Sunday, April 27, 2014


The "pivot" narrative is starting to sound like a "Waiting for Godot" remake.  There is a lot of talk, but nobody has been able to propose a quantitative or qualitative content (what are exactly the reciprocal benefits?) yet.  In the absence of a more concrete "input," the concept is being hijacked and risks becoming what it was not supposed to be.

The rather gloomy Asian trip of President Obama came also at an unfortunate time.  Malaysia has lost face, bungling the lost airplane saga.  South Korea is in mourning after the ferry tragedy. Seoul and Tokyo remain mutually hostile. Only the Philippines are willing to turn the clock back to pre-Subic Bay base times.  The US President pushed, rightly, for accelerating the finalization of a trade deal with the Asian partners. Unfortunately, the agreement remains hostage to competing lobbies in Tokyo and Washington.  Obama has had little luck in his many diplomatic endeavors. This is a little unfair because caution should prevail over impulse, but when the waiting lasts too long the interest starts to wane. 

It is important to reclaim ownership of the "pivot."  It has become a potentially dangerous ersatz for "containment" of China.  If there is no correction in the reading of the initiative, this may lead ultimately to its demise.  The "pivot" should be seen as a step towards a Pacific partnership (Trans Pacific Partnership) which must also "consider" Chinese interests and which
should cover trade, territorial and maritime open-sea freedoms. The disputes over the Spratlys, Paracels or Diaoyutais/Senkakus should be dealt with in non-emotional/non-nationalistic terms. The Quemoy/Matsu era is over and it is doubtful that the Seventh Fleet would move into the Taiwan Straits today, as was the case in the Fifties. A Pacific partnership "with", not "against" China at a later stage is suited to calm antagonisms and lead to more cooperation and unhindered freedom of navigation, without unilateral, arbitrary de-limitations.  Asia might otherwise become the future mother of all wars.  Regional tensions, if not checked at an early stage, could easily lead to miscalculation or provocation. 

American military presence should equally be reviewed with Asian allies and not become out of touch or irrelevant, considering the fast-moving strategic imperatives.  The CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) and SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organization) are bygones and their surviving "military projection" is obsolete.  The Obama administration has set the right priorities and it would be bad if the "pivot" ended up joining the "reset" with Russia, in the minus column. When great ambitions remain lofty for too long they risk deflating expectations.

The President's rhetorical support for Japan over the Senkakus might haunt him in the future. He does not need more "red lines."  His policies are, admittedly, often well-meant, if too cerebral. He likes to use the "toolbox" metaphor but the world is in need of emergency therapy, not casual repair.

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