On Sept 29, formally inaugurating “the third phase” of the United States’ “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific aboard the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, California, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter accentuated the region’s significance as the most critical to America’s future.
Indeed, with an economic aggregate representing one-third of the global economy, the Asia-Pacific displays the most impressive economic vitality and potential, even as it faces increasing security risks, both traditional and non-traditional. Carter’s frequent recent remarks on US military deployment in the Asia-Pacific, therefore, are both a repetition and fresh rendition of old tunes.
National policies, especially the making, revision and upgrade of national strategies, are the responsibility of the government of a country, rather than of its military. That the launch of the “third phase of rebalance”, as an important US national strategy, was declared by its Defense Secretary is thus thought-provoking.
Some analysts believe this unusual phenomenon may have to do with the ongoing US presidential campaign. As the campaign enters the critical stage of voting, Carter’s announcement will make American voters believe the US military is fully supporting Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and now Democratic Party presidential candidate, in military and foreign policies.
Deserving more attention is the fact that the Pentagon, in disregard of Chinese sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests, has portrayed China as a loner threatening Asia-Pacific security on multiple occasions. That blurring conceals the most outstanding security imperatives in the present-day Asia-Pacific.
In fact, on one hand, the US does not respect sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests of coastal nations — disregarding international law, conducting “freedom of navigation operations” in other countries’ territorial waters. On the other hand, it intentionally raises security fears, instigating arms races in disregard of Asian nations’ aspirations for peace, development and cooperation. Persistent US attempts to build military alliances in the Asia-Pacific go against the region’s essential needs for peace and security, creating and augmenting estrangement between countries in the area, and changing the overall orientation of state-to-state relations in the Asia-Pacific.
Cold War thinking and zero-sum game mentality have continued to dominate US foreign policy since World War II: Pursuing single-polar US hegemony and absolute security has remained the primary intention of American policymakers. The US military has never bothered to conceal its aspiration for “absolute dominance” and “single-polar hegemony” by means of military deterrence in multiple areas.
Meanwhile, a small number of Asian countries have their own calculations, hoping to dominate the Asian security landscape through alliances with countries from outside the region. They disregard or even undermine the cornerstone of trust that has been built together by countries in the area through long-term efforts, seeking desperately to expand and consolidate the US “military group” in Asia. But under such high military pressure, Asian security will weaken and fragment, which will not only ruin those countries’ own security needs, but also bog the region down in a dangerous arms race.
It is a responsibility for all countries to preserve peace and maritime safety in the Asia-Pacific. All Asian country leaders should ask themselves: How long can the kind of security guarantee supported by force and dictated by Cold War thinking and zero-sum game mentality last? The turbulence in the Middle East, stirred up by military intervention, continues to this day, and the pragmatism of US policies driven by self-interests has become obvious in the war on terror as well as such hotspots as Iraq, Libya and Syria. After regime changes in many countries, some have fallen into long-term civil war, resulting in tremendous humanitarian crises. The US, however, is easing out of the area and pivoting to the Asia-Pacific. Long-term turbulence in the Middle East demonstrates that interfering with other countries’ domestic affairs out of selfish goals will neither solve a country’s problems at home, nor help it gain what it covets abroad.
Anybody with a decent sense of history would see that the military-led “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific will not bring real security, stability and prosperity to the area. The only viable path to peace and security is deepening strategic cooperation and pursuing common security. The overall global security situation does not invite optimism. Both global and regional challenges are on the rise. The convoluted mix of security challenges, including terrorism, is clearly beyond the capacity of any single country. Unfortunately, US power politics has inopportunely changed orientations of countries in the region. As tensions escalate, the players will eventually go against US national interests.
In fact, the US and Asia-Pacific nations share extensive security interests. Only when China and the US proceed from the perspective of global security, and actively innovate a security philosophy, can they take advantage of existing cooperation and dialogue mechanisms, build a security governance regime with Asia-Pacific characteristics, and achieve common security.