22 March 2016

Asian Alliances and Cold Wars: Past and Present Provocations

The United States continues to push into East Asia and is moving ever closer to the formation of a new Asian version of NATO. It must be remembered that though the USSR certainly occupied Eastern Europe and had attempted and eventually succeeded to establish new regimes in those countries, it was sabre rattlers like Churchill and the United States in forming NATO that really got the Cold War underway. While that narrative is unacceptable to Western convention it needs to be revisited.

In no way does this suggest the USSR was somehow virtuous or represented moral government. Far from it but a condemnation of the USSR does not automatically indicate the USA deserves endorsement and vindication in all of its actions. The either-or polarity that usually frames this question is a classic case of the false dilemma.

Granted the struggle was already forming in places like Greece and Berlin. The fall of Nationalist China in 1949 would rapidly expand the nature of the Cold War but it was really the formation of NATO that alarmed and really provoked the USSR to take a more overtly hostile posture to the West. It was the final straw in a sequence of unfolding events going back to the end of the war four years earlier. In virtually every case the USSR was responding to perceived Western aggression.

The wartime alliance had been a relationship of convenience and the USSR got the bad end of the deal... and they knew it. They clearly did the bulk of the fighting, bore the brunt of the war against Germany and by far paid the highest cost. It was also clear by the Casablanca Conference in 1943 that the US had aspirations beyond simply 'winning' the war. Unconditional Surrender as declared by Roosevelt represented far more than a complete victory. In the context of World War II it was a claim to re-draw the map of Europe and Asia... essentially the world. No one in the West seems to pick up on the full import of Roosevelt's statement. The implications were not just a tactical declaration regarding the terms for concluding the war.

The Soviet discovery of America's plan for the atomic bomb also changed the equation as this was understood as an absolute 'game-changer' in terms of world geopolitics. When the US actually used the weapons on Japan it sent a clear message to the world but especially to the USSR. The notion that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 'necessary' in order to save American lives is an old propaganda line that won't die. The truth is far different and certainly paints American and Truman in a rather sinister light... thus it is de facto inconceivable and beyond the pale. It is a thought-crime in the American system.

Some people ascribe the early development of the Cold War as a case of miscommunication but others don't think so and neither do I. But unlike most in the West I don't believe the Soviets were the aggressors. Though complicated by a host of variables and tangential considerations, an argument can be made that the United States was in fact the major aggressor, the power determined to dominate the globe.

With regard to the regimes in Eastern Europe, these countries had been recaptured from proxies of the Third Reich and were largely in a state of disarray and ruin. The departure of Soviet troops would have generated instant chaos and instability. The Soviets believed the military would have to shepherd these nations in the formation of new regimes. Obviously for the Soviets the stability they sought meant creating regimes in their own image and they took steps to encourage the desired result. Like the US response to 9/11 the Russians believed 22 June, 1941 forever changed history. After losing 20 million people as a result of the German invasion, Russia could no longer tolerate threats from Western Europe and they moved to make sure this could never happen again. This far more than any notion of a communist international (long abandoned by Stalin) drove the USSR's policies in Eastern Europe. The creation of Cominform (1947-1956) was limited to states within the Soviet sphere with two exceptions that of France and Italy. They were the only Western European nations with significant communist parties and were thus early targets of American manipulation and intrigue. In particular American involvement in the 1948 Italian elections demonstrated the United States was not serious about democracy. The American narrative was mere window dressing.

Stalin believed the Eastern European buffer had been guaranteed at Moscow in 1944 and all but ratified at Yalta. Churchill the hero of the West sold out Eastern Europe and to this day he is far from revered in their lands. But by the time of Potsdam the US posture had changed. The US had a nuclear weapon and the USSR was no longer being treated as an ally. The Russians felt betrayed all along and this all but confirmed their fears. US intervention in Greece, Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech in Independence Missouri and the Marshall Plan were all perceived as moves against the USSR. The US rebuilding of Germany, (remember the divisions into the FRG and GDR were not yet formalised) looked like a move of aggression, let alone the currency established by the West and how it was playing out in Berlin.

In addition there was the largely forgotten episode that took place in Iran in 1946-47. The country had been occupied (conquered) by the British and the USSR in 1941 in order to protect its oil resources from Germany and leave open a supply route behind the Eastern Front. The USSR had grown suspicious of British and US aggression with regard to oil concessions. The US through Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon) was already negotiating with the Iranian government in 1943.

What might begin as oil fields could quickly be transformed into political proxies and military bases. Stalin did not relish the newly aggressive and very powerful United States being on its frontiers. To the USSR it seemed like they were being forced to withdraw from Iran while the British and Americans would effectively take over and grab the oil, which is more or less what they did. Taking advantage of already existing tensions between the Persians and the Azeris and Kurds of the northwest, Stalin sought to create a buffer but largely stood down in the face of US pressure. Ultimately his goals were thwarted with the US backed 1953 coup and the re-establishment of the Shah. This defeat and perceived betrayal was exacerbated by Turkey's admission to NATO the year before in 1952. The USSR ended up with US allies (satellites) and ultimately nuclear weapons on its frontiers.

In the spring of 1949 the US created both NATO and West Germany. The Soviets defeated by the Berlin Airlift responded with creating the GDR and just a few days later Mao proclaimed victory in the Chinese Civil War. The Cold War was on and in the year following, events in Korea take things to the next level.

West German entry into NATO in 1955 would lead Khrushchev to form the Warsaw Pact.

The Americans continued to occupy the lands of Western Europe... and largely still do. And rather than form openly submissive 'satellites' the US worked clandestinely to throw elections and manipulate the political and social systems of the various countries in order to maintain control over its 'allies', i.e. the new order, the Pax Americana of Western Europe. The United States was just as determined to control these Western prizes and made the clandestine, military and economic moves to ensure this reality. The narrative claims and veil of democracy have always meant the United States is forced to cloak its naked and often brutal exercise of power. In the end the Western nations were just as much 'satellites' as those in the East. Neither regime had absolute control over them but effectively they were satrapies in the new empires.

Both sides ultimately had their dissenters, Tito in the East and de Gaulle in the West. Later after the Prague intervention of 1968 Hoxha pulled Albania out of the Warsaw Pact and aligned with China. Eventually Ceausescu also deviated and proved less than loyal to Moscow. Calculations were made by both the USSR and USA but they often acted in different ways. In some cases like in Greece, Turkey, France, Italy etc., coups and assassinations were in order and the US did not hesitate to employ these means. The Soviet model was clumsy and ultimately harmful in terms of public perception. They sent in the tanks.

With regard to Asia we're seeing the US move aggressively against China under false pretense and manufactured narrative. Apart from the economic structure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), they seek to form a new trans-military quadrilateral alliance with Japan, Australia and India. While Japan and Australia are already satrapies, the US seeks to incorporate India and take the military and economic relationships to the next level.

With this established quadrilateral framework you can ultimately look for nations like Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Singapore and others to 'join'. There are other nations like Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea which are already US allies but due to the particulars of their situations would likely (at this time) avoid a more aggressive posture vis-à-vis China. They can join economic treaties and forums but their membership in a new Asian version of NATO would be a bit more tricky. But that could change and their membership in a new military alliance would represent the same type of escalation that provoked the USSR to act in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Of course to counter similar American moves in Central Asia, China has been working since the 1990s to form an East Asia bloc. This started as the Shanghai Five (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan). With the later inclusion Uzbekistan they changed the name to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Although the success of the SCO has been limited by conflicting interests and US meddling it continues to function as a small check to US aggression in the region. The fact that the SCO has agreed to take on India and Pakistan (as observers) and yet continues to exclude the US from the same status is an attempt by China and Russia to take over the narrative of the region. Instead India's involvement will probably be the means of US influence upon the group. As a less than full member India can't directly influence the SCO but even observer status will facilitate a greater array of options and potential back channels.

We can probably look for China and perhaps Russia to expand the SCO into the Pacific and/or form some sort of new organisation. The problem is... their potential allies are somewhat limited. Apart from maybe Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia, there aren't a lot of options. North Korea is too volatile and perhaps the most probable ally, the island nation of Sri Lanka has been all but torn from the Chinese sphere of influence. Sometimes 'allies' have to be convinced it would seem and every nation has its people that can be bought. The SCO is the most likely tool China can wield as a political and economic check on US power in Asia.

India's willingness to join the SCO may in time prove a point of irritation to the US. While on the one hand its newly reinvigorated relationship will help US influence with regard to the SCO bloc, India can also use it as a point of leverage and maneuverability vis-à-vis the United States. Contrary to the Western narrative, not all nations are thrilled to be US allies. From their perspective it's a deal with the devil. There are benefits but you risk losing your sovereignty and so many nations take measures to leave a few options open. They join other organisations, sign trade deals and do whatever they can to make sure they are not under the absolute control of the United States.

Perhaps what is most striking about the recent outreach to India is its blatancy and the way in which it is being overtly declared even in the face of media scrutiny. The United States isn't even trying to be subtle. It is unlikely any future president would completely dash these plans, yet the Obama administration is desperately trying to establish the terms before it exits the scene.

Indian PM Narendra Modi is riding quite high at the moment and India's star is ascendant. These overtures may in fact be tactical, an encouragement to Modi in order to get him to 'sign on' with US objectives... as an 'almost' equal.

The US continues to expand its Pan-Turkic agenda in Central Asia, by utilising Turkey, the Gulen Movement and the Grey Wolves. While partly aimed at curbing Russian influence the real threat is posed to China and its Turkic Uyghur population. If China is the target it makes us once again think of Tibet. During the Cold War India played a role in facilitating US support of the Tibetan opposition. In addition to supporting the exiled Dalai Lama, New Delhi allowed the US access to air bases and to conduct operations in Nepal. The US supplied the Tibetans and trained guerilla movements often airdropping them into Tibet. This occurred even while the US and India were often less than friendly. It was based on a common interest and one wonders if the US will not restore and reconstitute the project. Some argue it already has and point to Western hands at work in the 2008 Tibetan Uprising. Its scope and level of coordination startled Beijing and led some to question its origins.

While the US media is happy to cover events that make China look bad there is almost no coverage of US overtures and moves in the region to counter China and establish these new alliances. There is no analysis or contextualisation. The Chinese are simply portrayed as the 'bad guys' and the media and entertainment industries are happy to reinforce these images. A new propaganda machine is at work very similar to what took place during the Cold War.

Finally if past is precedent the nations that seek to join with the United States while certainly reaping a harvest of military/economic benefits also place themselves in jeopardy. The United States has a long record in some of these nations like the Philippines and Indonesia of internal meddling, sometimes leading to death on a massive scale. An alliance invites these types of machinations to reoccur and with East Asia being the central theatre of the new struggle, their tempo and intensity (if it can be put that way) is likely to increase. Once they sign on they will find it's not so easy to depart. If they resist US subjugation they will face repression and likely rule by a dictatorial proxy or satrap. They will bring war to their borders and murder to their streets and they will find their militaries empowered and emboldened to crush any internal dissent or even the voices that dare to question the official narrative.

Already intrigue fills the back alleys, corridors of power, shipyards, airports and corporate offices. The game is afoot and history repeats itself. Decades from now will there be documentaries and investigative reports about secret prisons, mass graves, lost children and secret bank accounts? If history is any guide then we can count on it.

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