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General News    H3'ed 11/19/20

Tomgram: Cassandra Stimpson and Holly Zhang, A World Being Made for War

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Yes, tensions are still rising between the world's greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, historically speaking, and the country emitting the most at this very moment -- not that the emerging cold war between the United States and China is often thought of in that context. Still, in the Trump era, now ending so ingloriously, the U.S. moved ever closer to just such a new cold war, as the president got ever angrier at China and the "plague" it had "unleashed on to the world," his secretary of state denounced its policies, and U.S. aircraft carriers began repeatedly making their way into the disputed South China Sea.

As trade wars loomed and The Donald boomed, the Pentagon also began issuing documents deemphasizing the "forever wars" it had been involved in for nearly two decades and emphasizing instead the dangers of China (and Russia). Now, this country is preparing, however chaotically, to enter the Biden years, even if that other old man is still bitterly camped out in the White House. President Trump, who was perfectly ready to set the planet on fire (more or less literally), is nearly gone and you might think that the globe's two largest carbon emitters would be ready to consider some kind of accommodation or even coordination to stop this world from going down in intensifying storms, rising sea levels, raging wild fires, and... well, you know the story.

Unfortunately, that would be logic, not interests -- and the interests couldn't be more real or, as Cassandra Stimpson and Holly Zhang of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative (FITI) at the Center for International Policy suggest today, more grimly lined up to promote that very cold war. Only recently, for instance, we've had a look at Joe Biden's 23-person "transition team" for the Pentagon, most of whom come from the hawkish think tanks that are so much a part of official Washington and eight of whom, as In These Times has reported, "list their 'most recent employment' as organizations, think tanks, or companies that either directly receive money from the weapons industry, or are part of this industry," including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed in today's TomDispatch post. And so it goes, sadly enough, in Washington whoever the president may be. Tom

A Washington Echo Chamber for a New Cold War
A Rising China Lifts All Boats (Submarines, Aircraft Carriers, and Surface Ships), Not to Speak of Fighter Planes, in the Military-Industrial Complex
By Cassandra Stimpson and Holly Zhang

War: what is it good for? Apparently, in Washington's world of think tanks, the answer is: the bottom line.

In fact, as the Biden presidency approaches, an era of great-power competition between the United States and China is already taken for granted inside the Washington Beltway. Much less well known are the financial incentives that lurk behind so many of the voices clamoring for an ever-more-militarized response to China in the Pacific. We're talking about groups that carefully avoid the problems such an approach will provoke when it comes to the real security of the United States or the planet. A new cold war is likely to be dangerous and costly in an America gripped by a pandemic, its infrastructure weakened, and so many of its citizens in dire economic straits. Still, for foreign lobbyists, Pentagon contractors, and Washington's many influential think tanks, a "rising China" means only one thing: rising profits.

Defense contractors and foreign governments are spending millions of dollars annually funding establishment think tanks (sometimes in secret) in ways that will help set the foreign-policy agenda in the Biden years. In doing so, they gain a distinctly unfair advantage when it comes to influencing that policy, especially which future tools of war this country should invest in and how it should use them.

Not surprisingly, many of the top think-tank recipients of foreign funding are also top recipients of funding from this country's major weapons makers. The result: an ecosystem in which those giant outfits and some of the countries that will use their weaponry now play major roles in bankrolling the creation of the very rationales for those future sales. It's a remarkably closed system that works like a dream if you happen to be a giant weapons firm or a major think tank. Right now, that system is helping accelerate the further militarization of the whole Indo-Pacific region.

In the Pacific, Japan finds itself facing an increasingly tough set of choices when it comes to its most significant military alliance (with the United States) and its most important economic partnership (with China). A growing U.S. presence in the region aimed at counterbalancing China will allow Japan to remain officially neutral, even as it reaps the benefits of both partnerships.

To walk that tightrope (along with the defense contractors that will benefit financially from the further militarization of the region), Japan spends heavily to influence thinking in Washington. Recent reports from the Center for International Policy's Foreign Influence Initiative (FITI), where the authors of this piece work, reveal just how countries like Japan and giant arms firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing functionally purchase an inside track on a think-tank market that's hard at work creating future foreign-policy options for this country's elite.

How to Make a Think Tank Think

Take the prominent think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which houses programs focused on the "China threat" and East Asian "security." Its Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which gets funding from the governments of Japan and the Philippines, welcomes contributions "from all governments in Asia, as well as corporate and foundation support."

Unsurprisingly, the program also paints a picture of Japan as central "to preserving the liberal international order" in the face of the dangers of an "increasingly assertive China." It also highlights that country's role as Washington's maritime security partner in the region. There's no question that Japan is indeed an important ally of Washington. Still, positioning its government as a lynchpin in the international peace (or war) process seems a dubious proposition at best.

CSIS is anything but alone when it comes to the moneyed interests pushing Washington to invest ever more in what now passes for "security" in the Pacific region. A FITI report on Japanese operations in the U.S., for instance, reveals at least 3,209 lobbying activities in 2019 alone, as various lobbyists hired by that country and registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act targeted both Congress and think tanks like CSIS on behalf of the Japanese government. Such firms, in fact, raked in more than $30 million from that government last year alone. From 2014 to 2019, Japan was also the largest East Asian donor to the top 50 most influential U.S. think tanks. The results of such investments have been obvious when it comes to both the products of those think tanks and congressional policies.

Think-tank recipients of Japanese funding are numerous and, because that country is such a staunch ally of Washington, its government can be more open about its activities than is typical. Projects like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's "China Risk and China Opportunity for the U.S.-Japan Alliance," funded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are now the norm inside the Beltway. You won't be surprised to learn that the think-tank scholars working on such projects almost inevitably end up highlighting Japan's integral role in countering "the China threat" in the influential studies they produce. That threat itself, of course, is rarely questioned. Instead, its dangers and the need to confront them are invariably reinforced.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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