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How TPP Stands To Significantly Boost U.S. Military Power In Asia-Pacific Region

While the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a boon for agribusinesses, pharmaceutical companies, and corporations intent to sue governments to erode regulations, including environmental and labor protections, WikiLeaks cables suggest it also stands to significantly boost United States military power in the Asia-Pacific region.

The TPP was negotiated between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Through the exclusion of China, the U.S. developed the agreement to challenge the assertiveness of a major superpower in the region.

In Atlanta, on October 4, negotiations concluded and an agreement between the twelve countries was announced.

In reaction to the deal, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated, “American military strength rests on the foundation of a vibrant economy.”

The defense secretary explained the TPP will promote an “Asia-Pacific regional security architecture where everyone rises and prospers.” The TPP will “reduce regional instability and cement American influence and leadership in this fast-growing region in the world.”

Statements from Carter on the value to American empire have been made previously. He co-authored an opinion editorial with Secretary of State John Kerry that was published by USA Today in June.

“TPP is an indispensable tool for one of the most important projects of our time,” the secretaries argued. “Since World War II, U.S. leadership of the global trading system has helped usher in an era of peace and prosperity unparalleled in history. It has brought jobs to our shores, partners to our defense and peace, and prosperity to those around the world who have embraced openness, fairness, and freedom.”

Carter & Kerry maintained the deal would “reaffirm that America will be a leader in the region for decades to come.” It would “help” America “promote a global order that reflects our interests and our values.” It would be a bulwark against the “spread of violent extremism” by replacing “poverty with opportunity” through the creation of “economic growth” and the unlocking of “opportunities for workers and businesses across the region.”

In April, during a speech on “rebalancing” U.S. strategy toward the Asia-Pacific, Carter bluntly described “passing the TPP as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”

WikiLeaks cables show how TPP stands to boost U.S. empire

The potential boost to U.S. empire was evident in U.S. diplomatic cables released by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks, showing how countries like Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and Brunei would play key roles in any new Asian regional security architecture.

As highlighted by journalist Timothy Shorrock in “The WikiLeaks Files,” a secret cable from February 2009 shows a focus on Japan’s continued militarization. Deputy Chief of Mission James Zumwalt informs Clinton security ties “remain robust,” and the two countries “recently reached an international agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces, which she and the Foreign Minister will sign. It committed Japan to relocating the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa and providing funds for USMC-related facilities on Guam.

Additionally, the cable indicates “Japan now hosts a forward-deployed nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, our missile defense cooperation is moving forward quickly and we are increasing bilateral planning coordination and intelligence sharing.”

While pacifism remains deeply ingrained in Japan, there is a new consensus among the public and opinion makers — due in part to the DPRK threat and the PRC’s growing power projection capabilities — that the U.S.-Japan Alliance and U.S. bases in Japan are vital to Japan’s national security. For example, the main opposition DPJ, while taking issue with some of the details of our basing arrangements, maintains as a basic policy platform the centrality of the alliance to Japan’s security policy …

In another cable marked secret from June 2009, Zumwalt explains to Michelle Flourney, the undersecretary of defense, that the prime minister has made progress “carving out a larger international role for Japan.”

Tokyo is playing a leading role in supporting stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan, most recently through hosting the Pakistan donors conference in April. Moreover, Japan is sending four civilian aid experts to the Lithuanian PRT in Chaghcharan, Ghor province. In June, Japan deployed two P-3C patrol aircraft to Djibouti to join the two JMSDF destroyers already in the region conducting anti-piracy operations. Air Self-Defense Force and Ground Self Defense Force staff are also supporting Japan’s anti-piracy mission, as are Japan Coast Guard personnel. Further political support for anti-piracy efforts are on the horizon as the Diet is on track to pass legislation that will broaden the SDF’s ability to work with coalition forces and provide security to third country shipping vessels.

The U.S. was focused on convincing Japan to expand “operational capabilities in ways that will enhance our alliance’s deterrent value, including long-range lift, ballistic missile defense (BMD), sustainment, and maritime operations.” Such security cooperation would complement and reinforce agreements like the TPP.

Singapore’s “political-military” importance to the U.S.

Daniel Shields, who was the Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Embassy in Singapore, wrote in a November 4, 2009, cable addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and marked “confidential”:

… It seems increasingly clear that a new regional architecture is emerging; this is just a matter of time. The key point is whether the United States is going to be inside the process shaping it or outside the process looking in. Your words and actions leave no doubt that you stand on the side of U.S. engagement with Asia …

Shields outlined in great detail why the U.S. considers Singapore to have strategic importance. Particularly, it is located at the “southern end of the Straits of Malacca, the main maritime trade route between China and India.”

From a “political-military perspective,” Shields offered an overview of the U.S. military’s history of relying upon Singapore:

… When the former U.S. bases in the Philippines were closed in the 1990s, Singapore stepped in, making its facilities available to the U.S. military. Under the U.S.-Singapore Strategic Framework Agreement of 2005, the United States makes use of Singapore’s facilities at Sembawang to provide logistics and repair services for the whole Western Pacific Fleet. At Changi Naval Base, U.S. aircraft carriers can and do routinely pull up pierside, something that is not feasible elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The United States uses Singapore’s Paya Lebar Air Base, where your aircraft will land, to move aircraft all around the region. Singapore procures advanced weapons systems from the United States and deploys about 1,000 personnel in the United States to train, particularly in the use of U.S.-produced aircraft and helicopters. Singapore backed the United States in Iraq and is supporting the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan with medical and construction engineering teams. Singapore is about to take over the leadership of anti-piracy Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 off the coast of Somalia.

Most important of all:

[T]he core political-military interest for the United States in our relationship with Singapore continues to be the access that U.S. forces enjoy to facilities in Singapore.

Building on prior efforts to establish free trade agreements

The TPP represents an expansion of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement signed by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore in 2006.

Singapore and Vietnam had bilateral trade agreements through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which also includes Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Philippines. China has a bilateral trade agreement with ASEAN expected to be worth $500 billion by the end of 2015. Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand had bilateral agreements with ASEAN countries as well.

Additionally, the TPP is likely to evolve into a wider Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) deal. APEC is an “economic forum” that includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, People’s Republic of China, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Peru, Russia, and Vietnam. The bloc of countries discussed the establishment of “Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific,” as early as 2006, and out of this discussion evolved the TPP. APEC countries could potentially sign on to the TPP later if they make changes to regulations.

Taking advantage of Brunei as an “honest broker”

Brunei’s value to U.S. efforts to establish the TPP are indicated in a 2007 cable marked “confidential.”

“Brunei has a well deserved reputation for seeking consensus,” U.S. Ambassador Emil Skodon wrote.

“Since it does not have other major, national-champion industries, Brunei is in a unique position to play the role of an ‘honest broker’ in any trade talks. We believe that as the U.S.G. develops ideas on where to take regional trade negotiations and the FTAAP concept, Brunei could serve the role as both a useful sounding board and a quiet but effective advocate to advance our positions.”

In 2008, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Pehin Lim Jock Seng, told Ambassador Skodon the Brunei government wanted to “raise defense cooperation to a higher level.” Lim wanted “everything,” including more strategic policy exchanges and training and exercises. Ambassador Skodon did not make much of a commitment but recognized one opportunity for U.S. cooperation with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces was in lifting relief supplies to Burma.

Malaysia, since at least 2009, has been interested in making relations with the U.S. “more substantive” by “building on good trade/investment ties and defense cooperation.” One significant area of cooperation is on piracy. Malaysia has deployed naval forces to the Gulf of Aden to protect Malaysian shipping.

Countering China’s “increasing might”

Assistant Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh of Vietnam, according to a February 2010 cable, supported the U.S. policy of advancing plans for “cross-border cooperation” among ASEAN countries’ militaries. Deputy Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy stressed “big problems” Vietnam had with China and shared how Vietnamese ships engaged in oil exploration along the Tonkin Gulf meridian line often were “intimidated” by Chinese fighter jets “flying as low as 200 meters and naval vessels approaching within 500 meters.”

Statements by Quy were a clear message that the U.S. could play a role in countering China’s “increasing might” and controlling Vietnam’s impulse to turn to Russia for foreign policy support.

Overall, as Richard Heydarian wrote in “The WikiLeaks Files,” the U.S. aims to counter the influence and self-confidence of China and southeast Asian leaders, who embrace China as an economic force.

President Barack Obama’s administration has made engaging Asian-Pacific countries a priority. It signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which is considered a “cornerstone of Southeast Asia’s drive to prevent conflict and great power rivalry in the region.” It conducted ministerial meetings with Lower Mekong countries. It has upgraded relations with the informal leader of ASEAN, Indonesia. It supported Indonesia’s inclusion in the G20. It has also claimed to support a resolution to disputes in the South China Sea between various countries and China, even though the maritime disputes help the U.S. isolate the superpower.

The TPP represents a key asset for advancing free trade imperialism in the Asia-Pacific region, and it marks the beginning of a new chapter for U.S. empire. From this point, the TPP can expand to include other Asia-Pacific countries. But, of course, that will not happen before the countries embrace militarism and trade liberalism to the extent in which countries must do to be part of the club of countries signed on to the TPP.

President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger converse on the grounds of The White House on August 16, 1974. (Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress / US News & World Report)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."