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Paul Dibb, Crimea, US bull in “China shop” · 19 March 2014

Tom Switzer, of the “United States Studies Centre” at the University of Sydney, has written a very good article about the situation with Crimea:

Tom points out that (at least in part, in my view), this crisis stems from decisions made by Washington and Brussels since the collapse of the Soviet Empire more than two decades ago.

“Start with the expansion of NATO eastwards and Washington’s decision to deploy ballistic missile defences in Russia’s neighbourhood.”

“The Atlantic Alliance was a magnificent achievement in containing a real and formidable enemy. But the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War meant there was no clear and present danger to justify NATO expansion during the past two decades. Post-Communist Russia, remember, was not hostile, not an ideological rival and not militarily formidable. Yet the Clinton administration led the effort to extend alliance guarantees to nations that had been in Moscow’s orbit for generations. As many sound observers from different political and ideological stripes argued in the 1990s, the NATO expansion was bound to create the very danger it was intended to prevent.”

“It was provocative enough for the West to expand NATO to Poland and the Baltic states in the 1990s. It was even more provocative to try to push NATO to Russia’s next door. Which is precisely what happened in April 2008 when Brussels declared that Georgia and Ukraine would become part of NATO.”

The result was a testy Russia led by a testy Putin.

But what about China?

Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, I organized a luncheon conference to discuss the coming war. I asked Paul Dibb to present his views, and in his initial speech he said that the US would have used nuclear weapons if it had known whom to attack after 9/11.

Assuming that Dibb’s judgement is right, it illustrates an alarming inability of the US foreign policy establishment to make nuanced judgements. (Dibb did not offer an assessment as to whether such a nuclear response would have been appropriate.)

Much more recently (“The Australian”, 7 March, 2014, “Manoeuvres make waves but in truth Chinese navy is a paper tiger”), Dibb wrote about the “transit of three Chinese warships between Java and Christmas Island, as well as the new Chinese aircraft carrier being deployed in the South China Sea”.

Dibb writes: “We have to be concerned that China is starting to throw its weight about … we want to see a Southeast Asia that resists Chinese hegemony. … This is where the US comes in because it has an infinitely more powerful navy in the Pacific than China. We should encourage Washington to reinforce its presence in our region. … Australia can usefully assist here, not only by facilitating the presence of US marines in Darwin but also by responding positively to any US requests for greater use of our naval facilities in Western Australia and the future use of Cocos Islands.”

While China is now exhibiting a more aggressive attitude than did Russia after the collapse of the USSR, Dibb makes a number of questionable assumptions and leaps in logic (with holier than thou attitudes) which are, all too often, the trade-mark of US foreign policy.

Importantly, can the US respond to Chinese assertiveness is a measured way? Or, will it get logically lost as it did with Russia, and make the situation worse?

But, more important for Australia, is what should it do to act in its own interests?

Firstly, to what extent does Australia want to see “a Southeast Asia that resists Chinese hegemony”? Does Australia really have any vital interest in this?

Secondly, does this “hegemony” include Indonesia? To what extent is China realistically going to bully Indonesia?

If the reality is that Indonesia will not be bullied (even if China were to try), why is Dibb talking about Darwin and Cocos Islands? What do they have to do with non-Indonesian Southeast Asia?

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