes that it has the Philippines in its pocket, it gave them another destroyer. Some in the Philippines were unimpressed saying Clinton was only seeking to bolster US hegemonic interests regionally and globally.

Clinton said the US was “updating” the relationship with five treaty-bound allies in the region — Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. She said the 21st century will be America’s Pacific century and “… the world’s strategic and economic centre of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas”.

The dispatch of marines to Darwin seems a bit of a smoke screen in terms of the gunboat diplomacy that the US is building up to wage against the Chinese. It is the port of Darwin that she covets.

Basing B52s in Darwin has the capacity to upset the Chinese. The B52 has a range of about 15,000 kilometres, enough for them to threaten southern and eastern Chinese naval bases, including the submarine pens at Sanya. Will these planes carry nuclear weapons? Will nuclear weapons be stored in Australia? Not at this stage, but let’s just see how tensions develop in the escalating Great Indo/Pacific Game.

The US must eye the great empty plains behind Darwin, serviced by the Howard railway line, as a likely safe storage area.

What are the rules of this game? Does the US believe it can break the Chinese like it broke the Russians? What is the end game? Both these states need each other. What are the Chinese and the US seeking to achieve? They need to sit down and talk; they need to deploy the hard talking diplomacy of the Cold War.

And why has Australia allowed itself to get sucked into this nonsense? What have we ever got from taking sides with the US and earlier, with Britain. The US would have come to Australia in 1942 even if we were neutral, they needed a safe base, an aircraft carrier with a food basket, from which to launch their front in the Pacific.

Australia, along with other smaller littoral states, stand to gain a lot more in the emerging Indo/Pacific Great Game, by oscillating between Beijing, New Delhi and Washington, than by throwing their lot in with anyone of them. By so doing they will or have destroyed their bargaining power.

*Bruce Haigh is a political and strategic analyst and retired diplomat

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Categories: Asia-Pacific, Europe, Federal, Middle East, The Rest, United States

7 Responses

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  1. I don’t quite understand the recent writings which hint at China v America as if it is another cold war.
    Have either side the slightest intention of provoking a skirmish - let alone a war?.
    I wouldn’t have thought such an event would be in either parties best interests so why is it being built up as an issue? There may be some rhetoric but should we be concerned?

    by mikeb on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm

  2. Yes, it is of concern, for the reasons stated above. Australia’s sycophancy is pathetic and counter-productive.

    The US always needs an enemy, and they are trying to begin a cold war. That’s for them, but why is Australia involved in such a mindless way?

    As noted in the piece above, why can’t Australia have some sense, and get involved in South-East Asia independently, for the benefit of Australia rather than for the benefit of the US? We could always assist the US without having them move in here permanently.

    by OPti on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

  3. @mikeb - I have the same feeling myself, but when you read popular opinion and listen to talkback shows in the US, you find the assumption widespread that war with China is inevitable. This is based on economics (particularly trade and currency imbalances), resource imperialism as well as the apparent need by a wide slice of American society that they have to be always looking forward to the next conflict. Many of these same people take a successful US strike against Iran as a foregone conclusion and that a war with China is the next real big thing.

    Thank you, Bruce Haigh, for your analysis and your outrage - I’m with you on this one.

    by Keith Thomas on Nov 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

  4. I am not a critic of Gillard. I believe she is generally doing as good a job (or better) as circumstances allow (minority Govt, hostile media). But even I cringed as I watched her slobbering all over Obama.

    Although it’s no more sickening than Howard and Bush - and Barack is still quite cute - POTUS is not even world Emperor any more. And if that was an example of warm hospitality protocol, what on earth would she have done had the US Pres been, say, a Berlusconi?.. Or even Hillary, for that matter.

    Personalities aside, can’t we comport ourselves with a bit more wit, panache and sangfroid? For some reason ex-NZ PM David Lange comes to mind…..aside from his sad demise, that is.

    Perhaps we just need a better foreign policy toward the US, and the improved niceties will follow.

    by Salamander on Nov 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm

  5. I am, and hopefully (fingers crossed) always will be enamoured at how Austral
    ia tends to ride the waves of the world. Maybe you all of the southern land are smarter
    than you seem.

    by sparky on Nov 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  6. If Australia was smart we’d stay neutral ie: be the Switzerland of the South Pacific. Gillard got way ahead of herself with this deal, just as Howard did by committing to Iraq without any consultation.

    Once the Yanks are here they will be impossible to extricate.

    Despite the US ‘saving’ us during WWII US servicemen soon became unpopular with the locals. In Brisbane emotions ran hot and resulted in a riot in the city centre in 1942 during which an Oz soldier died. We learn nothing from history, nothing.

    by zut alors on Nov 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

  7. OPTI - agree that amerika always needs an enemy but would amend that to external enemy, mainly to neutralise the very powerful domestic one that the autocracy would otherwise have - the highest imprisonment rate on the planet (NOT per capita - in real numbers), the highest execution rate apart from China, lower literacy rates, worse child mortality stats.,than many Third world countries, highest numbers (actual and far & away per capita) numbers living below the poverty line than ANY Western democracy, including the working poor etc, etc.
    If they didn’t constantly manufacture external enemies, and thus soak up vast numbers of otherwise pissed off lumpen then the USofA would ripe for revolution.
    This does NOT take into account the bien pissants of OCCUPY.

    by AR on Nov 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm

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