Countering the “China Threat”–At What Price?

By Koohan Paik-Mander,
Published by Bruce Gagnon’s Organizing Notes, 26 June, 2021

The Pentagon is upgrading its full-spectrum dominance, with China as the primary target.

In early June 2021, in a classified directive to Pentagon officials, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin slammed the former Trump administration for talking big but never taking action to counter “the China threat.”

Austin made it clear that things would be different under President Biden. His “tough guy” rhetoric strikes just the right tone for a massive, costly, military-infrastructure overhaul that would render the conventional warfare of the twentieth century unrecognizable: more nukes, fewer troops, and an omnipotent 5G network.

The goal of this overhaul is to give the United States and its allies the ability to summon, at once, unmanned military forces to rain terror down on any spot in the world—a swarm of drones, hypersonic missiles, submarine torpedoes, and bombers—all with the ease of calling an Uber.

This game-changing metamorphosis of how wars are fought is already underway. It’s called the JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command & Control), a globally networked, cloud-based command center, overseen by the recently anointed U.S. Space Force.

It was for this that the Space Force was created—not as a jokey Trump trifle.

However, targeting China with this new paradigm for mass destruction will not bring about global security. Even if it were to somehow not culminate in a nuclear conflict, the ecological and climate costs of commanding war from outer space would be devastating. And yet, ever-more-mammoth military preparations are being staged in ever-more-numerous locations on Earth.

President Biden is in lockstep with Austin’s anti-China mission. Much of Biden’s $715 billion Pentagon budget request for 2022 is for investment in hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, micro-electronics, 5G technology, space-based systems, shipbuilding and nuclear “modernization” (read: expansion). The request seeks $28 billion to “modernize” the nuclear triad (the ability to launch nukes from land, sea, and air). The budget also includes the largest research-and-development request—$112 billion—in the history of the Pentagon.

Imagine that kind of support for healthcare.

Each line item is a deadly weapon, which, discretely, already carries terrifying implications. But, taken together, as part of the JADC2—an integrated, multi-dimensional system with machines responsible for pulling the trigger—the whole is far more chilling than the sum of the parts.

Among the types of missiles on Biden’s wish-list are some whose range exceeds the limits in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987. But the INF Treaty is no longer in effect, after President Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in August 2019, just four months before the creation of the Space Force. That means that Biden and Austin are now free to spend taxpayer money on these perilous weapons.

Policy analyst Michael Klare has observed that this year’s budget subordinates all perceived threats to a single bogeyman-du-jour: China. War with China, specifically, means more nukes, long-range missiles, and unmanned weapons. These weapons are not just to be used by the United States, but are also for export to allies as well—much to the financial gain of weapons industrialists like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

For example, a declassified U.S. Department of Defense report from 2018 provides a directive to sell more arms to India, to “enhance India’s status as a Major Defense Partner,” and to “support India’s membership in the Nuclear Supplier’s Group.” The essence of the Pentagon’s massive global vision is to construct, from the ground up, a hard and soft infrastructure upon which the newly created Space Force can operate.

Just as the continent-spanning interstate highway system was laid during the 1950s to ensure a profitable future for the automobile industry, this new infrastructure—comprised of 5G, artificial intelligence, rocket launchpads, missile tracking stations, satellites, nukes, and internet-connected fleets of unmanned ships, jets, subs, hypersonic, and other craft—will ensure a reliably profitable assembly-line output of arms for the weapons industry.

In tandem with the military infrastructure will come a continued expansion of associated security infrastructure, such as increased surveillance and data collection of every individual on the planet. As a former board member at Raytheon, Lloyd Austin is perfectly positioned to pull this off. In fact, during his first three months as defense secretary, he awarded over $2.36 billion in contracts to the missile manufacturer he once faithfully served.

The Opium Wars were two wars waged between the Qing dynasty and Western powers in the mid-19th century. The First Opium War, fought in 1839–1842 between Qing China and Great Britain, was triggered by the dynasty’s campaign against the British merchants who sold opium to Chinese merchants. The Second Opium War was fought between the Qing and Britain and France, 1856–1860. In each war, the European force’s modern military technology led to easy victory over the Qing forces, with the consequence that the government was compelled to grant favorable tariffs, trade concessions, and territory to the Europeans. It was during this time that John Kerry’s and FDR’s fore-bearers made their fortunes in the Opium trade. The profits built Yale, Harvard and Columbia universities and funded the construction of the railroads to the west.

China Threat = Yellow Peril

The Pentagon has a billion dollars a year to spend on public relations, and vilifying China has become Lloyd Austin’s top priority. He paints a picture of urgency so dire that it seems the only way to meet the challenge is to fund his comprehensive Weapons New Deal.

Once the new military infrastructure is fully in place, the Space Force will be equipped to dominate the planet. Until now, the INF Treaty’s cap on missile range prevented the implementation of this vision, given the hemispheric distance between China and the United States. Now that the treaty is no longer in effect, however, the Indo-Pacific theater is the ideal geography to debut this new way of warfare that relies on satellites to deliver strikes clear to the opposite side of the planet.

Thousands of satellites are already in place; thousands more will follow, thanks to private efforts by the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. The United States is currently working through the UN to standardize 5G internationally. Algorithms are now being written to remove human decision-making from warfare. Pacific reefs have already been dredged, forests razed, and protestors arrested on islands encircling China to make way for destroyer berths and rocket launchpads—nodes of the global war infrastructure.

One of the those “nodes” is at Soseong-ri village, 200 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The melon farmers there have painful, first-hand experience of South Korea’s complicity with the Pentagon’s agenda. In mid-March, after five years of community protests against the deployment of a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile system, Lloyd Austin strongly protested the poor conditions of the THAAD base, calling them “unacceptable.”

After Austin’s disparaging remark, the South Korean government sent around a thousand riot police to Soseong-ri to forcefully remove residents from blocking components of the THAAD base construction material from entering the military installation. This took place on four occasions immediately following Austin’s statement and has since accelerated to twice a week, according to peace activist Sung-Hee Choi.

Choi points out that the THAAD system is made by Lockheed Martin and the associated radar is manufactured by Raytheon, where Austin previously served on the board. Choi adds that she is nervous about the intensifying military tension in her country and in northeast Asia: “I think recent anti-Asian hate is like a preparation for war against North Korea and China, just like when the Bush administration exploited anti-Muslim sentiments just before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Elder woman manhandled in the melon farming village of Soseong-ri, South Korea as Washington enforces deployment of the controversial THAAD ‘missile defense’ base at a converted golf course next to the village. The government sends in thousands of police to pull the sitting villagers from the road so that the US Army can move hardware and supplies into the base. The villagers understand they are now a primary target in any war with China.

Pacific Pivot and the First Island Chain

Military planners have been nurturing this Rubicon moment with China for at least a decade, beginning when Obama announced his “Pacific Pivot” toward Asia. Since then, communities in the Asia-Pacific region have been confronted with elaborate, ecocidal preparations for full-scale war with China. Natural resources have been destroyed to construct a globe-sweeping, networked infrastructure of missile deployment and satellite tracking.

That was the first phase of laying the groundwork for 21st century warfare. Biden’s current request for funding will expand this strategic rebalance of military forces into its second phase.

Most of the Pentagon-ravaged spots have been concentrated so far on the string of archipelagos that fringe China’s coastline. These islands are politically controlled by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines—nations themselves already heavily militarized.

War strategists call this the “First Island Chain.” The JADC2 system is being developed with this particular geography in mind. “Project Convergence,” a U.S. Department of Defense war exercise, takes place over a span stretching from Washington state to North Carolina, replicating the distance along the First Island Chain.

The First Island Chain is one of three chains of Pacific islands that ring China at varying distances. Further east, the Second Island Chain is comprised of Guam and the other Mariana Islands. The Third Island Chain, even further east in the mid-Pacific, is the Hawaiian archipelago.

In war strategy, these chains serve several functions: as a barrier to be breached by an attacker, as a protective wall to be strengthened by a defender, and as a springboard from which to mount an invasion. They also serve as geopolitical benchmarks for measuring regional influence, which is why control of Taiwan is so critical. If the United States loses Taiwan to mainland China, it would signal the unravelling of U.S. domination in the region.

The delicately beautiful islands of the First Island Chain have languished mostly unknown to the rest of the world. They are home to many endemic species such as the Yonaguni pony, the Ryukyu damselfly, the Amami rabbit, and a newly designated species of pufferfish that builds sand mandalas on the ocean floor to attract a mate. At the tiny airport on Ishigaki Island, local butterflies flutter in a terrarium behind the check-in counter. In town, decorative trees lining the road support sleeping bats hanging like furry ornaments.

Environmentalists fear these species are now doomed. A radar tracking station has been built, despite public protest, over the watering hole for the Yonaguni ponies. Its high-frequency radar will likely kill the bountiful insect-life found on the island, like the butterflies and the Ayamihabiru moth with its 10-inch wing span.

Amami-Oshima, an island that has remained virtually untouched since primeval times, has now been desecrated. Its old-growth forest, dense with unique flora and fauna, was razed in two areas for missile deployment, while associated development is disfiguring the coastline and other inland areas. On the islands of Ishigaki and Miyako, more missile deployment facilities have been erected against the will of locals.

Meanwhile, on Okinawa, tens of thousands of residents have been protesting the U.S. presence for decades. The latest barbarity: soil that contains an untold number of bones of Okinawan ancestors as well as U.S. soldiers—all killed in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II—is slated to be used as landfill for the bottom of Oura Bay. For four years, locals have ferociously objected to construction here of a new U.S. air base, intended to be a key JADC2 hub. The beloved bay has been home for millennia to the largest rare blue-coral colony in the world and 5,334 documented species of wildlife.

U.S. militarism continues to beleaguer Jeju Island off the coast of South Korea as well. There, villagers, fishers, and tangerine farmers have been ferociously protesting for over a decade the construction of a navy base to port Lockheed Aegis-missile bearing destroyers. The base was completed in 2015, but plans are in the works to construct a constellation of new facilities to complement the navy base, including a new airport, a missile tracking station, a weather radar station, and a satellite operations facility.

The famously drinkable streams of Jeju are now contaminated, its UNESCO-celebrated corals have been dredged, and wetlands have been smothered with concrete. Jeju Island is morphing, in real time, from one of Asia’s most cherished natural wonders to another key hub for JADC2 space-war operations.

Second Island Chain: the Marianas

The desire for “military readiness” compels the Pentagon to train troops for proficiency. But how will soldiers train for the paradigm-shifting JADC2, which is as different from current warfare as checkers is from 3-D chess?

First of all, with no soldiers—or a lot fewer of them—human-scale fighting will be replaced by warfare conducted over global distances and at hypersonic speeds. Military planners say that armed forces will be leaner and “strike harder, faster and farther.” For this reason, the training will take up more geography, by necessity, over endless expanses of open seas teaming with wildlife. For decades, naval practice has been taking place in marine areas surrounding Korea, Guam, Okinawa, Hawaii, and California. Needless to say, they have been a constant nuisance to residents, fishers, native practitioners, and sea creatures.

Now, to accommodate the JADC2, even more expansive swaths of the ocean are being set aside for year-round military exercises.

The most egregious example is the MITT (Mariana Islands Training and Testing), a plan to transform over a million square miles of biodiverse ecosystems into the largest-ever range complex for bombing and firing practice. The impacted area would be larger than the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico combined.

The largest multinational open-ocean military exercises in history will take place here, home to 26 species of cetaceans. The navy itself estimates that its activities will maim or kill over 81,000 whales and dolphins per year. And that doesn’t count the ecological casualties anticipated in other existing exercise ranges, such as those around Hawaii, California, Alaska, Australia, in the Sea of Japan, and in the Bay of Bengal.

Painting by Russell Wray (Hancock, Maine)

For their part, thousands of residents of the Marianas are protesting the plan to turn their ancestral archipelago into a year-round war zone. Large portions of Guam and Tinian would become dedicated firing ranges, placed right next door to towns and neighborhoods. Practice-bombing on the islet of Farallon de Medinilla, a migratory-bird hotspot, will increase from 2,150 strikes a year to 6,000 strikes a year. And most tragically, the whole of the astonishingly pristine island of Pagan is slated to undergo perpetual full-spectrum assaults from air, land, and sea. The island is expected to endure continuous bombing from mortars and missiles, its wildlife damaged by sonar, torpedoes, hand grenades, reef-crushing amphibious landing practice, and countless experimental detonations. Because of the colonial status of the Mariana islanders, they have not been able to legally demand transparency and accountability from the U.S. government.

This powerlessness was brought into stark relief when the military bulldozed 3,000 burials to make way for a live-fire training range. The remains were deposited, pell-mell, in cardboard boxes and stored in various undisclosed offices around the island. A barrage of questions from the islanders has gone unanswered. To add insult to injury, the shooting range is also to be sited atop the island’s most important aquifer.

In response to these human-rights transgressions, native CHamoru poet and attorney, Julian Aguon, filed a submission in 2020 with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on behalf of indigenous rights group Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian.  Three special rapporteurs then sent a letter in March to President Biden expressing concern for human rights, environmental impacts, and indigenous rights. The president has yet to respond.

The Perpetual Profits of War Games

An assortment of large-scale joint naval exercises takes place every year across the Pacific. The events are attended by patron-countries of the U.S. weapons industry in a fashion similar to soccer or football season. These nations include Japan, Korea, India, Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

The prototype has been the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, held every two years in Hawaiian waters since 1971 and slated to run again in 2022. In 2018, RIMPAC drew 25,000 troops, 52 ships, and submarines from 26 countries. Weapons dealers from all over the world view RIMPAC as an opportunity to show off their wares, making the event part-Vegas trade show, part-World Cup. For marine life, it is four weeks of blitzkrieg.

This fits nicely with the policy cited in the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which calls foreign military sales the “tool of first resort in strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.” In other words, for the United States, partnerships are not rooted in a shared philosophy of justice and diplomacy. Rather, they are anchored firmly in weapons sales.

Those partnerships, meanwhile, increasingly target a single adversary: China. Raytheon loyalist Lloyd Austin has been unequivocally clear that his raison d’etre is to bully China. And the president and Congress seem happy to accommodate.

They consistently ignore a far better method of responding to China’s growing influence, such as diplomacy. Hashing out differences at the same conference table would be a lot less expensive and have the added benefit of not risking all life on Earth.

~ Koohan Paik-Mander, who grew up in postwar Korea and on the U.S. colony of Guam, is a Hawaii-based journalist and media educator. She is a board member of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and formerly served as campaign director of the Asia-Pacific program at the International Forum on Globalization. A contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, she is the co-author of The Superferry Chronicles: Hawaii’s Uprising Against Militarism, Commercialism and the Desecration of the Earth, and has written on militarism in the Asia-Pacific for The Nation, Progressive, and other publications. An interview with her on this topic can be seen here.

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