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Monday, Aug. 27, 2007

Alliance can't hide its anti-China intent

LONDON — When you are creating a military alliance aimed at a third party, it's always best to swear that you are doing no such thing, and that you simply share common values with your prospective allies.

Addressing the Indian Parliament last Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, "This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests."

Notice how "strategic interests" was just tacked on at the end: Sort of "Oh, yeah, and that too, if anybody cares." That's how the game is played, and Abe didn't mention China at all.

But by defining this new partnership as an association of democracies, he neatly excluded China from the list of possible members: "By Japan and India coming together in this way, this 'broader Asia' will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia."

But not China. And it is not at all a coincidence that all the major members of this evolving alliance see China as a potential military threat.

In the U.S., according to recent public opinion polls, more than 50 percent of respondents said they saw China as their country's enemy. That doesn't mean it's true, but this is what Americans often hear because, like every country, the U.S. has a caste of military and civilian "analysts" whose main function is to come up with plausible future threats to justify the existing pattern of military expenditures.

Similar cottage industries exist in Japan and Australia, and one is rapidly emerging in India. Even in China there are soldiers and academics who make a career out of talking up the "American threat," but they are generally ignored and sometimes simply told to shut up by the Chinese regime, which doesn't want to add fuel to the flames that are already burning overseas. Whereas in the U.S., Japan, Australia and increasingly India, these people have the bit between their teeth.

Shinzo Abe is the most militaristic Japanese leader since World War II, but this grand alliance is not his idea. It is an American initiative that was gestating even under President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, but it really took off after President George W. Bush took office in early 2001.

Since Japan and Australia were already U.S. allies, the main task was to bring India, the emerging Asian giant with the potential to rival China, into the same alliance structure. That was not an easy task, since India had been nonaligned ever since its independence in 1947.

The U.S. imposed sanctions against India in response to its nuclear weapons tests in 1998, and U.S. legislation banned any trade in nuclear fuel or equipment with countries (like India) that refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It took a huge American diplomatic effort abroad and the expenditure of a lot of the Bush administration's political capital at home to get around those obstacles, but by this year the job was done.

In 2005 the U.S. agreed to lift the ban on U.S. nuclear exports to India, and India signed up to a military cooperation agreement that gives it access to the next generation of American weapons and commits it to joint military exercises with U.S. forces. India gets U.S. ballistic missile defense, and there are presumably secret clauses about cooperation on intelligence matters and maybe even on strategic planning.

Last year, the U.S. Congress obediently changed the law to give India access to American nuclear exports. It may not technically be an alliance, but it's definitely not just a sewing circle. If you need proof, just look at the White House's reaction when opponents of the alliance in the Indian Parliament tried to kill it.

The new U.S. law says that American nuclear aid to India will be cut off if the Indians test another nuclear weapon. Legislators in the Indian Parliament who dislike the alliance seized on this clause as a reason to reject the deal, claiming that it infringes on Indian sovereignty.

Washington wants this alliance so much that it has tied itself in knots to meet the objections of Indian politicians. Last month Bush went well beyond what the U.S. Congress had authorized, offering to help India set up a nuclear fuel repository so it can stockpile uranium against any interruption in the American supply, and even promising to help India to find other sources of nuclear fuel if Congress does cut off the supply (presumably after another Indian nuclear test).

These are not the actions of an administration that is lukewarm about the alliance with India. In fact, India is the keystone of the new U.S. strategy in Asia, and Washington will do almost anything to keep it in place.

As for Abe's visit to New Delhi, it is part of the tidying-up process where America's existing allies in the region also expand their direct defense ties with the new Indian ally. The Australians have been at it too, as have various South-East Asian countries.

These people are not nearly as clever as they think they are. If they go on like this, they will probably end up with a new Cold War in Asia.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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