By Perry Diaz
For more than a quarter of a century, the United States enjoyed the distinction of being the sole superpower in a unipolar world order after the Soviet Union imploded in a day. This was when then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991 and dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). What followed was a period that came to be known as “Pax Americana” – American Peace – or “New World Order” as the U.S.’s critics called it. Indeed, it was a world order that was built upon America’s military, economic, and diplomatic power, which provides geopolitical stability in a globalized economic system. As a consequence, America became the world’s peacekeeper – or policeman.
But one thing was sure then: the specter of nuclear war was gone. But not anymore. Today, with the emergence of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping who are challenging America’s geopolitical preeminence and military supremacy, the “Doomsday Clock” is once again ticking closer to midnight. Yes, never before had our small troubled planet been closer to nuclear annihilation than today.
In my article, “New World Disorder” (March 26, 2013), I wrote: “Upon his ascension to the presidency, Xi’s first venture outside China was to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At their summit in Kremlin last March 22, the two leaders agreed to form a ‘strategic partnership’ to advance their countries’ interests. They affirmed their mutual support for each country’s geostrategic and territorial interests, which include territorial disputes.
“At a joint press conference, Xi told the media: ‘China’s friendship with Russia guarantees strategic balance and peace in the world.’ But what he presumably meant to say was that the new China-Russia military-economic alliance would be so formidable that it would establish a new world order never seen before. In Xi’s mind, only a China-Russia military-economic alliance could stop the United States’ ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy.”
Three years after the ascendancy of Putin and Xi in their respective countries, the world is indeed in disorder. Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. And recently, Putin deployed Russian fighter jets to Syria to defend the regime of Bashar al-Assad against Syrian rebels in a bloody civil war.
Meanwhile, Xi didn’t waste any time in taking possession of the Scarborough Shoal and reclaiming seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea and building artificial islands on them. Satellite photos show runways and harbors that could be used to deploy military aircraft and warships; thus, militarizing the South China Sea, which China is claiming as having “indisputable sovereignty” over it. China could then impose an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around those artificial islands. If China gets away with this, she’d be in a position to project power in the South China Sea and turn it into “Lake Beijing.”
But China isn’t limiting her military reach to the South China Sea. She is also setting her sight towards the Indian Ocean… and beyond. Recently, China signed an agreement with Djibouti, which would give China her first offshore military base. With Djibouti strategically located at the mouth of Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a narrow chokepoint that connects the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal, China would be able to safeguard her maritime interests in the African continent and the Middle East.
A report prepared by the think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said: “Challenges like the U.S.’s deteriorating ties with Russia, China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and North Korea’s continued belligerence were shifting US military calculations.” It also said the U.S. needs to expand her military presence in the Asia-Pacific “to balance the shift in military power there.” The report, which was commissioned by the U.S. Congress, calls on the Obama administration “to station more nuclear attack submarines and littoral combat ships, bolster regional missile defense systems and negotiate for the US air force to be deployed at more airfields in the region.”
The report concluded: “If China’s economic, military and geopolitical influence continues to rise at even a modest pace… the world will witness the largest shift in the global distribution of power since the rise of the US in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
China is indeed rising and as she continues to rise, her appetite to gobble up territories has become more voracious. And for a good reason: With a burgeoning population – she just adopted a two-child policy (from a one-child policy) — she needs more food to feed them and more oil to keep the state machinery going. Thus, she has to go beyond her present domain to look for food and oil to replenish what she lacks at home.
It is apparent that the Indo-Asia-Pacific region would be the arena for the coming geopolitical battleground with a Russia-China axis vying for dominance. The U.S.’s Pax Americana is certainly on the decline but this doesn’t mean that the U.S. would disintegrate just like the Soviet Union 25 years ago. What we’re seeing is the emergence of a multipolar world order, where power is distributed among the three “great powers” today: U.S., Russia, and China. But like anything else in global politics, there is always one dominant player over the others, which begs the question: Who would be the dominant power of this new world order?
If the current geopolitical games were making any sense, the U.S. would clearly be the preeminent power in a multipolar world order. With the 28-member country North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) still serving as the structural backbone of the American superpower, the U.S. is forming other alliances around the world. In the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. is forging a quadrilateral strategic alliance with Japan, Australia, and India.
In 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wrote a piece titled “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” saying: “I envisage a strategy whereby Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. state of Hawaii form a ‘diamond’ to safeguard the maritime commons stretching from the Indian Ocean region to the western Pacific.”
With a U.S.-Japan alliance and a U.S.-Australia alliance already in place, the U.S. is working closely with India to form a strategic alliance that would protect India’s underbelly – the Indian Ocean, which India considers her “lake” – from Chinese intrusion. In addition, the U.S. has also defense treaties with South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Singapore. And together with her alliances with Japan and Australia, an impenetrable line of defense along the First Island Chain is formed; thus, containing China to the confines of the South China Sea.
Indeed, it’s just a matter of time before the Indo-Asia-Pacific region becomes the hegemony of that “security diamond.” And while China has gained some foothold in the South China Sea, it would remain open to international navigation.
At the end of the day, while Pax Americana might be coming to an end, Pax Pacifica would replace it, an era of relative peace in a multipolar world order.