'US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is halfway through his tour of the Asia-Pacific region. The tour’s timing, coming just weeks after Esper was officially sworn in, affirms the notion that the Pentagon’s top priority is China.
“Whoever sheds his blood for me today shall be my brother” – the closing lines from William Shakespeare’s play ‘Henry V’. These same words also apparently mark a corridor in a Pentagon hallway which pays homage to the military cooperation of New Zealand and the United States, especially during World War II.
I didn’t know this, but I do now, thanks to US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s recent statement as he arrived in New Zealand this week – part and parcel of a five-nation tour of the Asia-Pacific region which also includes Japan, Mongolia and South Korea.
Having only just been sworn into the job on July 23, the aim of the tour is mainly to recruit anti-Chinese and anti-Iranian allies that the US can rely on heavily to defend its interests in the Asia-Pacific region. I would even venture to bet that the recent mass shootings in the US, in light of the Christchurch terror attacks in March this year, barely attracted a mention behind closed doors between Esper and New Zealand government officials. Quite a risky contention, but I will find out if my assertion is true in about twenty working days as I have already requested the briefing notes from the meetings.
Despite the heavy focus of the US government and the mainstream media regarding Iran and the Gulf region of late, I also suspect China would be more of a focus for official talks with Esper than Iran would be. Countries like New Zealand are more than happy to toe Washington’s line with regard to the Iranian issue – just ask any Iranian who has tried dealing with Immigration New Zealand (INZ).
Let’s frame this issue in another way: the US doesn’t want mid-range missiles stationed throughout the region to combat Iran. Anyone who thinks they do is, simply put, an imbecile. As Foreign Policy explained, the “choice of Asia for his [Esper’s] first international trip since he was confirmed was a deliberate one, designed to signal that Asia remains the department’s top priority.”
That being said, I don’t need official information requests to determine if my assertions are correct or not, when I can just quote Esper directly.
“Our strategic competitors are China and Russia, principally, in that order,” Esper recently said.
This can be seen in the formal decision by the US to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. While on the face of it, it looks as if the US is directly taking action against Russia (and don’t get me wrong, it totally is doing that as well), the fact remains that the US wants out of this treaty because it was concerned it was limiting its ability to combat China in the Asia-Pacific theater.
This isn’t talked about often, but one needs to only look at the writings of some of the more influential and hawkish think tanks that typically do their utmost to assist US foreign policy in order to see what I am talking about. As stated by Thomas G. Mahnken, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments:
“I experienced the treaty’s [INF Treaty’s] shortcomings firsthand while serving as a deputy assistant secretary of defense under Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Since China was not party to the agreement, it was not required to follow the treaty’s rules. As a result, it was unconstrained in pursuing not only theater nuclear capabilities but also land-based conventional precision strike systems. Today, China possesses up to 2,650 land-based missiles of types that would be banned if it was party to the INF. These weapons, most of which are non-nuclear, pose a threat to US and allied air bases in the Western Pacific as well as US and allied naval forces, principally US aircraft carriers.”
This is also the current strategy of the Trump administration according to Esper himself, who openly referred to China’s missile arsenal while stating that “80 percent plus of their inventory is intermediate range systems, so that shouldn’t surprise them that we would want to have a like capability.”'
Read more: Why did the US exit INF Treaty? What you’re not being told
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