In an in-depth article entitled "How we would fight China" published in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly, military correspondent Robert D. Kaplan analyzes the encroaching specter of a cold war between the US and China. He also sets out the strategies and tactics that the US military's Pacific Command is constructing to contend with the emerging reality.
In his words, "the center of gravity of American strategic concern is already the Pacific, not the Middle East." From the US military's perspective, "the current epoch of Middle Eastern conflict… will start to wind down during the second Bush administration."
Kaplan quotes a US Marine general in the Pacific Command who explains that the nascent US strategy for dealing with China will be based on multilateral military cooperation, or as he put it bluntly, it will be "military multilateralism on steroids." As its Atlantic alliances with NATO countries are breaking down in the face European rejection of America's decision to fight Islamic imperialism rather than appease it, the US is quietly building deep military alliances with countries such as Singapore, India, Australia, Japan and Thailand, which will all play key roles in containing China in the coming cold war in the Pacific.
Kaplan notes that one of the US's Achilles' heels in building this alliance structure is the technological gap between the US military and these crucial allies in the Pacific. As he writes, "Getting militarily so far ahead of everyone else in the world creates a particular kind of loneliness that not even the best diplomats can always alleviate, because diplomacy itself is worthless if it's not rooted in realistic assessments of comparative power."
Kaplan's report points to a strategic reality that US policymakers in Washington seem intent on ignoring. Israel's military sales and strategic military ties to linchpin states in the Pacific, like Singapore and India, have made it possible for these states today to center so prominently in American long-term strategic planning for its emerging cold war with China.
Israel was the first state to offer military assistance to Singapore, back in 1965 when that tiny island nation's entire military amounted to one battalion. For the next 10 years Israel was the only state assisting the Singaporeans, who one US military official interviewed by Kaplan referred to today as "just awesome in every way."
Israeli military officials involved in strategic cooperation with Singapore explain that the relationship has advanced to the point where most of the arms sales take the form of joint military ventures. Israel sells Singapore weapons systems that are tailor-made for its needs, and Singapore finances much of the research and development of these systems. Until it was outpaced by India, Singapore was the Israeli military industries' largest client. Sales range from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars per year.
While military cooperation with India has only become prominent in recent years, Israel was assisting India militarily as early as the 1960s, during its wars with Pakistan. Today, between multi-billion dollar annual military sales and joint training exercises, Israel's strategic importance for the modernization of the Indian military is undeniable.
In cultivating its relationships with countries like Singapore and India, Israel's defense planners have followed a clear rationale that fuses commercial and strategic concerns. On the one hand, for Israel to maintain its military superiority over the Arabs, it must have a cutting-edge arms industry. For the industry to remain state-of-the-art, Israel must develop export markets to make its research, development and production costs manageable and sustainable. On the other hand, Israel has a strategic, long-term interest in developing ties with countries like India and Singapore, which share similar threats and concerns, because at the end of the day, these states form natural alliances with Israel.
Today, rather than thank Israel and India and Singapore for their forward thinking, whose importance to the US is unquestionable, the US is punishing them. This week it was reported that following Israel's misguided sale of Harpy aerial drones to China, Washington is now demanding control over its weapons exports to India and Singapore.
There can be no doubt that Israel's decision to sell advanced weapons systems to China was strategically blind. China does not only threaten US interests. Through its missile sales to Iran and Saudi Arabia, it also threatens Israel's national security interests. In the wake of US wrath over the Harpy deal, Israel has corrected its behavior and agreed not to sell weapons systems to China in the future.
It is more than possible that the US attempt to take away Israel's independence in developing its exports markets is simply an attempt to hitch a ride on the current crisis with China to advance the interests of US weapons manufacturers, who have trouble competing with their Israeli counterparts. Yet in so acting, not only is the US harming its relations with Israel and damaging Israel's reputation internationally, it is also insulting Singapore and India by acting as though there is something wrong with these US allies' acquisition of advanced weapons systems.
In comparing the ease of crafting a strategy for contending with China to the difficulty of formulating policy on the Middle East, Kaplan makes one of the most common American mistakes in characterizing the constraints on their actions in the Arab world. Kaplan writes, "Our actions in the Pacific will not be swayed by the equivalent of the Israel lobby; Protestant evangelicals will care less about the Pacific Rim than about the fate of the Holy Land."
Yet what Israel's cultivation of its own bilateral strategic ties with countries like Singapore and India shows is that when Israel is behaving in a strategically responsible way, it is also advancing America's strategic interests. This is the case because, at the end of the day, the two countries share the same enemies and therefore are drawn to the same potential allies.
That is, the foundation of the US-Israel alliance is not American altruism or domestic political pressure to save God's Chosen People from destruction. The rationale behind the US-Israel alliance is the fact that Israel is a strong, self-sufficient democracy whose strength and stability, both locally and globally, enhance US national security.
When, as happened this week, Palestinian Authority cabinet ministers insanely announce that Israel is trying to poison the Palestinians by selling them cancer-causing juices, there should be no place for doubt as to who America's ally is in the Middle East. Indeed, the levels of cultural anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in Palestinian society and the Arab world should make it absolutely clear to Washington that a strong Israel is a national security necessity.
Yet, in the Americans' haste this week to humiliate Israel and emasculate its arms industry, even at the expense of its other allies, we see a disturbing indication that as the Bush administration slogs through its second term, it is intent on ignoring the strategic realities of the region and indeed of the global strategic environment, preferring instead to try to appease the Arabs and the Europeans at Israel's expense in the hopes of receiving their cooperation in the future.
This latest American move was not carried out in a vacuum. It comes against of backdrop of a disconcerting pattern of behavior by the administration that leads inexorably to the devastating conclusion that the US is moving to abandon its alliance with Israel. The publication of the federal indictment against former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin this week is case in point.
From a perusal of the charges against Franklin, the following picture emerges: Franklin, a hawk on Iran's nuclear weapons program, sought to bring his views to the attention of decision-makers. In so doing, he did what countless Washington policy analysts do on a daily basis. He sought to build a coalition with like-minded thinkers outside the government.
According to the indictment, Franklin passed no significant classified information to AIPAC officials or to Naor Gillon at the Israeli embassy. He received no compensation for his relationships with them. All he did was talk about Iran with people who share his concerns in the hope that they could – through their official dealings with administration officials – advance his views.
Franklin's one crime, it would seem, was his unquestioning view of Israel as a strategic ally of the US at a time when powerful circles in Washington are trying to disengage from this alliance. Had he conducted identical conversations with British diplomats or pro-Japanese lobbyists, there is little doubt that he would still be sitting behind his desk at the Pentagon.
Franklin has pleaded innocent to all charges submitted against him. His trial is set to start on September 6. To a degree, what will really be on trial will be the question of whether the US does or does not view Israel as its ally.
And so the question necessarily arises: If the Bush administration is planning to abandon Israel, who does it think will replace it? Egypt, an economic basket-case run by a dictator who galvanizes popular support by cultivating societal hatred of America? Saudi Arabia, which is now pushing a policy with the International Atomic Energy Agency that will allow it to accumulate small quantities of uranium and plutonium which it could easily transfer to terrorist organizations for the purpose of attacking the US?
Israel was wrong to sell weapons systems to China. But the damage done to US national security interests has been effectively brought under control. The damage that the US's increasingly hostile position toward Israel is doing to US national security interests will not be so easily contained. The positive consequences for America from its alliance with a strong and secure Israel are enormous and unique. The negative consequences of an abandonment of Israel will be equally vast.
Why would Singapore or India or any other US ally trust an America that would abandon Israel? And how will the US be more secure if it increases its dependence on Arab regimes that are inherently hostile to it and everything it stands for?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.