Thursday, September 29, 2011

AN EMPIRE WITH A “JAIPUR FOOT”




The crescendo of “shrieks of class war” in Washington is shaking the foundations of post war “consensual empire”. The empire is falling apart with its two legs - money and military - unable to march in tandem. The problems plaguing the dollar are being diagnosed almost every second. However, Pentagon’s plans in the era of weak economics are not adequately highlighted by the Indian media and the strategic community that is busy making forays into the South China Sea.

The US armed forces need money to maintain military bases and ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. For the year 2012, Pentagon has proposed a budget of $671 billion. The White House reeling under the burden of huge deficits has asked Pentagon to slash its budgets and contribute at least $350-400 billion as notional savings over a period of ten years. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen is palpably unhappy with such orders. Speaking to a gathering of business executives in Washington he said that Pentagon would do its bit but was not obliged to be "billpayer for everyone." Such statements are in sharp contrast to what the former US Defence Secretary Roberts Gates said a few months ago about the cuts, “Any nation – could only be as militarily strong as it was economically dynamic and fiscally sound.”

Mullen and other military officials will have to answer many more uncomfortable questions in times of class war. The politically awake “Paul” is asking “Peter” - how come you have no money for me, but you obviously have money to spend on maintaining some 700 odd military bases abroad that are manned by roughly 2, 55,000 soldiers, accounting for roughly 50% of the global defence spending. Paul is also pointing fingers at money guzzlers like the F-35 project that is costing more than the Australian GDP (($924 billion). Pentagon has ordered 2,443 of these 5th generation aircraft. Thousands of the not-so rich and poor Americans protesting on the Wall Street are asking – why should they tighten their belts when the country has enough money to train approximately 100,000 foreign soldiers annually in 180 countries around the world.

Undeterred by union-walas, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta puts up a clichéd argument that budget cuts “would do catastrophic damage to our military and its ability to protect the country." Panetta, a true-blue ‘class’ warrior, and a votary of balancing the deficit and debt by slashing benefit and pension programmes favours building more military bases overseas and training more foreign personnel. It is for this reason that the US military is reopening its drone base in the Republic of Seychelles. The base opened in September 2009 was closed down early this year.

Seychelles  a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean is locates about 1000 miles off the east coast of Africa. The US plans to base MQ-9 Reaper UAV at the Mahe airport, Seychelles. Reaper, the pilotless vehicle has an endurance of 30 hours and can log maximum speeds up to 275 mph, this gives the US wide range of options for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering over the vast stretches of Indian Ocean. In addition the US also plans to use PC-3c Orion from Mahe. It is reported that drones are also to be fitted with Hellfire missiles and bombs. All this is being achieved by positioning only about 75 odd US soldiers on the island. The Seychelles base is in addition to the one already existing in Djibouti and another one is likely to open in Ethiopia. All this infrastructural development is happening in the name of ‘anti- piracy’. One doesn’t know when some eminent strategic thinker will start referring to these bases as a string of diamonds and make them as popular as the Chinese ‘string of pearls’.  

While we are continuing to focus on Chinese entry into Africa, the US is building robust inroads into African militaries. Four years ago, the US had launched an international security cooperation initiative - Africa Partnership Station (APS) - under the tutelage of   Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. According to a press release of the US Sixth Fleet, “APS is aimed at strengthening global maritime partnerships through training and collaborative activities in order to improve maritime safety and security in Africa.” Last month, about 40 students from Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius and the Seychelles were trained at Mauritius under the APS programme.

If in Africa, the raison d’être for military bases and alliances is piracy, in Asia, China is the bête noire that has to be dealt with. Since, pentagon is short on cash; countries like India and Japan are being wooed to help maintain the empire. The American expects these two strategic allies to help take a large chunk of their naval burden in the region. The India navy is being courted by the US Pacific Command to behave as a big daddy in the Indian Ocean and to act as an enfant terrible in South China Sea. 

Japan is being urged to become a “normal” state and give up their fetish for ‘self defence”. Washington has rekindled Tokyo’s imperial instincts, by helping it setup its first ever post war overseas military base in Djibouti. India too is being incorporated into the same game plan. Japan’s former Prime Minster Shinzo Abe on his recent visit to India, openly urged India to abandon any thoughts of making any alliance with China. Speaking at the Indian Council for World Affairs Shinzo Abe elaborated – “China will remain both an opportunity and a risk for a long time to come. America meanwhile is destined to become weaker in relative terms. But let us not jump onto a wrong bandwagon and choose a wrong partner… there is no question which side we, Japan and India, should take.” Listening to Shinzo Abe it was difficult to comprehend his motives for the visit -was it Indo-Japanese bilateral ties or to pitch for America?

The dollar driven leg of the empire is on the verge of being amputated. This would make the American military leg limp before the last fall. But despite the glaring reality, the 21st century Churchills’ in America don’t want to give up on the empire so easily. Therefore, all “maritime democracies” are being asked to pitch in their naval resources to help make a “Jaipur foot” for the one-legged empire - limping from Tokyo to Delhi.