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For a moment, imagine an upside-down military world. Instead of U.S. guided-missile destroyers and other ships regularly carrying out "freedom of navigation operations" near Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea and such destroyers no less regularly passing through the Strait of Taiwan between that disputed island and the People's Republic of China, consider how any administration would react if Chinese naval vessels were ever more provocatively patrolling off the coast of California. You know that official Washington would quite literally go nuts and we'd find ourselves at the edge of war almost instantly.
Or, in a similar fashion, imagine that Russia had moved nuclear weapons close to the southern Mexican border, was selling advanced weaponry and offering other military aid to Mexico, and acting as we've been doing in relation to Ukraine. Washington would be up in arms, again all too literally. Don't misunderstand me: I hold no torch for either Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin. (And I suspect, by the way, that if Putin were foolish enough to invade Ukraine he might find himself involved in an updated version of the Soviet Union's disastrous Afghan War of the 1980s in a far more explosive part of the world.) I'm merely pointing out that the American urge to be militarily anywhere it wants to be on this planet in any fashion it chooses might not be quite what's needed these days. A new Cold War on an ever hotter and more pandemic planet? Just what we really (don't) need.
And by the way, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, author most recently of All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon's Perspective on Climate Change, points out, one of the other wonders of our moment is that, in a country where Republicans and Democrats can essentially agree on nothing certainly not on spending money on the American people the subject never in question is what's still called "defense" policy. Unfortunately, globally speaking, such spending of your tax dollars couldn't be more offensive in every sense of the word. In this, fierce as the Biden administration has proved in Cold War terms, Klare makes it clear today that Congress is proving even fiercer.
I mean honestly, on a planet in deep doo-doo, where the major powers should be cooperating big time, having a post-Trump administration (with, admittedly, an old cold warrior as president) so ready to return us to a Cold War-style world seems, to say the least, both a tad out of date and a bit reckless as well. Tom
None Dare Call It "Encirclement"
Washington Tightens the Noose around China
The word "encirclement" does not appear in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 27th, or in other recent administration statements about its foreign and military policies. Nor does that classic Cold War era term "containment" ever come up. Still, America's top leaders have reached a consensus on a strategy to encircle and contain the latest great power, China, with hostile military alliances, thereby thwarting its rise to full superpower status.
The gigantic 2022 defense bill passed with overwhelming support from both parties provides a detailed blueprint for surrounding China with a potentially suffocating network of U.S. bases, military forces, and increasingly militarized partner states. The goal is to enable Washington to barricade that country's military inside its own territory and potentially cripple its economy in any future crisis. For China's leaders, who surely can't tolerate being encircled in such a fashion, it's an open invitation to" well, there's no point in not being blunt" fight their way out of confinement.
Like every "defense" bill before it, the $768 billion 2022 NDAA is replete with all-too-generous handouts to military contractors for favored Pentagon weaponry. That would include F-35 jet fighters, Virginia-class submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and a wide assortment of guided missiles. But as the Senate Armed Services Committee noted in a summary of the bill, it also incorporates an array of targeted appropriations and policy initiatives aimed at encircling, containing, and someday potentially overpowering China. Among these are an extra $7.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, or PDI, a program initiated last year with the aim of bolstering U.S. and allied forces in the Pacific.
Nor are these just isolated items in that 2,186-page bill. The authorization act includes a "sense of Congress" measure focused on "defense alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific Region," providing a conceptual blueprint for such an encirclement strategy. Under it, the secretary of defense is enjoined to "strengthen United States defense alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region so as to further the comparative advantage of the United States in strategic competition with the People's Republic of China," or PRC.
That the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act passed with no significant opposition in the House or Senate suggests that support for these and similar measures is strong in both parties. Some progressive Democrats had indeed sought to reduce the size of military spending, but their colleagues on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees instead voted to increase this year's already staggering allotment for the Pentagon by another $24 billion specifically to better contain (or fight) China. Most of those added taxpayer dollars will go toward the creation of hypersonic missiles and other advanced weaponry aimed at the PRC, and increased military exercises and security cooperation with U.S. allies in the region.
For Chinese leaders, there can be no doubt about the meaning of all this: whatever Washington might say about peaceful competition, the Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has no intention of allowing the PRC to achieve parity with the United States on the world stage. In fact, it is prepared to employ every means, including military force, to prevent that from happening. This leaves Beijing with two choices: succumb to U.S. pressure and accept second-class status in world affairs or challenge Washington's strategy of containment. It's hard to imagine that country's current leadership accepting the first choice, while the second, were it adopted, would surely lead, sooner or later, to armed conflict.
The Enduring Lure of Encirclement
The notion of surrounding China with a chain of hostile powers was, in fact, first promoted as official policy in the early months of President George W. Bush's administration. At that time, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice went to work establishing an anti-China alliance system in Asia, following guidelines laid out by Rice in a January 2000 article in Foreign Affairs. There, she warned of Beijing's efforts to "alter Asia's balance of power in its own favor" a drive the U.S. must respond to by deepening "its cooperation with Japan and South Korea" and by "maintain[ing] its commitment to a robust military presence in the region." It should, she further indicated, "pay closer attention to India's role in the regional balance."
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