Pacific Pivot: U.S. Foreign Policy Is Still Making Provocative Moves
By Larry Kershner
In November 2014, I visited Jeju Island, South Korea. I went with a group, organized by Fr. Bill Bichsel of the Tacoma Catholic Worker, to stand in solidarity with villagers of Gangjeong Village who are opposing the construction of a naval base in their village. The base is supposedly a Korean Navy base but a look at the plans clearly shows that wharfs and docks are fitted to the size of US naval vessels. The longest submarine in the Korean Navy is 53 meters but the sub pen being built is in the 200 meter range of the US Trident submarine.
At fifty hectares, this base will be one of the largest in the Pacific Basin. The base will house up to twenty-four warships, including two Aegis radar-equipped destroyers and six nuclear submarines. The 7,000 troops along with dependents will overwhelm the culture of the village of 2,000 fishers and farmers. There are currently no bars or prostitutes in Gangjeong village but the villagers know that this will change when the base is completed in December 2015.
The villagers see US bases being built or used in South Korea, Guam, Diego Garcia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Okinawa along with the central command of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii as part of President Obama’s military shift to the Pacific. Additional current bases at American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marshal Islands, as part of this military buildup, will form a semi-circle of naval and other military bases surrounding China. Villagers are told the naval base is for Korean national security but they see this base as being more likely to lead to war with China than in making them more secure.
Jeju Island is a United Nations World Heritage site but the world’s largest soft coral reef is being destroyed by the construction of the base. The cement barriers being placed in the water have changed the flow of water which the coral needs to survive. The waters around the island are supposed to be protected by international law as they are within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
The people of Jeju Island have a long memory and have no reason to trust the American Empire. Between 1948 and 1952 the American occupation of South Korea was responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people who wanted to create their own government. There is a museum on Jeju Island memorializing the April 3, 1948 genocide that took place on Jeju in which 40,000 people were killed for challenging the occupying American forces. This ‘uprising’ was the people of Jeju remembering and celebrating an event that occurred in March 1919 in which two million people out of a population of 16 million took to the streets to protest the military occupation of Korea by the Japanese. They were also protesting the American refusal to allow a planned national vote on the reunification of Korea. The American military command found this unacceptable and directed the ROK forces in this killings. Ironically the South Korean government in 2005 named Jeju Island as an Island of Peace as a part of a public apology for the Republic of Korea government’s part in the massacre.
The Chinese military left North Korea in 1958 but the US still has 30,000 troops occupying South Korea. Many Koreans look forward to the collapse of the American Empire and the Yankees going home.
Examples of the current American military presence can be seen all across the Pacific Basin including bases in Japan, Guam, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Australia and Singapore among many more. Except for a few military/commercial U.S. Navy vessels in the area, the American Empire’s spread to the Pacific started with the Spanish-American War of 1898. In the Caribbean, the U.S. military occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico. In the Pacific, the U.S. military occupied the Philippines. The occupation by the U.S. military forces resulted in up to 220,000 Filipino casualties.
Guam was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish American War in 1898 and was formally ‘purchased’ from Spain for $20 million in 1899. At the time of the turnover, the local population of Guam was about 10,000 inhabitants. U.S. President William McKinley issued an executive order placing Guam within the administration of the Department of Navy. Except for the three years of Japanese occupation (1941-1944), Guam has been occupied by the U.S. military for the past 117 years.
The recent military buildup in the Pacific is a response by America to the increasing economic power of China. Under President George W. Bush, the United States emphasized the strengthening of relations with existing allies in Asia, began moving toward a more flexible and sustainable troop presence in the region, concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, brought the United States into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA negotiations, and forged new partnerships with India and Vietnam. In the fall of 2011, the Obama Administration issued a series of announcements indicating that the United States would be expanding and intensifying its already significant military role in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in the southern part of the region.
In Australia, which has been a U.S. treaty ally since 1951, U.S. Marines are being rotated through an Australian military facility at Darwin which will eventually be expanded to a force of 2,500 Marine Corps personnel. Australia is also allowing greater access by U.S. military aircraft to Royal Australian Air Force facilities and will likely give access to Australia’s Indian Ocean Navy base south of Perth. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in November 2011, defined the Asia-Pacific as “stretching from the Indian Subcontinent to the Western shores of the Americas”. An estimated 50% of world container traffic and 70% of ship-borne oil and petroleum transit the Indian Ocean.
The Philippine military and U.S. military are increasing cooperation with more U.S. troops rotating into the country, more frequent joint military exercises and the rotation of U.S. surveillance aircraft through the Philippines. Since 2001, the island of Mindanao and surrounding islands have been part of a so-called second front in the war on terror where the US Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines operated against Islamist groups Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf for more than a decade. Speaking last April, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III called the United States a “key ally, a strategic partner and a reliable friend of the Philippines” as he marked the signing of a new bilateral executive agreement called the Enhanced Delfense Cooperation Agreement(EDCA). Under the EDCA, the United States gains greater access to Philippine military bases and other “agreed locations” where it can station troops and pre-position aircraft, weapons and other supplies – all without rent or utility fees. In 2014, the United States rotated more than 3,700 military personnel through the Philippines as the two nations conducted 425 “signed activities,” the highest number ever for a single year. The EDCA includes a provision for its automatic extension at the end of its 10-year term. Unlike the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the EDCA did not require ratification by the US or Philippine Senate.
In Singapore, the U.S. plans to station at least four littoral combat vessels in their naval facilities. The littoral combat ship is a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore) by the U.S. Navy.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade agreement, which the Obama administration is trying to push through with little public scrutiny, is part of the American Empire seeking full economic in addition to military dominance in this part of the Pacific. As envisioned by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the TPP will be a free trade agreement between the nine negotiating parties – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam – which will form the basis for a broader agreement that eventually could include all the economies of the Asia-Pacific region, including China. According to some analysts, U.S. interest in negotiating an expanded TPP was spawned by concerns that the United States could be left out of an emerging, highly-integrated and rapidly growing Asian economy. Asian nations have been actively pursuing greater economic integration in their region.
Economic containment of China is the immediate goal of the TPP despite claims by the White House otherwise. China is the United States’ second-largest trading partner, its third-largest export market, and the largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. During the past year China and Russia reached two natural gas deals worth a total of $725 billion. By 2020 China will get 25% of their natural gas from Russia which will be more than the Russians will be selling to Europe. This trade agreement undercuts plans of American natural gas producers to control the gas market to China and other Asian nations. The as-yet-to-be-constructed pipeline from Siberia will provide gas to China at a lower cost than the Americans can match.
In another deal Russia will double other petroleum exports to the People’s Republic. China also recently launched an Asians-only lending institution, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank with initial capital of $50 billion, to rival the Western-controlled Asian Development Bank which is part of the World Bank.
The American Empire’s military encirclement is not limited to China. The United States approved of and supported the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party in its Kiev coup ousting the democratically elected President of Ukraine. Ukraine is yet another chapter in the West’s ongoing, US-led military march threatening post-Soviet Russia, which began in the 1990s with NATO’s eastward expansion and continued with US-funded NGO political activities inside Russia, a US-NATO military outpost in Georgia and so-called “missile-defense” installations in Poland and Hungary near Russia.
U.S support for neo-Nazis in the Ukraine actually goes back further in our history. In the mid-1980’s, the Reagan administration was honeycombed with Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) members, with the group’s chairman Lev Dobriansky, serving as ambassador to the Bahamas, and his daughter, Paula, sitting on the National Security Council. President Ronald Reagan personally welcomed Yaroslav Stetsko, who oversaw the massacre of 7000 Jews in Lviv during the Second World War, into the White House in 1983.“Your struggle is our struggle,” Reagan told the former Nazi collaborator. “Your dream is our dream.”
A leaked phone conversation between Victoria Nuland, assistant U.S. Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine, has exposed the anti-democratic and colonialist character of the Obama administration’s intervention in the former Soviet republic. U.S. government officials speak frankly with one another about the real agenda—advancing Washington’s geo-strategic and economic interests in Eastern Europe by installing pro-US and anti-Russian puppet figures in the Ukrainian capital.
The demonization of Russian Leader Vladmir Putin in the Western liberal press is reminiscent of the demonization of the leaders of North Korea over the years.
The United States is pressuring Russia through several fronts in addition to the Ukraine situation. The 14,000 NATO troops being left in Afghanistan are part of the military encirclement which will support pressure through the Caspian Region and Central Asia. The continuous attempts by the U.S. to destabilize North Korea is also part of this strategy.
In addition to threats through NATO, the American Empire is pressuring Russia economically. Using the situation in the Ukraine as an excuse, the U.S. Congress has applied economic sanctions against Russia including denying the Russian Central Bank the ability to borrow money from Western Banks.
In September 2014 Germany brokered a cease-fire between Kiev and the rebels in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. The U.S. opposes peace in this region as they will have less reason to continue its pressure on Russia. A great part of the Russian economy is based on revenue from the sale of oil.
A week after the cease-fire agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry convinced the Saudis to increase oil production and at the same time to cut the price at which they were selling crude oil. It costs the Saudis about $30 to produce a barrel of oil while it costs near $100 for Russia to produce a barrel of oil. Since then the price being paid on the international markets for a barrel of crude oil has been around $70 a barrel – high enough for the Saudis to still make a good profit. This has directly caused the Russian economy approach collapse.
The previously noted economic sanctions against bank borrowing prevent the Russian Central Bank from taking action to stabilize their economy. On December 6, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives in 16 pages of war propaganda essentially declared war on Russia. H. Res. 758 was billed as a resolution “strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation, under President Vladimir Putin, which has carried out a policy of aggression against neighboring countries aimed at political and economic domination.” Representative Ron Paul commenting on this action stated, “If anyone thinks I am exaggerating about how bad this resolution really is, let me just offer a few examples from the legislation itself:
The resolution (paragraph 3) accuses Russia of an invasion of Ukraine and condemns Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. The statement is offered without any proof of such a thing. Surely with our sophisticated satellites that can read a license plate from space we should have video and pictures of this Russian invasion. None have been offered. As to Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, why isn’t it a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty for the US to participate in the overthrow of that country’s elected government as it did in February? We have all heard the tapes of State Department officials plotting with the US Ambassador in Ukraine to overthrow the government. We heard US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland bragging that the US spent $5 billion on regime change in Ukraine. Why is that OK?
The resolution (paragraph 11) accuses the people in east Ukraine of holding “fraudulent and illegal elections” in November. Why is it that every time elections do not produce the results desired by the US government they are called “illegal” and “fraudulent”? Aren’t the people of eastern Ukraine allowed self-determination? Isn’t that a basic human right?
The resolution (paragraph 13) demands a withdrawal of Russia forces from Ukraine even though the US government has provided no evidence the Russian army was ever in Ukraine. This paragraph also urges the government in Kiev to resume military operations against the eastern regions seeking independence.
The resolution (paragraph 14) states with certainty that the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 that crashed in Ukraine was brought down by a missile “fired by Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.” This is simply incorrect, as the final report on the investigation of this tragedy will not even be released until next year and the preliminary report did not state that a missile brought down the plane. Neither did the preliminary report – conducted with the participation of all countries involved – assign blame to any side.
Paragraph 16 of the resolution condemns Russia for selling arms to the Assad government in Syria. It does not mention, of course, that those weapons are going to fight ISIS – which we claim is the enemy – while the US weapons supplied to the rebels in Syria have actually found their way into the hands of ISIS!
Paragraph 17 of the resolution condemns Russia for what the US claims are economic sanctions (“coercive economic measures”) against Ukraine. This even though the US has repeatedly hit Russia with economic sanctions and is considering even more!
The resolution (paragraph 22) states that Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008. This is simply untrue. Even the European Union – no friend of Russia – concluded in its investigation of the events in 2008 that it was Georgia that “started an unjustified war” against Russia not the other way around! How does Congress get away with such blatant falsehoods? Do Members not even bother to read these resolutions before voting?
In paragraph 34 the resolution begins to even become comical, condemning the Russians for what it claims are attacks on computer networks of the United States and “illicitly acquiring information” about the US government. In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations about the level of US spying on the rest of the world, how can the US claim the moral authority to condemn such actions in others?
Chillingly, the resolution singles out Russian state-funded media outlets for attack, claiming that they “distort public opinion.” The US government, of course, spends billions of dollars worldwide to finance and sponsor media outlets including Voice of America and RFE/RL, as well as to subsidize “independent” media in countless counties overseas. How long before alternative information sources like RT are banned in the United States? This legislation brings us closer to that unhappy day when the government decides the kind of programming we can and cannot consume – and calls such a violation “freedom.”
The resolution gives the green light (paragraph 45) to Ukrainian President Poroshenko to restart his military assault on the independence-seeking eastern provinces, urging the “disarming of separatist and paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine.” Such a move will mean many more thousands of dead civilians.
To that end, the resolution directly involves the US government in the conflict by calling on the US president to “provide the government of Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal defense articles, services, and training required to effectively defend its territory and sovereignty.” This means US weapons in the hands of US-trained military forces engaged in a hot war on the border with Russia. Does that sound at all like a good idea?
There are too many more ridiculous and horrific statements in this legislation to completely discuss. Probably the single most troubling part of this resolution, however, is the statement that “military intervention” by the Russian Federation in Ukraine “poses a threat to international peace and security.” Such terminology is not an accident: this phrase is the poison pill planted in this legislation from which future, more aggressive resolutions will follow. After all, if we accept that Russia is posing a “threat” to international peace how can such a thing be ignored? These are the slippery slopes that lead to war. This dangerous legislation passed today, December 4, with only ten (!) votes against! Only ten legislators are concerned over the use of blatant propaganda and falsehoods to push such reckless saber-rattling toward Russia. “
The foolishness of our political masters is readily apparent. Suppose the People’s Republic of China decided it wants to sell all the U.S. government debt it holds? The dollar and the American economy would collapse. The Russians have a large debt payment coming due to European banks in 2015. Suppose they say that, since the attack on the ruble is political in nature, we won’t be able to make our debt payment at this time? We will pay later when the ruble is more stable. The total capital of a number of European banks consists of the Russian debt. What will happen to the European economy (and then the world economy) if large European banks start to fail?
The whole Western banking system was shown to be a house of cards in the 2008 economic debacle. Suppose that Russia decides that given the continuing threats from NATO along with the attack on the ruble,they will no longer sell natural gas or any other petroleum product to any NATO country? European governments would fall, NATO would collapse and the American Empire would speed up its fall into history as have so many empires that preceded it.