The collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 catapulted the United States as the only superpower on Earth. It ushered in a new age — Pax Americana — with the balance of power securely ensured by the United States encircling what is left of the once-mighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the Russian Federation.
But don’t be fooled by the demise of the communist regime. Russia, with 6.6 million square miles of land area covering more than one-eight of the world’s inhabited land area. In 2012, Russia was the world’s sixth largest economy with a GDP of $2.22 trillion, behind the U.S. (first-ranked at $16.66 trillion), China ($10.09 trillion), Japan ($4.31 trillion), India ($4.06 trillion), and Germany ($2.94 trillion).
Endowed with rich natural resources, Russia has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, second-largest reserves of coal, and the eight-largest reserves of crude oil. In 2011, she became the world’s largest producer of oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia; and the second-largest producer of natural gas. And she possesses the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
With the election of Vladimir Putin to the presidency in May 2012 for the second time around — he served as President for two terms (from 2000 to 2008) but was constitutionally prohibited to serve a third consecutive term — there are high expectations that Putin would take Russia on the high road to economic progress and propel the country on a trajectory that would regain her share of dominance — if not total dominance– of world geopolitics.
Enter the Dragon
On March 14, 2013, China’s rubberstamp national legislature elected Xi Jinping to the ceremonial title of president, which capped his rise to the pinnacle of power as China’s undisputed ruler. Last November, Xi was named Secretary General of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC), which controls the CPC’s military arm, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As the country’s de facto armed forces, the PLA has an active membership of 2.25 million, which makes it the world’s largest standing army. Never before since the time of Mao Zedong had a Chinese ruler consolidated his power within a short time– four months!
Upon his ascension to the presidency, Xi’s first venture outside China was to visit his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At their summit in Kremlin last March 22, the two leaders agreed to form a “strategic partnership” to advance their countries’ interests. They affirmed their mutual support for each country’s geostrategic and territorial interests, which include territorial disputes. With more than 20 territorial disputes that China is embroiled with various countries — including Japan, Philippines, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam — this could put Russia squarely on the paths of conflict, which could involve the United States who has mutual defense treaties with at least four of China’s adversaries.
Signing 30 agreements in the areas of energy, trade, technology, and military exchange, the highlight of Xi’s visit was a rare glimpse into Russia’s defense command headquarters — or “war room” — a first by any foreign leader. Chinese media videotaped the event showing Xi being briefed as he looked at computers and giant screens tracking military intelligence targets.
On the economic front, the new China-Russia strategic partnership would bind the two countries in jointly developing Russia’s most strategic economic resources — oil, gas, and coal — to meet China’s massive current and future energy requirements.
One of the summit’s immediate results was an agreement for Russia to triple her oil supplies to China in exchange for a $2-billion loan. In addition, the two countries agreed on a preliminary deal to build a gas pipeline. Indeed, with Russia as one of the world’s largest energy producers and China the world’s number one energy consumer, one can say that Xi got a “sweetheart deal” he couldn’t resist.
At a joint press conference, Xi told the media: “China’s friendship with Russia guarantees strategic balance and peace in the world.” But what he presumably meant to say was that the new China-Russia military-economic alliance would be so formidable that it would establish a new world order never seen before. In Xi’s mind, only a China-Russia military-economic alliance could stop the United States’ “pivot to Asia” strategy. And one of Xi’s concerns was the United States’ building of an intercontinental ballistic missile defense system, which could tilt the balance of power towards the U.S.
Kim goes ballistic
But when Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s young– and untested — leader, went ballistic, it rattled everybody! His scrapping of the 1953 Korean War Armistice and testing of a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead have prompted the U.S. to reassess her missile shield system against North Korea.
Last March 15, Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. will spend $1 billion to add 14 interceptors to the current 30 interceptors that are already based in Alaska. In addition, he said that the U.S. is planning to deploy an additional radar system in Japan, a move that would provide an “improved early warning and tracking of any missile launch from North Korea at the U.S. or Japan.”
It is interesting to note that in January 2010, it was reported in the news that the U.S. had completed the transfer of a $6.4-billion weapons deal with Taiwan that included 200 advanced Patriot anti-ballistic missiles. It was also reported earlier that month that the U.S. had provided Taiwan with eight frigates equipped with the Aegis Combat System, which has the capacity to launch ship-based interceptor missiles.
That completed the deployment of the Aegis component of the U.S. interceptor missile system in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia. In addition, Taiwan has already a network of 22 missile sites around the country… ready to go!
And that made China nervous… very nervous. The government-owned China Daily reported in its February 22, 2010, that China and Russia are encircled by chain of U.S. anti-missile systems with a footprint that extends from Japan to South Korea to Taiwan. As one Chinese military strategist explained: Washington has deployed a ring of anti-missile systems around China’s periphery forming a crescent-shaped encirclement that begins in Japan, stretches through nations in the South China Sea to India, and ends in Afghanistan.
In addition to the Aegis Combat System and batteries of Patriot anti-ballistic missiles, the U.S. had moved a squadron of 12 B-52 nuclear-armed bombers and two squadrons of the advanced F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam. And at least three nuclear attack submarines are also deployed in Guam, which is beyond the range of China’s land-based Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile.
With the U.S.S. George Washington nuclear-powered super carrier battle group forward-deployed in Yokosuka, Japan, the U.S. provides an awesome array of state-of-the-art defensive armaments that would keep North Korea, China or Russia from toying with the notion of attacking the U.S. or any of her allies in the Asia-Pacific.
Conspicuously missing from the United States’ military defense network is the Philippines, who was once identified as a “major non-NATO ally” of the U.S. Other than the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the untested Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries, the Philippines has no role in the “Air-Sea Battle” plan of the U.S. in Asia-Pacific.
Be that as it may, what we’re seeing here is a geostrategic shift from a “one world power” — Pax Americana — to a “strategic partnership” of countries with common interests that is centered in the vast Pacific. With more than 130 countries forming the rim of the Pacific, the age of Pax Pacifica is about to begin. And who would be the dominant force who would chart the destiny of Pax Pacifica — China or the United States?
At the end of the day, one might say that Pax Pacifica could usher in a world of new order… or disorder?