22 May 2012
The Pacific Ocean is the largest unified geographical area on the surface of the planet. Covering more than a quarter of the globe, it is, “almost equal to the total land area of the world” (according to the CIA Factbook), and is twice as large as the Atlantic Ocean. This vast realm of water has recently been the object of elevated strategic interest since a “strategic pivot” toward Asia was announced by the current US administration, perhaps heralding the first signs of a shift toward a Pacific-centered world order.
The strategic pivot to Asia has been accompanied by admirably clear strategic guidance for the current US Pacific Command (Pacom) commander. The admirably succinct (3 page) UNITED STATES PACIFIC COMMAND STRATEGIC GUIDANCE, authored (or at least signed by) outgoing Pacom Admiral Robert F. Willard, mirrors the January 2012 strategic planning document, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense (almost as succinct as the former at 16 pages, including several title pages and introductory material, which narrows the content to a mere 8 pages).
There was an interesting story on the DOD website from the American Forces Press Service about the United States Pacific Command incoming Pacom Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III — Locklear: Pacom’s Priorities Reflect New Strategic Guidance (which I previously wrote about on Tumblr). Admiral Locklear was quoted as saying, “…the president and the secretary of defense have given me through their strategic guidance clear direction on what they want [and] what they expect to see.” Every commander should be so fortunate.
This strategy is as much a political strategy as a military strategy, though in the present case implemented by the military forces of the US (as no Clausewitzean would be surprised to hear, given the fungibility of political and the military exertion). Both the strategic guidance referenced above and Admiral Locklear himself (as quoted in the above-linked article) prominently discussed developing military-to-military cooperation between the US and Korea, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and Singapore. The Pacom website has an article and many pictures from recent joint Royal Thai Navy and US Navy exercises. China, of course, gets a section of its own in the strategic guidance. Here is what the UNITED STATES PACIFIC COMMAND STRATEGIC GUIDANCE says about China:
2. Mature the U.S.-China Military-to-Military Relationship
i. Sustain a consistent military-to-military relationship to prevent miscommunication and miscalculation.
ii. Pursue opportunities for increased military cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
iii. Monitor China’s military modernization program and prepare accordingly.
Some time ago on Tumblr I wrote in The Pacific Theater, Then and Now that, “It would be difficult to imagine the US and Japanese military forces gathering in the late 1930s for defense consultative talks.” The US and China, however, have held Defense Consultative Talks. Of the DCT gathering in Beijing in 2011 I wrote:
“One cannot but wonder at the feeling and atmosphere of the room at such meetings. It has become a parlor game among strategists to play off the US and China in a confrontation, with the US being the world’s only superpower and China being the superpower presumptive, however far it is from actual superpower status. Also, much can happen in the period of time that need to elapse for China to bring its military forces even roughly to par with those of the US.”
It is certainly a good thing that these two powers are at least talking to each other, however little comes from such meetings. These two powers — the two largest economies in the world — face each other across the North Pacific, and they are vulnerable to what the strategic guidance document diplomatically calls “miscommunication and miscalculation.”
As the two largest economies on the planet, and the two great powers on the Pacific, the US and China will have interests in common (“areas of mutual interest”) and interests in conflict. This is inevitable. Great powers have a bias to stability, and while China’s “peaceful rise” as a “responsible stakeholder” in the global community is actually a form of instability in the international system, it is an instability with a bias toward a future bi-polar world order with China and the US both desiring to preserve their status while not greatly disturbing the other through “miscommunication and miscalculation.” The Chinese are as eager as the US to keep the sea lanes open to international trade, as China’s burgeoning trade with the world is the lifeline of its resource-hungry, export-led economy.
But there is a fly in the ointment, and that fly is Taiwan. The US officially maintains a “One China” policy, but it also gives Taiwan security guarantees (though it remains coyly ambiguous about whether the nuclear umbrella covers Taiwan) and occasionally sells the Taiwanese advanced military hardware when it feels like poking a stick in the eye of the Beijing regime. For its part, China has floated its first aircraft carrier, rumored to be named the Shī Láng (施琅, formerly the Admiral Kuznetsov-class Varyag), and I do not think that it is merely coincidental that Shī Láng was a Ming-Qing Dynasty admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681.
The Pacific Ocean has the distinction of being the only ocean on the globe to host the only major aircraft carrier engagements in planetary history. Aircraft carriers have been deployed in all the world’s oceans, but only the in the Pacific during the Second World War were there major military engagements between peer or near-peer fleets of multiple aircraft carriers. In The Pacific Theater, Then and Now I wrote, “Anyone who wants to understand carrier operations and carrier warfare studies Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. These are the only examples that we have.” I have moreover elsewhere stated that aircraft carriers are the premier instruments of force projection in the world today, and in light of this the entry of China into the lists of those nation-states operating aircraft carriers (a list about as short as the list of nation-states possessing nuclear weapons) suggests a re-run of historical naval arms races. Starting in 1922 with Hōshō (the first purpose-built aircraft carrier), the Japanese rapidly built a carrier fleet that was prepared to take on the US in the Pacific by 1941. That was a period of less than twenty years.
The Pacific Ocean is a relatively well-defined region that is not a nation-state. As such, it perfectly exemplifies that I recently wrote about in regard to regionalism. After posting my initial formulations of regionalism I realized that one way to define a region would be as a geographical area isolated from other geographical areas by choke points. The choke points of the Pacific Ocean are surprisingly few for a geographical region of this extent.
In the map above (if you click on it, it should get bigger) I have attempted to outline in red some of the obvious choke points that connect the Pacific Ocean to the rest of the world. The Bering Sea is the choke point for access to the Arctic Ocean; the Panama Canal and the Straight of Magellan are the choke points for access to the Atlantic Ocean. There is a particularly interesting buffer of southeast Asian islands interposed between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. One could regard this as a series of closely spaced choke points, or as something strategically distinct from a choke point, reticulate in nature, like a permeable barrier. Such an area would be difficult to transit in large capital ships or a fleet, but affords numerous hiding places (and re-supply opportunities) for small vessels that can safely negotiate the shallow seas and narrow straits of these islands.
Should the world begin to approximate a Pacific-centered world order, this world order would be at the mercy of the choke points noted above. In an A2/AD world, these choke points would dictate the dissemination of Pacific commerce to the rest of the world. Any power wishing to dictate terms to the world would seek to control these choke points, since by controlling the choke points, the entire Pacific Ocean becomes the subject of anti-access and area denial. One CSG per choke point would go a long way toward control of the Pacific. Whose carriers will it be?
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17 May 2012
“Bigger issue now is, what does the US do with its western flank in an era most believe to be defined by the rise of Asia?”
Since my post about the European economy suggested a kind of European regionalism, I immediately began to think of the regionalism that I had described in a global context, i.e., I began to think in terms of global regionalism, and I realized that this would be a fruitful geopolitical perspective.
It is of the essence of geopolitics and geostrategy to think of social, economic, political, diplomatic, and military milieux in terms of their geographical distribution. That these generic strategic trends in human history are not equally distributed, and that the physical topography of the globe has a direct impact upon their distribution, shapes the world in which we live — the possibilities, the opportunities and the constraints.
A region is geographically defined, but not defined by nation-states. This distinction is important, because in the contemporary international system, the power is vested in nation-states. However, it must be observed that it has been primarily economic, military, and diplomatic power that have been vested in nation-states. Social, religious, and intellectual power have been attracted to the locus of economic, military, and diplomatic power of the nation-state, but the non-state structure of social, religious, and intellectual power has never been entirely eclipsed by the nation-state.
In the Islamic world, for example, the idea of the Ummah — the global Muslim community — is an important idea, and not a mere abstraction. The Ummah defines a region that is not a nation-state, just as do Catholicism, capitalism, and petrochemical producers.
In the past, all regionalism was bioregionalism. A people’s way of life followed from the biome and the particular ecosystem in which they lived. Prior to the industrial revolution, the food that you ate, the clothes that you wore, the buildings in which you lived and worked, and the work that you did was all a function of your ecological situation. Since much of the language that one uses on a daily basis is derived from one’s food, clothing, shelter, and work, and the concepts embodied in language express these ideas, the greater part of our intellectual life also reflected bioregionalism. (This has been a theme I have urged since I started writing this blog.)
With the Industrial Revolution this strong sense of regionalism was compromised once it become routine to import foodstuffs, clothing, building materials, and even forms of work that had not previously existed, or existed in the form that they came to have under industrialization. However, new and abstract forms of region began to supplement the declining strong forms of regionalism that once so completely defined life. Thus industrialization has changed regionalism, but has not eliminated regionalism. This is significant.
In the early part of the twentieth century many of the most advanced thinkers of the time seized upon internationalism as the direction in which the world was headed — what I would call the dominant strategic trend. A part of this intellectual fashion for internationalism was due to Marxism, which was always international in conception and ambition — communism was frequently called “international communism” in order to focus attention on it as a global movement, the communist anthem was called the “Internationale,” and the gatherings of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) were called “Internationals” — but not all of this fashion for internationalism can be attributed to communism.
Many major thinkers who were in no sense Marxists consistently thought and expressed themselves in internationalist terms. Bertrand Russell is a good example of this. For Russell and many others, the obvious telos and rationalization of the de facto global political order could be nothing other than internationalism. This may sound a bit odd to my readers in the US, as internationalism never had much of a following in the US, where popular sentiment has often demonized the United Nations and other internationalist movements and organizations. And yet we did experience the international style in modern architecture, and a variety of related international movements made themselves felt in the US no less than in Europe.
But internationalism faltered under repeated blows to the international system throughout the second half of the twentieth century, not least the Cold War that divided the international system into two systems, at war with each other, and contesting their mutual periphery.
The global village that was once imagined as the consequence of universal telecommunications technology and a rapid global transportation network has not come to pass, any more than the “melting pot” model of diversity, which latter has since been replaced by the “tossed salad” model. Instead, the global village has become a place of its own, the region of cyberspace, which touches upon physical space at millions of points of contact, even while remaining distinct. We could map cyberspace onto physical space, or physical space onto cyberspace, but in each case the map is not the territory and the two spaces cannot be shown to be identical.
Internationalism, then, did not happen, or, at very least, did not happen as it was expected to happen. Instead, the growing complexity of the world facilitated the emergence of ever more forms of regionalism. Some have read in these tea leaves the perennial nature of the nation-state, but this is a delusion arising from limited imagination. The ultimate dissolution of the nation-state will come about not as a result of internationalism, but rather from a flourishing regionalism that subdivides nation-states like the inheritance of traditional estates when not checked by a custom of primogeniture. But this will not happen for a long time yet. Other trends must play themselves out for hundreds of years yet before the nation-state is a mere historical curiosity.
The structural forces in the world, then, that create and sustain regionalism are themselves important strategic trends that must be recognized. But that is not all. Above and beyond particular regionalisms there is regionalism itself as a force in world history. And we must even go beyond the understanding of regionalism as a strategic trend of the global system that facilitates other strategic trends. This is not at all wrong, but it is too limited. We must learn to understand regionalism on its own account, both driving other developments even as it in turn is driven by anterior developments.
Let us consider, very briefly, some of the major strategic trends of our time, and we will see that they are strongly regional trends:
● The Decline of Europe By “the decline of Europe” I do not mean the relative decline of European economic importance due to the increasing economic activity of other regions of the world, but the decline of the European idea as a force in world affairs. Europe has not only retreated from the apotheosis of its 19th century colonialism, it has turned against itself and its traditions and has adopted an attitude of atonement, frequently expressed in the form of foreign aid. Part of this attitude of atonement is also expressed by the liberal immigration quotas that has led to the rise of Eurabia. Europe is facilitating the disappearance of its own unique tradition.
● The Rise of Asia As with the decline of Europe, so too with the rise of Asia: this is partly about improving economic performance and industrialization, but it is just as much about the confidence of Asian peoples to assert themselves in the world as the Europeans once asserted themselves, and to do so they have borrowed heavily from the intellectual resources of the European tradition even while distancing themselves from that tradition. Colonialism and neo-colonialism are condemned, while quasi-colonial activity (like China’s growing role in Africa) is called anything but colonialism. More importantly, this is done with a clear conscience, as was also the case during Europe’s period of colonial expansion.
● The Stability of US Power Despite a great deal of declensionist talk that I have discussed in other posts (especially my recent From American Exceptionalism to American Declensionism), the American economy will remain the largest in the world for some time, and even after China’s economy becomes the largest in the world in terms of absolute numbers, the US economy will have the greatest productivity of any economy on the planet for an even longer period of time. The springs of ambition and invention have by no means peaked in the US, and we can expect the American people to continue to assert themselves aggressively in world affairs has has been the case since the end of the Second World War.
These three strategic trends together necessarily mean another strategic trend:
● The Shift from an Atlantic center to a Pacific center I have discussed the decline of Atlanticism and the possibility of a Pacific-centered world order in other posts. With the stability of US power as the fulcrum, the center of world affairs will slowly shift from the Atlantic, dominated by a declining Europe, to the Pacific, dominated by the rising Asia. I emphasize here that this shift will be slow and gradual.
The shift from an Atlantic-centered world to a Pacific-centered world will be a consequence of the decline of Europe and the rise of Asia, and thus this shift will not be consolidated until these developments are mature. In other words, the 21st century will not be the Pacific Century, but rather the century of the fluid periphery (see below), one of the developments of which will mean the shift to a Pacific-centered world order. It will be the 22nd century that will be the Pacific Century. So you see that when I say that this shift will be slow and gradual, I am talking on the order of centuries, not years or decades.
The shifting world center from the Atlantic to the Pacific is but one aspect another another major strategic trend that will be expressed in many different forms, and this is:
● The Fluidity of the Periphery The fluidity of the periphery will be expressed in a variety of distinct movements and changes, but the very fact that the periphery of the mature and established de facto global political order will be fluid is significant. In the past, the periphery was not fluid, but static. Nothing happened in the periphery, which was one reason that Ovid so lamented his exile to Tomis (now Constanţa, Romania) on the Black Sea. The periphery was once the edge of civilization, dominated by stalled technologies. In the future, more things will happen, and more history will be played out, on the periphery than in the center. The fluidity of the periphery will involve, but will not be limited to, the following:
* Atlantic to Pacific Shift The fluidity of the periphery will include the above-mentioned strategic shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but this shift will occur on such a time scale that it would be unnoticeable to most living through the shift except that we will know to watch for it. This will be a macro-temporal revolution in world history, and as such almost invisible to the micro-temporality of individual consciousness.
* Globalization Globalization in turn can be understood by many different labels — it is what I have called the extension of the industrial revolution to those parts of the world that have not yet industrialized; this global economic growth has been called “re-balancing” by Thomas P.M. Barnett; at the same time “re-balancing” might also be called a leveling of the global economic playing field, and this has also been called the global rise of the middle class. More tendentiously, I might call this strategic trend The End of Poverty, for when the gains of global industrialization are consolidated over the next two hundred years, one of the profound developments will be the end of the kind of poverty (made visible by the contrast between rich and power, and made more visible yet by the telecommunications technology that emerged from industrialization) that had typified the human condition since the dawn of agriculture and urbanism.
* Divisions internal to the Periphery Uneven development will more and more mark the fluid periphery, as some nation-states in Latin America and Africa develop rapidly, joining the global economy and catapulting their populations on a new trajectory of development, while other nation-states in Latin America and Africa cannot break out of the failure cycle, continuing to stumble and stagnate while neighboring nation-states pull far ahead of them. These divisions within the periphery will foster instability and tensions, as populations inevitably seek to better their lot by moving from failed and failing states into neighboring successful states.
* Global Divisions The consolidation of the democratization of the Western hemisphere will continue to contrast with non-democratic, non-representative, autocratic regimes throughout the fluid periphery and indeed throughout the Eurasian landmass. While there will be democratic regimes in the Western hemisphere that perpetuate the failure cycle, the slower pace of life that results will constitute a de facto social consensus for a society not to live in the fast lane. By contrast, outside the Western hemisphere, the failure cycle will be exacerbated by non-representative regimes that impose failure upon a restive population. These global divisions will be expressed as geostrategic tensions, which will in turn be expressed as flows between the divisions, and these flows — of populations, of resources, of smuggled contraband, of technology, etc. — will flow through the periphery, further destabilizing regions already destabilized by divisions internal to the periphery.
There are limits to the fluidity of the periphery. Fluidity is constrained by regional stability. Now by “regional stability” I do not mean a part of the world that is political stable (which is how the term is usually used in contemporary discourse) but rather that regional strategic trends that are geographically defined by not embodied in formal institutions. Actually, a distinction could be made between formal and informal regions, but I haven’t thought this through yet, so I will leave this potential distinction to another time. I hope that the reader will see, without further elaboration, that the same structural forces in the global system that create regions are powers that limit the latitude of other regions, sometimes simply by their existence, and other times by actively working against the strategic trend expressed by another region.
So that is my sketch of regionalism and how it will play out at least over the next two hundred years. I hope that even if the reader disagrees with the details of the picture that I have sketched, that you will at least see the power of differently-defined regionalisms in the global system, that this regionalism is a force to be reckoned with, and that regionalism may possibly become the dominant strategic trend, or a dominant strategic trend, over the long-term future.
There is much more to be said regarding regions, and I hope to think more on the matter, now that I have proposed it to myself in this explicit form, but for the time being I will close with the observation that regions are likely to play a larger role in history than either internationalism or nation-states.
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