US Shifts Priority Strategic Gaze From Middle East To Western Pacific – Analysis


Geopolitical power games between United States and China, short of war, essentially boils down to a game of generating strategic pressure points against each other. China’s intrusive moves into Afghanistan and Iran seem to have led United States to shift its priority strategic gaze from the Middle East to Western Pacific.

United States strategic shift to Western Pacific along with US European and Asian Allies needs to be seen as an initial ‘China Deterrence’ strategy which  if China still persists in military adventurism may graduate to full-scale ‘China Containment’ strategic blueprint.

Sound strategic sense dictates imperatives for United States to shift its strategic gaze away from the Middle East as the Western Pacific is more critical region for US national security interests. United States has more strategic interests in Western Pacific like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan whose security against a rising China Threat needs US security assurances by way of a “push-back’ to China’s muscular aggression in the region.

Needless to state that South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines form the Outer Defense Perimeter for security of Homeland United States.

The United States shift of strategic gaze from Middle East to the Western Pacific was in the works for some time but could not be implemented substantially till such time US Forces stood embedded in Afghanistan. Hence, it is not the case that the US strategic gaze shift was an impulsive one triggered by US political fatigue in Afghanistan.

United States military exit from Afghanistan therefore can now be analysed retrospectively as the United States cutting its losses in Afghanistan which had in 2021 emerged as a ‘Non-Performing Asset and diverting and reinvesting its military resources to Western Pacific where more strategic dividends would accrue to United States relative to the China Threat.

China till lately has had a free run in the Western Pacific exploiting United States strategic distractions in Afghanistan and Iraq which enabled China to build Chinese Navy power to empower China to indulge in unrestrained aggression in South China Sea against ASEAN smaller nations and against Japan in the Senkaku Islands and prowling in the Sea of Japan and Japan Inland Sea. 

Also, the decade of the 2000s in which China could uninterruptedly build up the Chinese Navy from ‘brown water’ capabilities to ‘blue water’ strategic forays emboldened China to have the temerity challenge US naval might in the Western Pacific, mindful of fact that United States was militarily thin in Western Pacific because of Afghanistan. 

US President Trump in response to China’s aggressive moves initiated a dual policy of reinforcing US military posture in Western Pacific combined with a US-China Trade War. The latter seems to have rattled China more than US military moves.

China was not expecting incoming US President Biden to continue with President Trump’s hard-line China-policy. But President Biden wisely opted to continue with the past hard-line policy towards China. This seemingly seems to have provoked China into more hyper-active moves using Pakistan Army to instigate Afghan Taliban to intensified suicide bombings and terror attacks in Afghanistan to prompt a hurried United States military exit from Afghanistan.

Afghanistan with US Forces embedded did provide the United States with a strategic pressure point against China in relation to Xingjian and China’s restive Western Frontiers. But with China having created a stronger pressure point against the United States over Taiwan, and with Taiwan having a greater call on the United States than Afghanistan, it was but natural that the United States should generate greater strategic pressure in Western Pacific.

China has itself to blame in that its intensified military brinkmanship against Taiwan and open threats of military intervention, coupled with making Afghanistan more volatile by use of Pakistan Army and Afghan Taliban, the United States opted for prioritising Western Pacific over the Middle East.

Incorporated in United States marked strategic shift to Western Pacific visible for some time now has been the renewed diplomatic drive by Biden Administration towards its traditional Allies –South Korea and Japan, reclaiming the Philippines and enlisting new strategic partners like Vietnam. The US-India Strategic Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is getting more integrated and institutionalised.

In tandem, multilateral grouping like the QUAD Coalition activities in maritime interoperability, joint exercises in Indian Ocean and Western Pacific are particularly noticeable. Powerful Navies of United States, Japan, Australia and India regularly exercising in China’s vicinity should be sending appropriate messages to China. That the messaging has been successful can be noted from the rattled responses of China.

The United States has last week sent an even more powerful message to China of its intent and scope that the Western Pacific will be a priority strategic focus in US global strategy when it announced the formation of the Australia-UK-United States Security Alliance supplementing the QUAD Coalition.

Encouragingly, with NATO and European Union coming alive to the evolving China Threat coupled with President Biden and his Administration reaching out to its European Allies, earlier ruffled by the Trump Administration, France, UK and even Germany have sent their Naval Patrols to the Western Pacific which is an expression of solidarity with United States strategy to confine China within reasonable limits.

China has limited options in terms of generating counter-strategic points against the United States on the Western Peripheries of Asia now that the United States has strategically written off Afghanistan and Syria. China’s countermoves in the Eastern Mediterranean will not ruffle the United States as that region can be manged by NATO with its Southern Flank strategies.

In fact, NATO Strategic Blueprint till the 2030s consequently accords special focus to East Mediterranean security and security of NATO Southern Flank.

Concluding, while nothing can be ruled out in geopolitical power games between United States and a strategically irrational China with ‘Revisionist Impulses’, what can be predicted with certainty is that should China undertake a military intervention to unify Taiwan by force, the United States, unlike China’s takeover of the South China Sea, is better prepared for that contingency with both its Asian and European Allies standing alongside. 

Dr. Subhash Kapila

Dr Subhash Kapila combines a rich and varied professional experience of Indian Army Brigadier ( Veteran), diplomatic assignments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan. Served in India's Cabinet Secretariat also. He is a Graduate of Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley, UK, Msc Defence Studies from Madras University and a Doctorate in Strategic Studies from Allahabad University. Papers have been presented by him in International Seminars in Japan,Turkey, Russia and Vietnam. Credited to him are over 1,500 Papers on geopolitical & strategic topical issues and foreign policies of USA, Japan, India, China and Indo Pacific Asia. He has authored two Books : "India's Defence Policies & Strategic Thought: A Comparative Analysis" and "China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives"

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