Let’s call it SPITTO! That would be the all-Asia/Pacific military alliance that the United States would dearly love to have to contain China, the way it created NATO to contain the Soviet Union in the post-World War II era. The “South Pacific Treaty Organization” (SPITTO) has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Yesterday’s announcement by the Obama administration that it is resuming military ties with the mass-murdering war criminals of Indonesia’s special forces ought to give us pause. Because the new relationship with Kopassus, the Indonesian thugs, has little or nothing to do with concrete U.S. interests in Indonesia – do we have any, anyway? – and everything to do with building a Great Wall around China.
Indeed, the headline in John Pomfret’s perceptive analysis in the Washington Post today says it all: “U.S. continues effort to counter China.” He reports that the administration is strengthening or rebuilding security ties with a wide range of countries surrounding China, including Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and adds:
“The Obama administration's announcement Thursday that it will resume relations with Indonesia's special forces, despite the unit's history of alleged atrocities and assassinations, is the most significant move yet by the United States to strengthen ties in East Asia as a hedge against China’s rise.”
Indeed, while the American public is worried about the fearsome threat allegedly posed to U.S. national security by a few hundred ragged Al Qaeda operatives hiding in Pakistan, the real action in the long term will be U.S. efforts to inaugurate a new Cold War with China.
The deal with Indonesia’s Kopassus drew fire from critics instantly. Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy direction for Human Rights Watch, told the Post:
“In the Bush administration we saw them seek military allies regardless of human rights abuses in pursuit of the war on terror. [Obama] will seek military alliances regardless of human rights abuses – in response to China.”
Adding to the Red China paranoia, the New York Times helpfully points out that Indonesia was dropping hints “that the unit might explore building ties with the Chinese military if the [U.S.] ban remained.”
The Times notes that Kopassus is still a bad actor, even though Geoff Morell, the Pentagon spokesman, says that Kopassus has cleaned up its “dark past”: “Clearly,” he said, “it had a very dark past, but they have done a lot to change that.” Reported the Times:
“Indonesian rights organizations say that the unit has continued to commit abuses, especially in Papua, a mineral-rich island with a secessionist movement, since Indonesia began democratizing in 1998. They say that Kopassus has also been behind the kidnapping of human rights activists since 1998.”
The simple fact is that as China grows stronger, it will emerge as the hegemonic force in East Asia, and there’s not much that the cash-strapped, declining power of America can do about that. Far better than to engage in misguided efforts to “contain” China, the United States ought to try to figure out what steps it can take to encourage China to loosen its internal system of political authoritarianism. I don't think that surrounding China with U.S. military allies will do much to convince China’s leaders that they ought to think about liberalizing. Just a hunch.