Connect with us

Latest

News

Staff Picks

Vietnam’s Dangerous Courtship with Washington

On the eve of Obama’s visit to Vietnam events point towards moves for a realignment of Hanoi’s policies away from Russia and China.

Andrew Korybko

Published

on

869 Views

President Obama’s upcoming visit to Vietnam will take place amidst increasing American tensions with China. Beijing recently scrambled a couple of fighter jets after an American naval ship sailed dangerously close to one of its disputed islands in the South China Sea, which was just the latest in a series of multiple provocations that have taken place all across the region ever since the US declared its Pivot to Asia in October 2011. As part of the US’s plan to “contain” China, the Pentagon envisages constructing a multilateral “China Containment Coalition” all across East, Southeast and South Asia, with the most active core of this prospective coalition being a Vietnamese-Philippine naval alliance.

With the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines and his willingness to pragmatically negotiate with China, it is looking less likely that Manila will play as critical a “containment” role as the US had initially anticipated.

In response to this surprising shift in regional geopolitics, the US is expected to intensify its military-strategic relations with Vietnam, and President Obama’s visit might be just as important a catalyst for Hanoi’s pro-American pivot as Defence Secretary Carter’s visit to India was last month. Considering this, it is important to take a look at Vietnam’s recent moves with regards to China and explore the military-related avenues that it has to expand if it is to enter into a “containment” partnership with the US.

Redirecting Away From Russia

To start off, it is important to educate the reader about Vietnam’s massive arms buildup over the past couple of years.

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Vietnam was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world for the period 2011-2015, importing a whopping 699% more weaponry during this same period than it did in the preceding five years.

The overwhelming majority of these weapons – 93% – were Russian-made. Moscow’s willingness to supply weapons on such a scale to Vietnam bespeaks of Moscow’s traditional role in balancing rival foes, in this case Vietnam and China.  Moscow has followed the same pattern of balancing between other regional foes such as Armenia and Azerbaijan and India and China.

In and of itself this ought to mean that Vietnam’s large increase in weapons imports should not be a cause for alarm.  This is because in line with its policy of balance Russia’s weapons supplies to Vietnam are intended to reinforce the status quo between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea rather than upset it.

What is more worrying however is that Vietnam is now beginning to look elsewhere for its weaponry, in a way that might threaten the strategic balance between Vietnam and China,  just as Dmitry Medvedev warned might happen between Armenia and Azerbaijan if either of them did something similar.

The discrete presence of leading US weapons companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin at a large defence-related gathering in Hanoi this week shows that the US is indeed aggressively angling to eat away at Russia’s market share in Vietnam, provided of course that the restrictions the US Congress has imposed on weapons sales to Vietnam are progressively lifted.

Vietnam is encouraging these US moves.   Its Foreign Ministry has just announced that it would “welcome the United States’ acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban”.

Following In India’s Footsteps

It’s unclear why Vietnam, which has enjoyed decades-long military-technical cooperation with Russia, should be dissatisfied with its existing Moscow-provided weapons and should feel the need to solicit more weapons from its former American foe.

In just the same way that India is slowly moving away from Russian weapons, so too Vietnam might be preparing for a similar “transition” (or “rebalancing” as Vietnam’s media and its international supporters like to call it) away from reliance on Moscow.

As the saying goes, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, so it is questionable why both of these countries should feel the need to turn to the US for more weapons when arms cooperation with Russia has always been very good.

The only explanation is that Vietnam, like India, is being courted by the US as part of the “China Containment Coalition”, and that Washington wants to ‘seal the deal’ with both of its newfound partners through a series of highly profitable and symbolic arms contracts.

The restoration of full US-Vietnamese relations, including in the military sphere, might appear as a superficially welcome sign for all other countries that are currently experiencing Western sanctions.   It would however be a pyrrhic victory.   

Since there is no legitimate reason why Vietnam would resort to importing weapons from the US when it can get from Russia all the weapons it needs to maintain the strategic naval balance with China, the only reason why Hanoi is now reaching out to Washington is that it must be genuinely interested in falling in with the US anti-Chinese strategy in a way that can only upset the regional balance with China.

US-Vietnamese collaboration against China is not just occurring out of the blue.   Hanoi has already received $18 million last year to purchase US patrol boats after US Senator John McCain pushed through legislation to loosen the arms embargo. Adding another element to the mix, Vietnam is party to the restrictive TPP trading agreement that its top export partner is pushing for throughout the region.

In other words, Vietnam has already agreed to align itself with the economic component of the US’s hegemonic Pivot to Asia, so that it predictably follows that it should do so in the military sphere as well.

Losing Balance

It is too early to say Vietnam is fully pivoting towards the US at the expense of its traditional Russian ally.  Clearly however Hanoi has thrown in its lot in with Washington in pursuing the shared objective of “containing” China.

Even if Vietnam were ever to make such an anti-Russian decision, it would take a long time for it to transition its entire military from using Russian to US weapons. 

More likely, Hanoi wants to cooperate with the US to send a signal to China whilst simultaneously strengthening its future bargaining position with Moscow.  After all, if Vietnam really wanted to break with Russia, it would have complied with US’ demands last March and barred Russia from using its airfields for military refuelling.

Instead, it appears Vietnam is looking to walk a geopolitical tightrope, balancing its historical military ties with Russia with its recent economic ones with the US.

Nonetheless, though it will take time, if Vietnam’s present pro-US course continues then the two former foes could surprisingly end up very close allies in the next decade, united by a shared desire to “contain” China. The fact this is just a hyped-up marketing gimmick from the US military-industrial complex is neither here nor there.

The most logical consequence of Hanoi’s progressive shift towards Washington will be that its relations with Beijing will suffer.  As for the US, once it senses that its dominant position in Vietnam has been restored, it will inevitably pressure Vietnam to distance itself from Russia too.

Given the series of Hybrid Wars that the US has been waging all across the world lately, it is to be expected that the US will employ some elements of this strategy in one day blackmailing Vietnam to follow the course it wants for it. Although the exact scenarios cannot be foreseen, one possibility might be for the US to exploit the TPP’s on-paper labour regulations to  foment a Colour Revolution movement in Vietnam that disguises itself as a “Solidarity”-type workers’ union to exert grassroots pressure on the Vietnamese authorities.

Concluding Thoughts

Every country has the sovereign right to choose whoever it wants to cooperate with in strategic, military, economic, and other affairs.  Countries such as China and Russia cannot however help but be alarmed by Vietnam’s recent intensification of its relations with the US.

Were it not directed against any third party, then the US-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership (as historically odd as it may seem considering the Vietnam War) would not be a threat to anyone.  The trouble is that it is intended as a threat, specifically against China, but with a long-term intention of weakening Russia’s position in Southeast Asia as well.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s diplomats will react calmly, with Russia probably avoiding direct mention of these developments at all.  However there is no doubt Moscow and Beijing are worried and will be watching events closely to see what happens next.

If Washington ramps up its relations with Hanoi in response to Duterte’s victory in the Philippines, and and seeks to replace the Philippines with Vietnam in its Pivot to Asia strategy, then this could shift the centre of the regional confrontation with China that the “containment” strategy entails from the South China Sea to the Indochinese mainland.

Advertisement
Comments

Latest

The End Of The US Unipolar Moment Is Irreversible

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment.

Published

on

Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The past weeks have shown how part of the American establishment is weighing the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s strategies around the world. I have a strong feeling that in the coming weeks we will see the destabilizing effects of American politics, especially towards its closest allies.

A disastrous flip of events appears to be on its way, in case Trump were to lose the November midterm elections (the House and Senate elections). If this were to happen, the Trump administration would probably exploit the Russia gate conspiracy claiming that Moscow had now acted in favour of Democrats. Trump could argue that Moscow was disappointed by the lack of progress in softening US sanctions against Russia; indeed, by Trump’s measures against Russia (expulsions, sanctions, property seizures) and its allies (China, Iran and Syria).

Trump would not hesitate to claim Russian interference in the midterms to aid the Democrats, citing intelligence reports. He would say that Russia aims to create chaos in the US by placing roadblocks in the way of attempts to “Make America Great Again” and handing the House and Senate to the Democrats. He would use the electoral defeat to blame his accusers of getting aid from Russia. In doing so, he would be accelerating the implosion of his administration in an all-out war with the establishment. The mainstream media would dismiss Trump’s accusations against the Democrats of collusion with Russia as a conspiracy theory of an unravelling presidency. All this, summed up, would lead to the Democrats having majority in both houses, easily proceeding to the impeachment of Trump.

Italy is piggybacking on the US, operating side by side with Washington to expand its role in North Africa, especially in Libya. However, Rome will have to offer something in return to please Trump. Evidence points to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) as the quid pro quo, the US encouraging Italy to complete it in order to put pressure on Germany’s North Stream II project and undermine Russian gas deliveries to the EU. I have the impression that the only card available for Italy to play (and which interests Trump) is an endorsement of Washington’s positions on Iran, given that Italy already shares in common with Washington differences with Paris and Berlin on many issues. In this sense, Conte’s words about US intelligence info on the JCPOA paves the way for further decisions:

“”I didn’t take a specific stand. I said we are willing to evaluate the necessity to take more rigorous stances if the (nuclear) accord is shown to be ineffective. We are waiting to have elements of intelligence, Italy would like to evaluate it with its EU partners”

As evidence of Washington’s failed strategy towards Iran, India continues to buy crude oil from Iran, increasing the amount in the last month by 52%. China is also increasing its importation from Iran. Meanwhile, Iran is working with other countries to circumvent the US dollar in order to sustain their mutual trade within a new framework of agreements. Washington is especially disappointment with New Delhi, with American officials continuing to reiterate that India’s intentions align with Washington’s. Since November, with the imposition of counter-sanctions on countries that continue to work with Iran, Washington’s bluff will become evident to everybody, much to the disappointment of the Trump administration.

In the meantime, relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia have almost completely broken down on account of human rights. Ambassadors have been expelled and there is a continuing war of words, with trade between the two countries being brought to a stop. This is the latest example of the divisions manifesting themselves within the Western elites, with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration being in opposition to the likes of France, Germany and Canada.

What is also clear is that the issue of energy is central to Washington’s strategy. Between criticism of the German Nord Stream II and invitations to Italy to finish the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, it is clear that both the Trump administration and the policy makers of the deep state are strongly concerned about what actions allies and enemies could take to overcome the pressure brought to bear by Washington on the issues of energy, Iran, and sanctions. This shows that the US is very fearful of de-dollarization, especially coming from its allies.

Bypassing sanctions with currencies other than US dollar, or creating creative finance structures that bypass the SWIFT payment system, are the only means of maintaining relations between countries in spite of Washington’s sanctions. The US strategy is limited in the short term and certainly harmful in the long term for US Dollar financial hegemony.

That Washington’s allies are even entertaining such possibilities places US financial hegemony at great risk in the long run. This worries the American deep state a great deal, even without Trump, who in any case will not be in charge past 2024 (should he be re-elected in 2020).

One of the points of greatest tension is precisely this strategic difference between the Trump administration and the policy makers in the deep state (AKA Langley and Foggy Bottom). While the former can increase the pressure on allies (through NATO, the JCPOA, TTIP and TPP) to obtain immediate solutions and benefits, the latter must above all consider the effects in the medium and long term, which are often harmful for US interests. The imposition of sanctions on Iran, and the obligation of European allies to comply with this directive, is a prime example.

Another of Washington’s strategies revolves around the price of oil. The United States would have no problem seeing the price of crude oil skyrocket. Secretly, many in the administration hope that Iran will take the first false step by closing the Strait of Hormuz (Teheran will not make this move as things stand now); some even hope that the crisis between Canada and Saudi Arabia will have some impact on the cost of crude oil.

Even trade war and tariffs should be seen as part of Trump’s short-term strategy to demonstrate to his base that something is being done against countries that he thinks are taking advantage of the United States. In reality, Trump knows, or should know, that there is no way of stopping China’s growth, a result of globalization that has been the engine of free-market capitalism, making the western elite richer than ever before. Trump deceives his base with trade wars and tariffs, but in the long run the costs will be borne by American consumers, many of whom are Trump’s voters.

Trump thinks in the very short term, constantly aiming to present himself before his electors with a list of ticked boxes ( Peter Lavelle of Crosstalk gets trademark of this definition), confirming that he is fulfilling his electoral promises. In this way he hopes to win the midterms in November. To succeed in this endeavor, the economy must pick up to a gallop (for now this is happening thanks to a series of tax cuts and the continuous pumping of easy money from the Fed) and he must put pressure on his allies as well as aggressively confront Iran, Russia and China through sanctions, cutting energy supplies and forcing Tehran to negotiate once again the nuclear agreement.

What many analysts struggle with when trying to analyse Donald Trump is that there is no overarching strategy uniting his actions into a coherent policy. Trump acts extemporaneously, often with a very short strategic outlook and for internal political motivations.

Nevertheless, if there is something that worries the deep state, it is the long-term impact of tariffs, trade war, sanctions and impositions on allies; or, to put it most simply, de-dollarization. If there is anything that scares the Trump administration, it is remaining entangled in a destabilizing war with Iran that would lead to the early end of the Trump presidency and destroying its legacy, as Bush’s legacy was destroyed by Iraq.

In all this uncoordinated and inconsistent behaviour, there is the hope of a major rise in the price of oil that would help slow down China’s growth and transform the US shale-gas industry into an ultra-profitable business, further boosting the US economy and allowing Trump to present further evidence to his base of his ability to improve their lives.

The United States is in the terminal phase of its unipolar moment and is struggling to come to terms with the downsizing of its role in the world. Its ruling elite cannot accept the prospect of sharing power, preferring to oppose by all means possible the transition to a world order involving more powers. If this situation is already complex for any superpower enough to manage, a president has been elected who has little regard for compromise and mediation.

Ultimately, in addition to an obvious problem in defining Washington’s role in the world over the next few years, the United States finds itself with a president who is in almost open warfare with an important part of the US establishment. The deep state is still living on the hope of impeaching Trump to halt the loss of US influence, deluding themselves that things can return to how they were at the height of the unipolar moment in the 1990s.

Continue Reading

Latest

America’s Lengthening Enemies List

17th years in Afghanistan and America’s list of enemies continues to grow.

Patrick J. Buchanan

Published

on

Authored by Patrick J. Buchanan


Friday, deep into the 17th year of America’s longest war, Taliban forces overran Ghazni, a provincial capital that sits on the highway from Kabul to Kandahar.

The ferocity of the Taliban offensive brought U.S. advisers along with U.S. air power, including a B-1 bomber, into the battle.

“As the casualty toll in Ghazni appeared to soar on Sunday,” The Wall Street Journal reported, “hospitals were spilling over with dead bodies, corpses lay in Ghazni’s streets, and gunfire and shelling were preventing relatives from reaching cemeteries to bury their dead.”

In Yemen Monday, a funeral was held in the town square of Saada for 40 children massacred in an air strike on a school bus by Saudis or the UAE, using U.S.-provided planes and bombs.

“A crime by America and its allies against the children of Yemen,” said a Houthi rebel leader.

Yemen is among the worst humanitarian situations in the world, and in creating that human-rights tragedy, America has played an indispensable role.

The U.S. also has 2,000 troops in Syria. Our control, with our Kurd allies, of that quadrant of Syria east of the Euphrates is almost certain to bring us into eventual conflict with a regime and army insisting that we get out of their country.

As for our relations with Turkey, they have never been worse.

President Erdogan regards our Kurd allies in Syria as collaborators of his own Kurdish-terrorist PKK. He sees us as providing sanctuary for exile cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan says was behind the attempted coup in 2016 in which he and his family were targeted for assassination.

Last week, when the Turkish currency, the lira, went into a tailspin, President Trump piled on, ratcheting up U.S. tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel. If the lira collapses and Turkey cannot meet its debt obligations, Erdogan will lay the blame at the feet of the Americans and Trump.

Which raises a question: How many quarrels, conflicts and wars, and with how many adversaries, can even the mighty United States sustain?

In November, the most severe of U.S. sanctions will be imposed on Iran. Among the purposes of this policy: Force as many nations as possible to boycott Iranian oil and gas, sink its economy, bring down the regime.

Iran has signaled a possible response to its oil and gas being denied access to world markets. This August, Iranian gunboats exercised in the Strait of Hormuz, backing up a regime warning that if Iranian oil cannot get out of the Gulf, the oil of Arab OPEC nations may be bottled up inside as well. Last week, Iran test-fired an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Iran has rejected Trump’s offer of unconditional face-to-face talks, unless the U.S. first lifts the sanctions imposed after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

With no talks, a U.S. propaganda offensive underway, the Iranian rial sinking and the economy sputtering, regular demonstrations against the regime, and new sanctions scheduled for November, it is hard to see how a U.S. collision with Tehran can be avoided.

This holds true as well for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Last week, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.

Though the U.S. had already expelled 60 Russian diplomats for the poisoning, and Russia vehemently denies responsibility — and conclusive evidence has not been made public and the victims have not been heard from — far more severe sanctions are to be added in November.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is warning that such a U.S. move would cross a red line: “If … a ban on bank operations or currency use follows, it will amount to a declaration of economic war. … And it will warrant a response with economic means, political means and, if necessary, other means.”

That the sanctions are biting is undeniable. Like the Turkish lira and Iranian rial, the Russian ruble has been falling and the Russian people are feeling the pain.

Last week also, a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance plane, observing China’s construction of militarized islets in the South China Sea, was told to “leave immediately and keep out.”

China claims the sea as its national territory.

And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un apparently intends to hold onto his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“We’re waiting for the North Koreans to begin the process of denuclearization, which they committed to in Singapore and which they’ve not yet done,” John Bolton told CNN last week.

A list of America’s adversaries here would contain the Taliban, the Houthis of Yemen, Bashar Assad of Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China — a pretty full plate.

Are we prepared to see these confrontations through, to assure the capitulation of our adversaries? What do we do if they continue to defy us?

And if it comes to a fight, how many allies will we have in the battles and wars that follow?

Was this the foreign policy America voted for?

Continue Reading

Latest

In Private Meeting, Facebook Exec Warns News Outlets to Cooperate or End Up Dying in ‘Hospice’

“Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

The Duran

Published

on

Via Common Dreams


During a closed-door and off-the-record meeting last week, top Facebook executive Campbell Brown reportedly warned news publishers that refusal to cooperate with the tech behemoth’s efforts to “revitalize journalism” will leave media outlets dying “like in a hospice.”

Reported first by The Australian under a headline which read “Work With Facebook or Die: Zuckerberg,” the social media giant has insisted the comments were taken out of context, even as five individuals who attended the four-hour meeting corroborated what Brown had stated.

“Mark doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes,” Brown reportedly said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We will help you revitalize journalism… in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding hands with your dying business like in a hospice.”

As The Guardian reported on Monday, Facebook is “vehemently” denying the veracity of the comments as reported by The Australian, referring to its own transcript of the meeting. However, Facebook is refusing to release its transcript and tape of the gathering.

Brown’s warning about the dire prospects for news outlets that don’t get on board with a future in which corporate giants like Facebook are the arbiters of what is and isn’t trustworthy news comes as progressives are raising alarm that Facebook’s entrance into the world of journalism poses a major threat to non-corporate and left-wing news outlets.

As Common Dreams reported in July, progressives’ fears were partly confirmed after Facebook unveiled its first slate of news “segments” as part of its Facebook Watch initiative.

While Facebook claims its initiative is part of an effort to combat “misinformation,” its first series of segments were dominated by such corporate outlets as Fox News and CNN.

Reacting to Brown’s reported assertion that Zuckerberg “doesn’t care about publishers,” Judd Legum, who writes the Popular Information newsletter,argued, “Anyone who does care about news needs to understand Facebook as a fundamental threat.”

“In addition to disputed quote, there are also Facebook’s actions, which are fully consistent with the quote,” Legum added. “We desperately need to develop alternative delivery mechanisms to Facebook.”

Continue Reading

JOIN OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Advertisement

Your donations make all the difference. Together we can expose fake news lies and deliver truth.

Amount to donate in USD$:

5 100

Waiting for PayPal...
Validating payment information...
Waiting for PayPal...

Advertisement
Advertisements

Quick Donate

The Duran
EURO
DONATE
Donate a quick 10 spot!
Advertisement

Advertisements

The Duran Newsletter

Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending