The United States has been in Afghanistan for 11 years. During the last decade, the Middle East has represented the stage for excellence where the North American troops have developed their activities. With the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as a starting point and the war on terror as the central argument, Washington and its allies have carried out an ambitious and costly military crusade that appears to be nearing its end. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq materialized in 2011, and the intervention in Afghanistan will come to an end this year. After a decade of active participation in the region, U.S. foreign military is beginning to individualize a new major area that will overturn its military power and become a new priority: the Asia-Pacific.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the only world superpower. The balance of power between two giants that characterized the Cold War evaporated, and Washington focused its efforts on unconventional enemies in the international political theory. The war against terrorism and the search for international security displaced the power equilibrium between nations as the priority of the global agenda.
Since Deng Xiaoping came to power in the People’s Republic of China in 1978, and thanks to the gradual and progressive liberalization of its economy, the Asian giant has experienced an extraordinary and sustained growth that has lasted more than 30 years. Oftentimes, the economic growth brings an increase in a country’s capacity to operate within the international system, and that is what has occurred with China in recent years. Beijing has positioned itself as an actor of growing importance in the arena of international relations. In recent years, it has transformed into the second world economic power and, if the trends persist, it could surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy on average in the 21st century. This constant growth is not only seen in the economy, but also in politics, technology and even their military forces. Beijing’s influence has already been felt strongly in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. At the same time, along with other powers such as Russia and India, China has started to occupy a space in the balance of planetary power that was empty after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Inside this new and changing global context, Washington is mobilizing its military power in the Middle East into new strategic points of Asia-Pacific, where the only objective continues to be containing Chinese expansionism. Within this strategy, Australia takes on a renewed importance. The United States has signed a military cooperation treaty with the authorities of Canberra. It permits U.S. forces to use the Robertson Barracks base in northern Australia and the Cocos Islands (located northeast of the Australian continent) as a platform for launching aircrafts and stationing troops. Adding this new deployment to the U.S. presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa and the strong influence of Washington over South Korea and Taiwan, there is a large strategic belt that is attempting to geopolitically corner China. Particularly with regard to the new Australia-U.S. military treaty, the forces stationed there are looking directly to halt Beijing’s intention to extend its sovereignty over the disputed South China Sea. The maritime space comprises more than 3.5 million square kilometers; it is potentially a reservoir of multiple natural resources and has a strategic location for the quantity of commercial vessels that circulate daily. Currently, sovereignty over the South China Sea is in dispute among a dozen countries, and the United States is giving a loud and clear message: They are not going to allow China to take over this valuable maritime area.
The war on terror has not ended; Washington will continue actively pursuing Al Qaeda cells and other organizations in the Arab world. Their constant presence and cooperation with local governments in the Middle East and North Africa prove it. What I intend to show with this analysis is that a new adversary to American global supremacy has been identified by Washington. All this seems to indicate that in the coming decades, the Far East and Asia-Pacific will be the setting where we will see the greatest tension of forces between the two prominent players of global politics in the 21st century.
Edited by Audrey Agot