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Southeast Asia: West Completes Plans For Asian NATO

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Southeast Asia: West Completes Plans For Asian NATO
Rick Rozoff

In keeping with the global trend manifested in other strategically vital areas of the world, the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - a consortium of all major Western military (including nuclear) powers and former colonial empires - are increasing their military presence in Southeast Asia with special emphasis on the geopolitically critical Strait of Malacca.

The latter is one of the world's most important shipping lanes and major strategic chokepoints.

In an opinion piece The Times of London granted to George Robertson and Paddy Ashdown - the first a former NATO secretary general and current Baron Robertson of Port Ellen, the other a past intelligence officer and the West's viceroy in Bosnia at the beginning of the decade who nearly reprised the role in Afghanistan two years ago - in June of 2008 which in part rued the fact that "For the first time in more than 200 years we are moving into a world not wholly dominated by the West." [1]

In fact for the first time in half a millennium the founding members of NATO in Europe and North America are confronted with a planet not largely or entirely under their control.

With the elimination of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its network of allies around the world a generation ago, the prospect of the West reestablishing uncontested worldwide domination appeared a more viable option than it had at any time since the First World War.

Much as the British Empire had done earlier in positioning its navy and its military outposts overlooking maritime access points to monitor and control vital shipping lanes and to block adversaries' transit of military personnel and materiel, the West now collectively envisions regaining lost advantages and gaining new ones in areas of the world previously inaccessible to its military penetration.

Southeast Asia is one such case. Divided during the colonial epoch between Britain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain (with the U.S. supplanting the last-named in the Philippines in 1898), it has a combined population of approximately 600 million, two-thirds that of the Western Hemisphere and almost three-quarters that of Europe.

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The Strait of Malacca runs for 600 miles between Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to the east and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the west. According to the United Nations International Maritime Organization, at least 50,000 ships pass through the strait annually, transporting 30 percent of the goods traded in the world including oil from the Persian Gulf to major East Asian nations like China, Japan and South Korea. As many as 20 million barrels of oil a day pass through the Strait of Malacca, an amount that will only increase with the further advance of the Asian Century.

When the U.S. went to war against Iraq in 1991, notwithstanding claims concerning Kuwait's territorial integrity and fictitious accusations of infants being torn from incubators in the country's capital, one of the major objectives was to demonstrate to a new unipolar world that Washington had its hand on the global oil spigot. That it controlled the flow of Persian Gulf oil north and west to Europe and east to Asia, especially to the four nations that import the most oil next to the United States: Japan, China, South Korea and India. The first three receive Persian Gulf oil primarily by tankers passing through the Strait of Malacca.

The U.S. Department of Energy has provided a comprehensive yet concise blueprint for the Pentagon to act on:

"Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes. They are a critical part of global energy security due to the high volume of oil traded through their narrow straits. The Strait of Hormuz leading out of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Malacca linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans are two of the world's most strategic chokepoints. Other important passages include: Bab el-Mandab which connects the Arabian Sea with the Red Sea; the Panama Canal and the Panama Pipeline connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; the Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline linking the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea; and the Turkish/Bosporus Straits joining the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea region to the Mediterranean Sea." [2]

The U.S. has moved its military into the Black Sea and Central Asia as well as into the Persian Gulf, and two years ago the Pentagon inaugurated U.S. Africa Command primarily to secure oil supplies and transport in Africa's Gulf of Guinea and in the Horn of Africa.

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The Strait of Malacca is the main channel connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. On its southeastern end it flows into the South China Sea where the natural resource-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups are contested between China on the one hand and several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the other. The Spratly Islands are claimed in part by ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as Taiwan. The Paracel Islands were seized by China in a naval battle with South Vietnam in 1974.

The U.S. deployed the USS George Washington nuclear-powered supercarrier and the USS John S. McCain destroyer to the South China Sea in August for the first joint military exercise ever conducted by the U.S. and (unified) Vietnam, three weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while attending the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in the Vietnamese capital that "The United States...has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea," adding "The United States is a Pacific nation, and we are committed to being an active partner with ASEAN."

Clinton's trip to Hanoi was preceded by visits to the capitals of Pakistan, Afghanistan and South Korea, all three Asian nations solidly in the U.S. military orbit. While in the last country she traveled to the Demilitarized Zone separating South from North Korea with Pentagon chief Robert Gates, in the first such joint visit by U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War (which led to war with China within three months).

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Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Is the manager of the Stop NATO international email list at:

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