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5. U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia

Sources: Jane’s Foreign Report (Jane’s Defence), February 15, 2005, Title: “U.S. Turns Tsunami into Military Strategy,” The Irish Times, February 8, 2005, Title: “U.S. Has Used Tsunami to Boost Aims in Stricken Area,” Author: Rahul Bedi; Inter Press Service, January, 18 2005, Title: “Bush Uses Tsunami Aid to Regain Foothold in Indonesia,” Author: Jim Lobe

Faculty Evaluator: Tony White, Ph. D., Craig Winston, Ph. D.
Student Researcher: Ned Patterson

The tragic and devastating power of 2004’s post holiday tsunami was plastered across the cover of practically every newspaper around the world for the better part of a month. As the death toll rose by the thousands every day, countries struggled to keep pace with the rapidly increasing need for aid across the Indian Ocean Basin.

At the same time that U.S. aid was widely publicized domestically, our coinciding military motives were virtually ignored by the press. While supplying our aid (which when compared proportionately to that of other, less wealthy countries, was an insulting pittance), we simultaneously bolstered military alliances with regional powers in, and began expanding our bases throughout, the Indian Ocean region.

Long viewed as a highly strategic location for U.S. interests, our desire to curtail China’s burgeoning economic and military might is contingent upon our control of this area. In the months following the tsunami, writes Rahul Bedi in The Irish Times, the U.S. revived the Utapao military base in Thailand it had used during the Vietnam War. Task force 536 is to be moved there to establish a forward positioning site for the U.S. Air Force.

During subsequent tsunami relief operations, the U.S. reactivated its military co-operation agreements with Thailand and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. U.S. Navy also vessels utilized facilities in Singapore, keeping with previous treaties. Further, the U.S. marines and the navy arrived in Sri Lanka to bolster relief measures despite the tsunami-hit island’s initial reluctance to permit their entry.

The U.S. also stepped up their survey of the Malacca Straits, over which China exercises considerable influence, and through which 90 percent of Japan’s oil supplies pass. The United States has had trouble expanding its military influence in the region largely due to suspicions by Indonesia and Malaysia that the U.S. is disguising imperial aims under the goal of waging war against terror. The two countries have opposed an American plan to tighten security in the vital Malacca Straits shipping lanes, which might have involved U.S. troops stationed nearby.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that U.S. relief to the tsunami-affected region would assist the war against terror and introduce “American values to the region.” The Bush Administration is also reviving its hopes of normalizing military ties with Indonesia, writes Jim Lobe for InterPress Service. The world’s most populous Muslim nation, its strategically located archipelago, critical sea lanes, and historic distrust of China have made it an ideal partner for containing Beijing.

During a January 2005 visit to Jakarta, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters, “I think if we’re interested in military reform here, and certainly this Indonesian government is and our government is, I think we need to possibly reconsider a bit where we are at this point in history moving forward.”

According to an article in the Asheville Global Report, the following month the U.S. State Department made a decision to renew the International Education and Military Training (IMET) program for Indonesia, despite considerable human rights issues.

According to Bedi, Washington has long wanted a navel presence in Trincomalee, eastern Sri Lanka, or alternatively in Galle, further south, to shorten the supply chain from its major regional military base in distant Diego Garcia, which the British Ocean Territory leased to the U.S. in 1966 for the length of fifty years. The use of these bases would ring China, giving the U.S. added control over that country’s activities.

Diego Garcia’s geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean and its full range of naval, military and communications facilities gives it a critical role supporting the U.S. Navy’s forward presence in the North Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean Region. However, because of the bases’ remoteness and the fact that its lease from Britain expires in 2016, the U.S. seeks an alternative location in the region. “Clearly these new bases will strengthen Washington’s military logistical support in the region,” says Professor Anuradha Chenoy at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. She went on to emphasize that an alternative to the Diego Garcia base must be found soon, as the lease from Britain will soon expire.

Long before the tsunami struck, an article dated April 21, 2003, by Josy Joseph on Rediff.com explained that a classified report commissioned by the United States Department of Defense expresses a desire for access to Indian bases and military infrastructures. The United States Air Force specifically wants to establish bases in India. The report, entitled “Indo-U.S. Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,” was distributed amongst high-ranking U.S. officials and a handful of senior members within the Indian government. It continues on about the Defense Department’s desire to have “access closer to areas of instability.”1

The report says, “American military officers are candid in their plans to eventually seek access to Indian bases and military infrastructure. India’s strategic location in the centre of Asia, astride the frequently traveled Sea Lanes Of Communication (SLOC) linking the Middle East and East Asia, makes India particularly attractive to the U.S. military.”

The report also quotes U.S. Lieutenant Generals as saying that the access to Indian bases would enable the U.S. military “to be able to touch the rest of the world” and to “respond rapidly to regional crisis.” A South Asia Area Officer of the U.S. State Department has been quoted as saying, “India’s strategic importance increases if existing U.S. relationships with Asia fail.”

Post-tsunami U.S. actions in the Indian Ocean illustrate its intention to move this agenda forward sooner rather than later.

Note

1. Joseph, Josy; “Target Next: Indian Military Bases”; rediff.com, April 21, 2003; and Lobe, Jim; “Skepticism over renewed military ties with Indonesia”; Asheville Global Report, March 10-16, 2005.

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