Grave threats loom over Asia in 2025

By James East, The Straits Times, 24 September 2000

BANGKOK—Nuclear war, mass migrations out of Indonesia into Singapore and a maritime blockade of Taiwan by China.

These scenarios envisioned in Asia 2025, a Pentagon study of the Asia-Pacific region, also cast China as an empire with expansionist intentions and sees India emerging as its main rival.

Commissioned last year, the study reads like a blockbuster thriller and is now circulating in the region.

It shows that US defence chiefs are refocusing their military and security strategic thinking towards Asia and away from Europe, following the end of the Cold War.

It also reveals just how wary US defence planners are about China.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen's whistle-stop tour this month of Asia, including Singapore, proves the point.

This is roughly my tenth visit to Asian countries in the past 3-1/2 years, and when I first took office I made it clear that I was going to work hard to solidify the relationships that we have throughout the Pacific region, he said in Jakarta.

In Bangkok, he went further, telling The Straits Times: We intend to maintain a presence in the Asia-Pacific region...indispensable for the continued prosperity of the entire region.

If the US were not present that would create a vacuum which would be filled by a number of competing and contending interests...that would be adverse to China's interests and the interests of all in the region.

American military strategists are clearly worried at the potential for trouble in the Asia-Pacific.

Asia 2025 warns that we are likely to be surprised by the ‘non-linear’ nature of the events and forces that shape Asia's new strategic environment.

This reflects a mood echoed by US President Bill Clinton who earlier this year described Asia as perhaps the most dangerous place in the world today.

His defence strategists see a series of potential dangers on the horizon, dangers that could eventually drive the US out of the region.

Almost daily, new challenges and potential threats to the world order surface in the region, threats that, according to the team that met last year at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, could engulf countries in nuclear war and lead to the collapse of nations.

In East Asia, South Korea and North Korea are working towards unification; in Japan there is rising resentment at the presence of US forces; in China, leaders express distaste for Taiwan's dangerous drift towards separatism.

Meanwhile, on Singapore's doorstep, the Indonesian archipelago risks implosion under the weight of separatist and religious violence.

There are looming energy crises and potential threats to shipping lanes.

New weapons of mass destruction also threaten the peace as new nuclear powers India and Pakistan develop their arsenals. But according to the report—formally titled the Under Secretary of Defence (Policy) 1999 Summer Study Final Report Asia 2025—the risks further north are, if anything, worse.

This was a reference to China. US military strategists believe its growth as an economic and military superpower will lead to China dominating the region.

In Asia 2025, five futurescapes have been imagined by the team of working and retired defence officers and academics assembled by the legendary Pentagon official Andrew Marshall.

It suggests that with traditional alliances breaking down, the US will, in future, be pressured to share nuclear arms with former formal allies.

The spread of sophisticated weaponry and satellite-based guidance systems, some to extremist groups, and the lack of US operating bases in expected flashpoint areas will also present the US with some stark choices.

Globalisation, rather than being the harbinger of peace, accelerates the spread of weapons of awesome power, the report suggests.