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Adrian DEYDIER M1 SGAT

Drivers of Danger and Opportunity in the


Indo-Pacific
What was the greatest danger or opportunity for the USA flowing from the pivot to
Asia - and what were the driving and constraining factors?
The pivot to Asia policy was described as a means to retire from the Middle East for the
US military. The stakes were deemed too high and the costs of their involvement in the
region as well. The idea was to take a little break from such a conflictive context. That said,
Obamas pivot policy can also be seen as forming part of a containment plan towards China.
PRCs tendency not to respect international normativity and aggressive methods always
have been cause for concern. In short, the strategy had the double objective of backing off
a bit from the Middle East, while at the same time flexing some muscle in the South Asian
region to show USAs Pacific allies they hadnt been left on their own. This triggered a
negative response from the Chinese however, who only saw a hostile gesture in the US
maneuver.

Increasing the military presence in Chinas vicinity may have slowed PRCs actions but
it increased tensions. We will show the US pivot turned out to be counterproductive
because it didnt take into account that this regions integration is actually taking place
through non-traditional security issues. The pivot was a realist approach: it always was
about containing China, not merely signing another economic cooperation treaty. All
arguments will nonetheless be counterbalanced with solutions for Australia to defuse this
situation, turning them into opportunities for growth and regional stability, thanks to its
pivotal location and status.

The fact Australia presented itself as supporting the US pivot couldnt logically be
appreciated by Beijing. 2,500 US Marines on Australian soil may not be much but it stands
as a strong symbol, almost like turning the back on their Chinese neighbor. Now, from a
liberal perspective, economy is one of the best assets to build regional integration upon,
and it is widely known that Australia relies heavily on China. This reliance takes the form
of shipping trends, but this reliance goes two-ways. For example, China needs Australian
iron ore to replace its low quality domestic ore and Australia needs to sell their production1.
Australia can take advantage of its position to help the US pivot getting Chinas approval
in the future, and therefore balancing its dominance in the region. In the meanwhile, both

1
David BAYNE, Trends affecting the Australian maritime industry , 2016, Drewry Maritime Advisors.
the US and China will probably turn to Australia for commerce, since all trading may well
be cancelled between the two of them in case of open conflict2.

From the precedent factor for an escalation of tensions stems another one: security.
Economic war is probable in this context of increased US military presence near China, and
economic war leads to actual conflict. As Clausewitz put it, war is a mere continuation of
policy by (sic)3 other means4. Here, Australia will have different choices to make,
depending on the intensity of the conflict. An actual and ideological US-China war would
most likely see Australia joining the US for good, because of its occidental and capitalist
culture5. But if the war turned out to be a brief conflict, it would be possible for Australia
to defend its interests in China; such course of action would improve relations with China,
protect its economic assets and affirm its independence from the American superpower.
Some Australian pacifist groups support this theory6.

The security concern leads to a single internal matter of capital importance for Australia:
its home affairs. Its populations security could be attained through a well-rounded and
successful foreign policy making. The USAs pivot is openly more about Chinas
containment, which hasnt helped to reach peaceful relations in the region7. Australia could
take its chances to become a pivotal power by taking the lead on an international security
concern. Proving they can take matters into their own hand and work out solutions without
US assistance would boost Australians confidence in their government. The experience in
dealing with such an external threat would also be profitable for its internal stability,
focusing on building confidence among its diverse population rather than allowing
antagonist bands to form8.

2
Giovanni DI LIETO, Would a USChina trade war pay dividends to Australia?, 2017, Australian Strategic Policy
Institute.
3
James HOLMES, Everything You Know About Clausewitz Is Wrong, 2014, The Diplomat.
4
Carl VON CLAUSEWITZ, On War, Chapter I.
5
People, Culture and Lifestyle , Australian Governments Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.
6
Questioning the value of the Australia/US alliance, 2015, Marrickville Peace Group.
7
Harry SEAVEY, The Short-sightedness of Americas Pivot to Asia, 2016, Yale Review of International Studies.
8
Judy LATTAS CRUISING, 2007, 'Moral Panic' and the Cronulla Riot.
A well conducted diplomacy is also essential to avoid an eventual armed conflict. This is
where we will see how Donald Trump fares, since his administration hasnt yet confirmed
what shape the US pivot is going to take9. The TPP fiasco and the missile strike on Syria
however may be more than just an omen of Trumps unforeseeable nature. Be as it may, it
Australia can encourage a regional organization without the US; but such an organization
must be seen as a goal to reach in the future, after several years of diplomatic efforts and
showing a good will to participate in the regions non-traditional security issues10. This
organization also needs to be more than just about economy.

But before any such treaties of cooperation can be ratified, an understanding of each other
is crucial. The cultural factor is thus very important. Occidentals in general, and Americans
in particular, have a clearly different view of the world than (for instance) the Chinese.
Some authors refer to American exceptionalism and orientalism to decipher the peculiar
way Americans view themselves as well as perceive alterity11. And China is one huge alterity
the US and the whole Asian region have to deal with. This is a good opportunity for
Australia to build a bridge between western and Asian-oriental cultures: its pivotal location
and multicultural population is a bonus for Australia, if there is a strong drive to achieve
such a role12.

Given these points, we can say the US pivot didnt quite work as expected. It was
always a realist maneuver poorly disguised as a display of good will to allow for a peaceful
relation with China. It turned out to exacerbate their paranoia when the USA conducted
this containment policy against them. Still, Australia has some tools to gamble with, if it
wants to take profit of its pivotal situation to defuse tensions abroad and, by implication,
within its own borders.

9
Marc CHANDLER, State of US pivot to Asia , 2017, Marc to Market (blog).
10
Erin ZIMMERMAN, 2014, Security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific: non-traditional security as a catalyst, Journal
of the Indian Ocean Region, DOI:10.1080/19480881.2014.922325.
11
Meghana V. NAYAK and Christopher MALONE, 2009, American Orientalism and American Exceptionalism,
A Critical Rethinking of US Hegemony, International Studies Review, Vol. 11, No. 2.
12
Anthony BERGIN, Is Australia a pivotal power? , 2013, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Link-ography
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name-1.458527#.WOt8dqLfOM9
http://www.business-standard.com/article/international/will-trump-complete-the-pivot-
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partnership-trade-deal/?utm_hp_ref=au-homepage
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http://www.portsaustralia.com.au/assets/Uploads/Bayne-David-Trends-affecting-the-
Australian-maritime-industry-Oct-2016.pdf
http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/clausewitz-war-as-politics-by-other-means
https://web.archive.org/web/20120512195954/http://dfat.gov.au/facts/people_culture.htm
l
http://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/docs/071-MarrickvillePeaceGroup.pdf
https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/is-australia-a-pivotal-power/
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