United states regional ambiguities distort global strategic interests


Senior Member
Aug 13, 2009
Paper no. 3497 11-Nov-2009


By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations

United States global strategic predominance is undoubtedly unquestionable. The United States has a marked strategic superiority over its closest rivals, Russia and China. More strikingly, the United States possesses awesome force-projection capabilities in terms of air-power and sea-power, with a global reach.

While the United States strategic and military superiority can be expected to continue for a number of decades, the United States cannot be oblivious to the growing challenges that China intends to pose to United States' predominance.

China may not be in a position to pose direct military threats to United States' global predominance, again for a number of decades, but it is not sitting quiet.

China is in a subtle manner exploiting United States policy distortions in various regions of the world to undermine America’s prestige, standing and credibility in these regions. China exploits America’s ambiguities in its regional policies to further its own strategic ends.

China’s muscling in the vacuum in South East Asia and East Asia while the United States was strategically distracted in Afghanistan and Iraq is a case in point.

This Paper intends to examine the theme of this Paper under the following heads:

* East Asia: United States Needs to Change its China-Centric Ambiguities
* South East Asia: United States Needs to Focus its Strategy on Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar
* South Asia: United States Oblivious to the China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus Impact on its National Interests
* West Asia: United States Strategic Architecture Tottering

East Asia: United States Needs to Change its China-Centric Ambiguities

During the Cold War, the American strategic policies in East Asia were Russia-centric and focused on containment of Russia. The network of United States bi-polar security alliances encompassing South Korea, Japan, Philippines and Taiwan were all geared towards this end.

In the post-Cold War era with Russia’s eclipse after its disintegration, the United States strategic focus became China-centric, China was emerging as the prime threat to the United States forward military presence in East Asia and China’s end-game was the American exit from East Asia.

East Asian nation’s threat perceptions in consonance with the US transferred from Russia to China primarily. Historically too China had loomed large as a threat in these countries perceptions.

The United States in the last decade or so has adopted ambiguities in its China-centric policies leaving the East Asia nations confused.

The United States has constantly drumbeated that China is a threat to the United States and its East Asia allies. At the same time, the United States concurrently, unlike a global superpower, has adopted deferential policies towards China, which at times impinge on the national security interests of its allies.

Such an US ambiguity arises basically from the United States in the global strategic calculus trying to balance Russia by playing upto China.

The net effect is that to cater for their own national insecurities arising from United States “hedging strategy” on China, the East Asian nations too have commenced their own “hedging strategy” on China, unsure of unequivocal US strategic support.

This is detrimental to US national security interests and needs to be addressed swiftly. The United States cannot afford to strategically “sing” two different tunes in East Asia.

South East Asia: United States Needs to focus its Strategy on Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar

The United States has belatedly realized that China has made deep inroads in South East Asia at the expense of American security interests. China has virtually succeeded in prompting South East Asian nations excluding the United States from even economic groupings like the East Asia Summit.

South East Asia nations have all suffered from China’s direct or tangential aggressive activities. China’s powerful military rise has made the nations more insecure and hence their political reach -out to China arising from United States ambiguous policy postures in South East Asia.

Indonesia has been a priority policy target focus for United States for some years. However, to add more substance and substantial weight to United States presence in South East Asia, the United States needs to make a substantial political reach- out to Vietnam and Myanmar.

All these three countries along with Singapore have significant geo-strategic importance which could complement US strategic interests.

The United States needs to realize that strategically China would like to exclude the United States from South East Asia too in addition to East Asia. The United State therefore needs more allies and partners in South East Asia

South Asia: United States Oblivious to the China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus. Impact on its National Interests

Nowhere in the world are United States policy ambiguities more glaring and troublesome as in South Asia.

The strategic nexus between China and Pakistan is not only aimed at India but also at the United States more specifically, the last named reality unfolding now.

The United States with its blinkered fixations on Pakistan’s questionable strategic utility to America has been oblivious to the fact that China has only two “natural allies”, namely Pakistan and North Korea – both “rogue states” with nuclear weapons capabilities supplied by China.

If North Korea is China’s ‘strategic outpost’ in the Western Pacific against the United States, let it not be over looked that Pakistan is China’s “strategic out post” in the North Arabian Sea and The Gulf, potentially focused against the United States.

The United States has been sending ambiguous policy signals in South Asia. The United States drum-beats the evolving US-India Strategic Partnership aimed at boosting India to global power status. Simultaneously the United States arms India’s arch enemy Pakistan with advanced military hardware which Pakistan seeks to limit India’s emergence as the pre-dominant power in South Asia and a global power.

The United States policy ambiguities in South Asia endanger its evolving strategic partnership with India. The ambiguity also further reinforces the existing China-Pakistan strategic nexus to United States disadvantage. If Pakistan on many occasions has been resistant to US pressures or double-timing the United States, this basically arises from its strategic nexus and linkages with China

West Asia: United States Strategic Architecture Tottering

For far too long, the United States strategic architecture was based on a combination of Israel, Turkey and the monarchial oil-rich Arab states headed by Saudi Arabia.

Pre-1979 Saudi Arabia and Iran were described by USA, as “Twin Pillars” of its West Asian security architecture.

West Asia’s political and security dynamics have undergone a marked change in the wake of Gulf War II and 9/11 While Israel remains a staunch US ally, Saudi Arabia and the Arab monarchial states have veered around towards Russia and China.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia can no longer be termed as staunch US allies. Turkey’s ties with Israel stand diluted and it is loosening its ties with USA. Saudi Arabia is singing different tunes.

The United States today has a major policy challenge in West Asia, as to how to recast its policy initiatives to regain some sort of strategic balance in this regime.

In such an embattled environment the United States needs to (1) Bolster Israel and not subject it to political pressures to compromise on Arab pressures on Palestine issue. (2) Adopt new initiatives to politically reach-out to Iran (3) Firmly declare that it will not abandon Afghanistan and that it is ready for an extended military presence till Afghanistan stabilizes.

Many do not realize the linkages of Afghanistan to Gulf security and the impact on West Asia and the Islamic world of a United States' exit from Afghanistan.

Concluding Observations

The United States global predominance as the unquestioned superpower in the Post-Cold War era and earlier too was maintained by an imaginative combination of political and economic leverages backed up by America’s awesome military muscle.

Contemporarily when America’s strategic adversaries are working towards multi-polarity, no scope exists for the United States to exhibit ambiguities and generate ambiguous lee ways in critical strategic regions of the world.

It is in these regions discussed that the United States would be involved in complex strategic rivalries and tussles by its challengers. The United States needs to review its regional policies in terms of new relationships and new priorities serving US national interests.

United States 'success in its global strategy to continue with its unipolar predominance perforce rests on the sum of the aggregates of its regional policies. United States' regional policies need to be precise and integrated towards its global strategic ends.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])

United States Regional Ambiguities Distort Global Strategic Interests

Latest Replies

Global Defence

New threads