Friday, October 07, 2016

Think of Yourself as Collateral Damage

We're all familiar with the reality of collateral damage these days. An Afghan wedding party gets disrupted by an uninvited guest in the form of a thousand pound high explosive bomb dropped on what was mistakenly thought to be a group of terrorists. Or sustained attacks on war zone hospitals run by Medicins sans Frontieres. Something big moves, something small gets flattened.

A lot of Canadians wonder why Canada should be so eager to sign on to the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP. What do we get out of it? By the government's own admission, next to nothing. The best argument I've heard for it from our government is that we'll be worse off if we don't. What's that, extortion? "Nice place ya got here. It'd be a shame if somethin happened to it."

Extortion? It just might be. That comes through when you think of the Trans Pacific Partnership as America's geopolitical wet dream. For what is a trans-Pacific deal that deliberately excludes Asia's largest economy, China? Chances are it's a gambit, disguised as a trade deal, that's really intended to target China. And it comes with collateral damage, ordinary people in Canada for starters.

I read an interesting defence of the TPP in Foreign Policy. It wasn't written by some economist. No, it was penned by retired four-star US Navy admiral, Jim Stavridis, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. To Stavridis, the failure of the TPP initiative would be America's Brexit.

The case for the TPP is economically strong, but the geopolitical logic is even more compelling. The deal is one that China will have great difficulty accepting, as it would put Beijing outside a virtuous circle of allies, partners, and friends on both sides of the Pacific. Frankly, that is a good place to keep China from the perspective of the United States, and the treaty thus brings together not only Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other Asian partners, but also Chile, Mexico, Canada, and Peru. The obvious missing member from Asia is South Korea, but indications are clear that over time South Koreans will want to be part of the agreement. This will be relatively easy to facilitate as South Korea already has a robust bilateral trade agreement with the United States....What is particularly compelling about the TPP, however, is the geopolitical argument in its favor. Three key points are especially salient:

China is on the march in Asia. Beijing intends to claim essentially the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters, based on preposterous historical arguments soundly rejected by international courts. It continues to build artificial islands, destroy reefs, and practice hybrid maritime warfare with unmarked sailors in “fishing boats” intruding aggressively into Japanese, Philippine, and Vietnamese waters. China clearly intends to be the dominant actor in East Asia, and absent a strong U.S. presence, it will succeed. An Asia dominated by China does not serve U.S. interests for a host of reasons, especially given the economic vitality of the region.

This is a moment of real vulnerability for many Asian nations. The unpredictable Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is watching this potential U.S. Brexit from Asia and already talking about increasing military ties with China. Vietnam, historically wary of its massive neighbor to the north, frequently discusses its vulnerability with U.S. leaders. Japan is rattled by Chinese activity around the Senkaku Islands, and even South Korea — which maintains strong ties with China — is worried about Beijing’s seeming reluctance to rein in the behavior of its client state, North Korea. A U.S. failure to maintain a strong economic presence in the region — highlighted by the TPP — will have significant negative effects on our political and diplomatic position over time.

Sending U.S. aircraft carriers is not enough. Some would argue that the United States can exert all the influence it needs to by simply sending enough Carrier Strike Groups sailing through the western Pacific. That kind of simplistic “show the flag” argument doesn’t work in the 21st century; we are more than 100 years on from Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. A nation’s influence is the composition of its military, cultural, political, and — above all — economic influence. As the leader of what would be the largest free-trade zone in the world, the United States would continue to exert real leadership in this crucial region.

...Over 2,500 years ago, during the Zhou dynasty, the philosopher-warrior Sun Tzu wrote the compelling study of conflict The Art of War. There is much wisdom in that slim volume, including this quote: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” The United States can avoid conflict best in East Asia by using a robust combination of national tools — with the TPP at the top of the list. Looking across the Atlantic to the Brexit debacle, we must avoid repeating the mistake in the Pacific.

The clear winner if the United States rejects the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be China, and an increasingly authoritarian and regionally dominant President Xi Jinping will be cheering the loudest.

Leaving Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen aside, you can hardly go wrong taking geopolitical advice from an American general or, in this case, admiral. Those guys are the pros from Dover.

The line I like best is this: "The United States can avoid conflict best in East Asia by using a robust combination of national tools — with the TPP at the top of the list." I guess admiral Jim has forgotten that America was trying the very same thing he proposes only against Japan right up to the morning of  December 7, 1941 - Pearl Harbor.

If the TPP isn't going to do much for Canada and the price for so very little is to be herded into America's geopolitical corral for the purpose of isolating and containing China shouldn't we at least be holding out for something a lot better?


Owen Gray said...

It's called Realpolitik, Mound.

The Mound of Sound said...

I call it RealDangerous, Owen, especially given the character driving this bus. I mentioned in my post what a similar policy led to on December 7, 1941. I omitted mentioning the weapons involved in ending that.

Northern PoV said...

Meanwhile China restores and secures its historic role as hegemon of the South China Seas via military and diplomatic strength.
One Road One Belt proceeds while the US pivot turns into a spin.