From June 29 to August 4, the United States will lead 26 countries in a massive, coordinated military exercise around Hawaii and Southern California, known as the Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC. The largest international maritime exercise in the world, it will involve around 25,000 military personnel, 38 warships, four submarines and more than 170 aircraft from countries including Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines. This year’s RIMPAC – the largest ever – takes place against the backdrop of a burgeoning US defense budget and calls for an increased US military presence in the “Indo-Pacific” – all in an effort to contain the China.
Yet the very real consequences of increased militarization in Asia-Pacific, especially for frontline communities and marine ecosystems, are often overlooked. During last year’s RIMPAC war games, for example, an Australian destroyer killed a mother fin whale and her calf in San Diego. “These military exercises can wreak havoc on whales, dolphins and other marine mammals through explosions, sonar and ship strikes,” says Kristen Monsell of the Biological Diversity Center.
Aggressive language around US power has also created a false binary paradigm of democracy versus authoritarianism (nations like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran) that increases tensions, militarization, and the possibility new wars. This limited thinking obscures opportunities for cooperation on key issues that threaten our existence, such as climate change and pandemics, while diminishing the resources available for real security measures like health, education and housing.
That’s why, in the weeks ahead, the Feminist Peace Initiative – a collaboration between Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, MADRE and Women Cross DMZ – in partnership with Foreign Policy in Focus will amplify the voices of feminist women peacebuilders and experts across the Pacific and Asia on the impact of this hyper-militarization on their communities, and to provide alternatives to great power competition between the United States and China.
We’ll hear from activists in Hawaii, where US Navy jet fuel stockpiling has contaminated Oahu’s aquifers, and in Guahan, Guam, where US military exercises have desecrated the ancestral lands of Chamorro peoples. In Henoko, Okinawa, activists battled US Marines to save coral reefs and the endangered dugong, while on Jeju Island, South Korea, villagers fought to stop the construction of a naval base where American destroyers are docked to project their power against China.
Collectively, these communities are calling for an alternative future that replaces militarized security with genuine human security.
What drives US tensions with China
In March, the Biden administration said China was the country’s top security challenge, followed by Russia, North Korea and Iran.
According to Biden’s Asian czar, Kurt Campbell, the US goal in maintaining a presence in Asia has been to “sell shirts, save souls, and spread liberal ideas.” This was largely achieved by diplomats, missionaries and businessmen, but always backed by the threat of military force.
The US and Chinese economies are closely intertwined, so a potential war is in neither one’s interest. But the threat of China’s rise is also a boon to the US military-industrial complex. Although the pandemic and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after the failed 20-year “war on terror” provided a rare opportunity to push for a change in U.S. foreign policy, leading to proposals cuts to the Pentagon budget and the repeal of the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reinforced the view in Washington that unless the United States do not act, China will launch a similar invasion of Taiwan.
Across partisan lines, America’s elite views on China are shaped by Elbridge A. Colby, a former Trump official at the Defense Department. In his 2021 book, Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, Colby argues for a “defensive perimeter” from Japan and South Korea across the Taiwan Strait to the Philippines. For Colby, achieving peace with China “requires firm and focused action, and acceptance of the distinct possibility of war with China,” including the possibility of giving nuclear weapons to regional states. Colby says peace by force is needed to prevent “reduced access to markets which will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and our standard of living”. To counter China’s dominance of the region and, ultimately, the world, Colby argues, the United States must invest heavily in and modernize its already deadly military and strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific.
The real threat China poses is to the bottom line of American multinationals like the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm of which Colby’s father, Jonathan Colby, is senior adviser and managing director. According to historian Laurence Shoup, “Asia is a very important market for Carlyle”, with $20 billion in assets in the region, many of which are based in Taiwan. A 2016 study in Company history showed that Carlyle faced regulatory hurdles from China in a $440 million deal to acquire Xugong, China’s largest construction equipment maker, while also failing to acquire Advanced Semiconductor Engineering in Taiwan. As a result, Carlyle concluded that a more supportive national institutional framework was needed for the takeovers to succeed. “Financial capitalist corporations like Carlyle want to be able to buy and sell businesses without restrictions and do whatever they want to take advantage of each company’s resources and workers,” Shoup writes. But “China does not allow such unlimited access, erecting roadblocks to the unfettered capitalism favored by neoliberal thinkers like members of the Colby family.”
Because of the emphasis on military primacy, the United States is mobilizing NATO and European allies against Russia and China. For the first time in 14 years, the UK is preparing to stockpile American nuclear weapons; South Korea, led by a newly elected conservative president, calls for the return of US nuclear assets to the peninsula; and, this spring, Japan’s parliament finalized an $8.6 billion package to cover the cost of hosting US troops through 2027, reflecting a deepening bilateral alliance.
However, this growing militarization increase the chances of a dangerous conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific. The 290 U.S. military bases surrounding China and provocative U.S. military exercises like RIMPAC “increase threats to Chinese security and encourage the Chinese government to respond by increasing its own military spending and activities,” said anthropologist David Vine of American University.
The feminist Countering Great Power Competition
To prevent more devastating wars, the Feminist Peace Initiative seeks to transform American foreign policy from a military-first approach to one that prioritizes genuine human security. This requires democratizing the foreign policy-making process by centering the voices of those most affected by America’s wars and militarism.
Feminism offers a powerful framework for reinventing American foreign policy. Consider the many gendered assumptions in shaping our foreign policy – for example, how traditional masculine traits like dominance, competition and aggression so often trump feminine traits like shared prosperity, mutual trust and Cooperation. Imagine instead if policies based on the collective well-being of everyone and the planet took precedence.
Addressing the most pressing threats to our existence – climate change, pandemics and poverty – requires drastic cuts to the Pentagon’s budget, which currently comprises more than half of all federal discretionary spending each year, which could instead go to Head Start, Pell Grants for weak college students, Food Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and a number of other programs that advance social welfare . This is all the more urgent since “the United States Department of Defense is the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world and, therefore, one of the main emitters of greenhouse gases in the world”, according to the Cost of War Project.
Black, brown, and Indigenous communities in the United States and abroad most often face the brunt of the violence of American militarism. The U.S. military is recruiting heavily from poor communities of color with the promise of signing bonuses, educational opportunities, and world travel, while making collateral damage on veterans’ lives, such as mental illness, invisible. , substance abuse, homelessness, PTSD and high rates. of suicide, not to mention the trauma suffered by families when soldiers return home after the war. These communities are direct witnesses to how American military bases are sites where the violence of American militarism manifests itself before a war, whether through the destruction of coral reefs, forests, agricultural lands and sacred sites or by sexual exploitation and violence around US military bases.
We are all victims and accessories of empire, which is why we must connect across oceans and national borders to end this rampant militarization. As the Biden administration pursues aggressive policies to deal with the rise of China, there is growing urgency to challenge outdated definitions of security that jeopardize our collective future.