The geopolitical term “Pacific Pivot” refers to a proposed 21st century US foreign policy strategy of withdrawing military dominance in the Atlantic theater in order to concentrate on military dominance in the Pacific theater. (This in itself is ironic, considering that the Pacific Ocean’s name comes from the Latin word “pacificus” = peaceful.) This article will explain why such a strategy would be a terrible mistake, and why the exact opposite approach is needed.
For the past five centuries the seat of global power has revolved around the Atlantic basin—from Columbus to NATO. However, today China’s population of 1.4 billion outnumbers the EU by 3.7 times, the US by 4. India is set to overtake China in population by 2030, due to India’s failure to implement state-controlled measures to slow down the runaway population (as China has done with its admirable One Child Policy). Taking into account population size, economic power, and demand for resources, it is clear in which direction global power will shift in the 21st century.
Advocates of the Pacific Pivot perceive the rise of the Indo-Pacific region as a danger to both the US and the rest of the world. Specifically, they are convinced that, should WWIII ever break out, its seeds will be sowed in this region. The Pacific Pivot is hence, as they perceive it, a pre-emptive guard against such an eventuality. (In recent times, this psychology is best seen in Donald Trump’s patently insane rhetoric against North Korea, which is nevertheless believed by a worryingly large fraction of US voters.) But does their perception hold up to scrutiny?
While China, North Korea, India and Pakistan are indeed nuclear-armed states, their stockpiles are minuscule compared to those of Russia and the US, and are in fact even far outnumbered by that of Israel. Pacific Pivot advocates tell us that Japan constantly feels threatened by North Korea and/or China, but this conveniently ignores the reality that the most prominent street-level Japanese protests are in opposition to US military bases on Japanese territory that (at least according to Pacific Pivot advocates) supposedly protect them from North Korea and China! If even Japanese, living in much closer proximity to North Korea and China than the US and with no nukes (or even a significant military) of their own, do not feel unsafe, how much sense does it make for Americans, living so much further away and with so many nukes, to feel directly endangered by North Korea and/or China?
If Americans wish to better understand the workings of other side of the Pacific – and understand we must if we are to formulate foreign policy that, unlike Trump’s, does not make the US appear mentally ill – it behooves us to study at least modern Pacific history.
While Japan, which had maintained isolationism for centuries prior to the modern era, finally caved in under Western pressure to itself adopt Western attitudes during the latter part of the 19th century (and as a result ignobly participating in things such as the Boxer Protocol and imposing the Twenty-One Demands on China), it began to come to its senses and distance itself from the West during the early 20th century. These attitudes culminated during WWII, when Japan became the first west Pacific nation to put up a strong enough fight to heroically break the backbone of Western colonialism in the region. Although Japan’s foothold in the west Pacific was only temporary, the anti-Western attitudes it encouraged in liberated nations sent shockwaves throughout the region for decades to come. It also introduced to the world arguably one of the most important ideas in the history of the Pacific basin: the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Soon after US independence, Americans declared ourselves guardians of the New World under the Monroe Doctrine. The Doctrine declared that colonialism by Western powers was no longer welcome in the Americas, implicitly giving support to the ongoing Latin American struggles for independence. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere can be seen as Japan’s upgraded version of the Monroe Doctrine—justly using force to overthrow Western colonial rule. Admittedly, there continued to exist among the Japanese the old pro-Western camp who merely desired for a nominal Co-Prosperity Sphere to end up as a Japanese colonial empire such that Japan could be recognized as a fellow Western power. However, there also existed among the Japanese a sincere anti-Western camp who wished for Japan to turn over a new leaf and leave the Western-inspired days of the 19th century behind. Japan did not win WWII, and therefore the two camps never reached the stage when they would have clashed. But why do Western historians neglect to draw attention to the latter camp, while giving so much attention to the former? The reason is simple: fear of an anti-Western alliance re-forming in the Sinosphere.
It cannot be denied that global decolonization would have been delayed many decades if not centuries, or might even never have occurred at all, if the Western victors of WWII did not have to face up to the hypocrisy of casting Germany, Italy and Japan as “racists bent on world domination,” while themselves having massive segregated colonial empires spanning the entire globe. India, Indonesia, and even China were only given a chance to shine because of the actions taken by the Land of the Rising Sun against their colonial aggressors.
The economic reality is that the west Pacific in the 21st century will likely be led by China rather than Japan. Nevertheless, simple understanding of geography tells us that the nations along the Pacific basin will share a common destiny. It is imperative that all nations in the Pacific basin learn from early modern Japan’s ideological mistake of eagerly taking up Western practices in order to compete with, and worse, prove itself worthy of “respect” from, its own former oppressors.
Most of the world’s problems during the last 500 years (from colonialism, to industrialization, to nuclear weaponry and the urge for space colonization) have been inflicted by a small minority (i.e. Western Civilization)—can you imagine how bad things could get if the majority of Earth’s population comes around to embrace Western Civilization? If the situation is allowed to deteriorate to this level, it may be impossible to reverse. To make unambiguous how deeply rooted these problems are, even should Western Civilization—including “whiteness”—ever disappear from Europe, Western Civilization itself will not necessarily die so long as China, India, and others reiterate Japan’s mistake, and we should not underestimate their proclivity to do so. Many Americans believe that China only began Westernizing after it gave up on communism. In fact, Maoists were pro-Western on many issues (especially education) except economics and democracy, indeed Mao Zedong had to at first present communism itself to the masses as an “alternative form of Western government” (Marx being an apparent ‘Westerner’) because Western governmental forms were all that the masses were interested in during the early 20th century. Sun Yatsen was even more pro-Western, particularly pro-democrat. Even back in the Qing Dynasty there was enthusiasm towards Western education along with ideas of establishing constitutional monarchy.
Neither should we underestimate, on the other hand, the positive potential of China’s increasing global influence, so long as it rejects Westernization. As mentioned above, China’s One Child Policy has set a groundbreaking example for state control over reproduction that could be followed (and thereafter further developed) by all countries in the world, thus beginning the much-needed mission of cutting worldwide birth rates. But for this to happen, China must be confident enough to proactively campaign for such a policy to be adopted by the rest of the world. (In reality, the opposite has happened: China has recently, bowing to relentless Western condemnation, scaled back this policy to a considerably weaker Two Child Policy.)
Only time will tell if what emerges from the west Pacific is a heroic anti-Western culture, or if Western Civilization will merely succeed in adapting itself to a new host. If Americans wish to promote the former outcome rather than the latter, Western presence (by which we mean ANY manifestation of Western Civilization, including elements adopted by countries which are not geographically or ethnically connected to Europe) must be removed from the present-day Pacific, so that China and North Korea cease to feel besieged and thus cease to have to think constantly about defense.
Throughout human history, the most significant source of conflict has been competition for resources. The geopolitical expression of this conflict has most frequently taken place through changes in territorial borders. One might think that the Pacific Ocean provides a massive natural barrier preventing these conflicts, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The underlying purpose of the Trans-Pacific Partnership economic plan was to wrestle away China’s neighboring trading partners into a US-dominated trading bloc, so the US could then exert pressure on China. Thankfully, after years of campaigning against the TPP by groups from all parts of the political spectrum, it seems public opinion in the US has firmly turned against it–although, sadly, the perception of China by average American citizens has not significantly improved. Over the past decade, rightist propaganda has attempted to paint China as one of the post-Cold War “boogey men” that Americans should fear. This propaganda utilizes Americans’ misunderstanding of the national debt (the majority of which is not even owned by China), China’s growing economic prowess (while ignoring the fact that the US benefits from importing a tremendous amount of our goods from China), and China’s supposed ‘military ambitions’ (while ignoring the massive power imbalance between US and Chinese military technology and distribution of bases, and ignoring the US’s much greater aggression around the globe!).
Soon after taking office, Trump signed an executive order scrapping the TTP; however, he and his administration have shown that they are more than willing to carry on full steam ahead with the Pacific Pivot. Steve Bannon, who was regarded by many as one of the principal ideological drivers at the start of the Trump administration, has been highly antagonistic towards China and previously said war was “unavoidable”. While TPP supporters favored taking a slow and steady approach towards exerting US dominance on China, Trump favors a more direct approach. Trump’s stance on the TPP should be a cause of concern, not celebration. Stopping the TPP will mean absolutely nothing if the Pacific Pivot itself is not stopped. China is not celebrating the death of the TPP because they know Trump did not scrap it with the intention of improving US-China relations.
According to United Nations conventions, countries have sovereignty over coastal waters within 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) of their shoreline. Beyond this boundary is International Waters. However, the same conventions ludicrously declare that a nation’s “Exclusive Economic Zone” extends 200 nautical miles from the shore. Within this zone nations get special liberties regarding exploitation of marine resources (despite being International Waters), but since economic interests are always intertwined with political interests, the boundaries of EEZs have recklessly caused tensions between nations to grow. This is in addition to the fact that many islands are used as military bases, which can easily send out air and sea forces to destroy
harmless vessels, thereby provoking an international incident hostile vessels “stealing” their marine resources, thereby “defending” their nation.
This is an especially huge issue today when ships are faster than ever before, can patrol for longer without resupplying, can deploy highly accurate weapons of massive destructive power, and when aircraft carriers can launch hundreds of planes which can travel around the world in a matter of hours—(not to mention the environmental destruction from drilling and burning the oil to power these ships, and the unprecedented cruelty of modern fishing fleets). The relatively compact borders and airspace of continental nations at least puts a predictable cap on where such nations may station their troops, but the vast expanse of the Pacific means that navies may threateningly patrol the coast of a nation an entire ocean away.
The US has islands checkerboarded throughout the Pacific (not to mention its countless bases in foreign nations). The US’s reach extends unparalleled across the entire Pacific—with territorial holdings stretching from Hawaii to Guam, and military bases in nations such as South Korea, Japan, Philippines, and Australia—and therefore they can potentially spark meaningless conflict by messing with any one of the numerous Pacific nations bordering their economic zone or those of occupied nations.
To defuse this ticking timebomb, the US needs to give up all of its military bases in the Pacific and all territorial holdings in the Pacific (each of which have the potential to be used as military bases). Steps which must be taken, in order of urgency, include:
1. Removal of all US military bases from foreign soil in the Pacific Basin.
2. Transfer guardianship of the former Pacific Trust Territories (today the countries of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Marshall Islands) from the US to closer nations which are better able to provide defense and trade.
3. Independence for all US territories in the Pacific (including Hawaii).
4. Independence for all other Western-controlled territories in the Pacific.
Once these steps are complete, the chance of WWIII being started in the Pacific will be virtually reduced to zero.
Moreover, it is not merely enough to reduce the size of the EEZs so that they no longer touch (history has shown us this much)—the concept of EEZs must be done away with altogether. Ultimately, US presence as an enforcer of Western rules and institutions must vanish from the Pacific altogether, at least for now. Only after the US proves that it has turned firmly anti-Western – and only thus truly American, for Americans only became American by themselves rejecting British colonial rule – can the US be trusted to rejoin the Pacific community.
So how does America go about proving that it has turned anti-Western?
The Pacific Pivot, because it calls for a withdrawal of US troops from the Atlantic theater (supposedly to redeploy them in the Pacific theater), would leave Israel open to create Greater Israel, Russia open to create Dugin’s Eurasia and the European far-right open to create their Fortress Europe, all of which would involve grand ethno-religious cleansing of Muslims and other so-called “Third Worlders” in all the affected lands – basically a colossally scaled-up version of the Srebrenica and related massacres in the Yugoslav Wars. For America to prove it has turned anti-Western, it simply needs to recognize that: 1) this potential open season on Muslims and so-called “Third Worlders” – for many years already a popular right-wing fantasy and increasingly spoken of as “inevitable civil war” by right-wing backlash agitators – is the true great danger of the 21st century; 2) US troops in the Atlantic theater could be the last line of protection for all these innocent people; and 3) it is indeed the duty of the US to provide such protection.
Looking at the full picture, we now see that the Pacific Pivot was never really about China (let alone North Korea!), but about removing US troops from where they could potentially stand in the way of this long-planned massacre. The only counter to it would be an Atlantic Pivot in which the US troops from the Pacific theater arrive to reinforce the Atlantic theater, with explicit readiness to stop this massacre from occurring. Without ignoring all the disgraceful and disastrous interventions by the US military in recent times, including Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, there was one US military intervention that Americans should always feel proud of, namely Operation Deliberate Force when US troops saved an untold number of Bosnian Muslim lives by bombing the Serbian forces. By the term “Atlantic Pivot”, we refer to a radical reboot of US foreign policy that holds up Operation Deliberate Force as the proper precedent to follow henceforth. This would see Israel rebranded as the enemy of the US with immediate effect, and any country in the Atlantic theater which endorses or emulates Israel in its treatment of Muslims and so-called “Third Worlders” placed in the same category. Total war against such enemies would be considered not only justified, but morally compulsory. Then, just as Japan redeemed itself in WWII, so too can America redeem itself yet.