Asia: Pentagon Revives And Expands Cold War Military Blocs


The year before the Korean War began the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Western and Southern Europe to contain and confront the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. NATO opened the door for the Pentagon to maintain, expand and upgrade, and gain access to new, military bases in Europe from Britain to Turkey, Italy to Norway, West Germany to Greece.

During the Korean War and after its end in 1953 (with Greece and Turkey having been absorbed into NATO), the U.S. replicated the NATO model to varying degrees throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) Security Treaty was set up in 1951 as troops from all three nations were fighting in Korea. Australian and New Zealand troops would also fight under American command in the Vietnam War under ANZUS obligations.

In 1954 the U.S. and fellow NATO founders Britain and France created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) with Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines and Thailand as members and South Korea and South Vietnam as Dialogue Partners.

With U.S. encouragement and support, the next year Britain oversaw the creation of the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO), also known as the Baghdad Pact Organization, which included Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan. In 1958 the METO/Baghdad Pact supported the U.S.’s deployment of 14,000 troops to Lebanon under the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine.

After the anti-monarchical revolution in Iraq of the preceding year led to that nation leaving the bloc in 1959, METO was renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO): There could be no Baghdad Pact without Baghdad itself where its headquarters had been. (Half a century later the Iraqi capital is home to United States Forces – Iraq headquarters.)

METO/CENTO, like SEATO before it, was modeled after NATO and served the same purpose as the original: To encircle the Soviet Union and its allies and, in the first-named instance, allow the Pentagon to penetrate the USSR’s southern flank as NATO did its extended western one. CENTO was dissolved in 1979 after the revolution in Iran and the withdrawal of that country.

All Asia-Pacific SEATO members and partners except for Pakistan – Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and South Vietnam – provided the U.S. with troops for the war in Vietnam, but Pakistan withdrew in 1973 because SEATO hadn’t supported it in its 1971 war with India. France followed suit in 1975 and SEATO was disbanded two years later, three years after the U.S.-Chinese rapprochement formalized by Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1972.

With China the U.S.’s regional and global ally against the Soviet Union, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization served no further purpose.

ANZUS was weakened in 1984 when a new government in New Zealand forbade all nuclear weapons-capable and nuclear-powered ships from entering its ports. Two years later the Pentagon suspended security guarantees to New Zealand under the ANZUS Treaty, though Australia has maintained its obligations to both the U.S. and New Zealand.

The end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union a generation ago eliminated any conceivable rationale for the continuation of Cold War-era military blocs, but instead NATO has expanded from 16 to 28 full members in the interim and has also gained forty new cohorts under several partnership programs. NATO members and partners now account for over a third of the nations in the world.

The North Atlantic bloc, for example, includes Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia in its Mediterranean Dialogue program; Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in its Istanbul Cooperation Initiative; Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea as NATO Contact Countries; and Afghanistan and Pakistan are subsumed under the Alliance-led Tripartite Commission, which met again in Kabul last month. NATO and U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is now 150,000-strong.

All eight former Soviet republics in the South Caucasus and Central Asia are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace transitional program. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan also have Individual Partnership Action Plans and Georgia a specially designed Annual National Program.

NATO has expanded into former and current territory and integrated past and present members of SEATO, CENTO and ANZUS.

What has also been underway over the past eight years is the consolidation of what is referred to as an Asian NATO which ultimately will include most all members of CENTO, SEATO and ANZUS and dozens of other nations as well.

Australia has the largest contingent of troops – 1,550 – serving under NATO command in Afghanistan of any non-member state and New Zealand has over 200 doing the same with more on the way. Other Asia-Pacific states that have provided NATO with troops for the Afghan war are South Korea, Singapore, Mongolia and Malaysia.

The U.S. is using a 21st century expeditionary – a global – NATO as its meta-military bloc.

It is also developing closer bilateral military ties with every nation in Asia except China, North Korea, Myanmar, Bhutan, Iran and Syria.

During the last month and a half alone U.S. troops and warships have participated in military exercises in and off the shores of Cambodia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Vietnam and Nepal.

In the broader Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. led the biggest-ever biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games, the world’s largest multinational naval exercise, from June 23-August 1, with an estimated 22,000 troops, 34 ships, five submarines and over 100 aircraft involved.

RIMPAC military maneuvers were begun in the Cold War period (1971) and initially consisted of three nations: The U.S., Australia and Canada.

This year’s war games, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, featured the participation of five times as many countries: The U.S. and NATO allies Canada, France and the Netherlands. Asia-Pacific nations Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Tonga, and South American states Chile, Colombia and Peru. In addition, Brazil, India, New Zealand and Uruguay were invited to send teams of observers.

The quintupling of the number of nations participating in RIMPAC war games indicates the degree to which the Pentagon is integrating bilateral military partners into broader regional formations and ultimately into a global network, nowhere more so than with the war in Afghanistan. The majority of the Asia-Pacific nations in this year’s RIMPAC exercise – Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Tonga (which recent reports document will provide several hundred marines) – have assigned troops to serve under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in the South Asian country.

Last month’s Khaan Quest military exercise in Mongolia, the latest in a series of what until recently had been bilateral U.S.-Mongolian affairs, included troops from, in addition to the U.S. and the host nation, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

The 19-day Angkor Sentinel 2010 command post and field exercises in Cambodia ending on July 30 were led by U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Army Pacific and included in all over 1,000 troops, including contingents from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.

The U.S. is currently conducting the large-scale, 10-day Valiant Shield exercises on and near Guam, the new hub for the Pentagon’s operations in the Asia-Pacific region, with an aircraft carrier, amphibious ships and an Air Force expeditionary wing. On September 1 a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle was flown from California to the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.

The Pentagon is planning a $278 million program to expand interceptor missile testing on the Hawaiian island of Kauai for ship-based Standard Missile-3 (and soon land-based versions of the same in the Baltic and Black Seas regions) and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missiles. Washington’s strategy for a layered, global missile shield system already includes the participation of Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the Asia-Pacific area, with India soon to be included.

In a revival of ANZUS emblematic of the reactivation of U.S. Cold War military alliances, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell recently revealed that the U.S. and New Zealand will soon resume military training and joint exercises after a 26-year suspension of both.

U.S. military activity in Northeast and Southeast Asia has raised tensions with China to an intensity not seen since the first decade of the Cold War.

In late July the U.S. and South Korea held war games codenamed Invincible Spirit in the Sea of Japan with 8,000 troops, 20 ships and submarines – led by the USS George Washington nuclear-powered supercarrier – and 200 aircraft, including U.S. F-22 Raptors.

Last month USS George Washington and the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer led the first-ever joint naval exercises with Vietnam, in the South China Sea.

Shortly after those maneuvers ended the U.S. and South Korea began 11 days of war games in the second country, the latest of annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, this one featuring 27,000 American military personnel and 500,000 from South Korea.

USS George Washington is to head to the Yellow Sea in waters close to those claimed by China as part of its exclusive economic zone for more military exercises with South Korea, including anti-submarine warfare drills. The exercises were planned for September 5-9, but postponed because of a tropical storm. Last week Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell insisted that “The USS George Washington will indeed exercise in the Yellow Sea.”

Admiral Robert Willard, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, the largest of the Pentagon’s Unified Combatant Commands, was in South Korea in late July, in the Philippines in mid-August and in Japan the following week. The focus of his visits was China.

Last week Willard spent two days in India, a nation that until now has remained outside regional military blocs and that with its 1.1 billion citizens has a population larger than those of all SEATO, ANZUS and CENTO nations combined, the U.S., Britain and France included. Since then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee signed the New Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship in 2005, the Pentagon has strengthened ties with one of Asia’s two largest states.

While in New Delhi Admiral Willard met with Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, Admiral Nirmal Verma and General V.K. Singh, respectively the heads of India’s air force, navy and army. Later this month Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony and navy chief Verma will travel to Washington, D.C., and Verma will also visit U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.

India under Jawaharlal Nehru was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. Throughout the 40 years of the Cold War it never joined a military bloc.

Now, however, it is being recruited by Washington as both a bilateral strategic military ally and as a – as the largest and most decisive – partner in a U.S. organized Asia-Pacific military alliance that dwarfs in comparison the Pentagon’s earlier efforts in that direction from 1951 onward.

Not having a serious adversary, active or fancied, has never been an impediment to American military expansion throughout the Asia-Pacific region and indeed the rest of the world. In fact the lack of a credible challenger allows for accelerating the pace of the expansion. Never more so than now.

Rick Rozoff

Rick Rozoff is a journalist and blogger and many of his articles may be found at the Stop NATO blog.

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