03.06.2019 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The US Indo-Pacific Strategy: Demonization, Militarization and Weaponization

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While it is not unusual to see various US administrations rationalising their defence strategies on the basis of their competition with their global competitors i.e., Russia and China, the recent emphasis on labelling the competitor countries as ‘revisionist’ and ‘reactionary’ is particularly telling, especially when taken against the backdrop of an increasing Russian and Chinese assertiveness in the global political arena. At the same time, this labelling or potential demonization in terms of ‘revisionism’ shows that the US is deeply concerned by the emphasis these states are putting on reversing the current world order and replacing it with a multi-polar world, thus effectively putting an end to unilateral world order that the US was successful in establishing after the end of the Cold War.

How the trend towards this potential demonization remains an on-going one and how it is deeply linked with the serious challenge that Russia and China are posing to the US is evident from a recently published Pentagon document on the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy. It characterises China as “revisionist power” and paints Russia as a “revitalised Malign actor.” While the language of the report is far from diplomatic (although it is not a diplomatic statement), it does show the extremely negative lenses the US officials continue to wear to look at how the Russians and the Chinese are operating in the world. China, the report thus describes, “under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), undermines the international system from within by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order.”

The US secretary of defence in his opening message in the report goes even further and states that China “seeks to reorder the [Indo-Pacific] region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.”

Russia, on the other hand, is seen in the report as a power trying to re-establish its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. “Russia is re-establishing its military presence in the Indo-Pacific by regularly flying bomber and reconnaissance missions in the Sea of Japan and conducting operations as far east as Alaska and the west coast of the continental United States. Russia has also intensified its diplomatic outreach in Southeast Asia, seeking to capitalize on US-China tensions in order to present itself as a neutral “third partner.””

The report confirms that both Russia and China are somehow collaborating to undo the US led world system. It says the China and Russia “frequently jointly oppose US-sponsored measures at the United Nations Security Council. Broadly,they share a preference for a multipolar world order in which the United States is weaker and less influential.”

The US looks for more militarisation of the Indo-Pacific

The US response to the Russian and Chinese efforts to resist a unipolar world and establish a multi-polar world is typical: militarisation and enhanced military capability to suppress emerging powers. The report outlines few steps that the US is going to take. To quote it, “we are exploring expeditionary capabilities; dynamic basing of maritime and air forces;special operations forces capable of irregular and unconventional warfare; anti-submarine capabilities; cyber and space teams equipped for multi-domain operations; and, unique intelligence, surveillance,and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities – among other investments.”

A crucial part of this strategy is, unsurprisingly, to make US military sales more effective (and, by default,  more lucrative). Without a potential conflict scenario wherein some states (re: China and Russia) are portrayed as “revisionist” and “malign”, military sales would be hard to increase to countries unless they can be first convinced that “revisionist powers” are out-there to attack and uproot them. The report says, “Maintaining the technological advantage the alliance needs to fight and win against our adversaries is also a top-tier priority, with the Department continuing to streamline Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Japan and other allies, pursue co-development opportunities, and deepen cooperation in the cyber and space domains.”

The purpose of all this is to wage a Cold War 2.0 because that is potentially the only way the US can maintain its own influence. A recent published report of the Rand Corporation outlines the steps the US must take to weaken Russia by hitting at its “vulnerabilities” as a part of the ‘Cold War 2.0.’

The real reason why Russia and China remain the target of US militarism is the way they are transforming the world through their connectivity programs that would potentially take many a countries away from the US nexus in the form of a revitalised Non-Aligned Movement 2.0 against  the US’ Cold War 2.0. As such, If a new multipolarity is emerging, pitting the US against China and Russia, NAM 2.0 rules that vast sectors of the globe south should remain neutral or at least not become permanently entangled in the trap that the U.S. enhanced military sales programme offers to countries (including all those listed and even not listed in the Indo-Pacific strategy document of the Pentagon).

The increasing regional connectivity in Asia is thus a threat that the US aims to tackle. It is this connectivity that the Indo-Pacific Strategy report terms as ‘predatory economics’ because it leaves the US with a minimum room to manoeuvre and maintain its traditional position of influence and instead leaves China with much more geo-political leverage; hence, demonization, militarisation and weaponization as strategies of US entrenchment in the region in the wake of an increasingly assertive push to drive the US out.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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