THE unipolar world that the United States enjoyed for decades since the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and the radical belief in ‘American indispensability’ led it to take hubristic decisions in the name of the ‘doctrine of pre-emptive war’. This and all such doctrines, endorsed from time to time, led to catastrophic ends with both unintended and deliberate fallouts in the long run.

The current US foreign policy doctrine of ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ relates to its strategic pivot towards Asia and has been expounded by successive administrations from Obama to Biden. The overall experience of its post-Cold War monopolistic policy posture, driven by renewed hubris, emanated from its victory against the erstwhile Soviet Union, and led it to foreign policy blunders.

Moreover, the persistent realities complicated the dynamics and substantially transmuted relationships within the Indo-Pacific region over the last two decades.

With the end of the Cold War, the US emerged as an unparalleled superpower. Emboldened by ‘Fukuyaman fantasy’, a hegemonic prognosis that had proclaimed the ‘end of history’ and the Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government, the US embarked on a muscle-flexing policy marathon.

Along this imperious policy line, the US deliberately demeaned Russia, and kept it at a distance from the Nato-centric European security architecture that the US had been building in Europe over the decades. Throughout the 1990s, Russia remained inflamed by its chaotic economic and political transitions.

Moreover, the whole geostrategic and security framework the US designed in Europe was lopsided, thus the core interests of Russia had deliberately been overlooked.

The West paid no attention and rather, in negligence, continued to demean a resurgent Russia as ‘a big gas station masquerading as a country’. The result is: the US-led unsustainable security structure in Europe has exploded to the point of the current Russo-Ukrainian war, exposing the world to utter horrors and destabilising the whole planet.

As for the Indo-Pacific region, it is home to over half of the world’s population and 60 per cent of global GDP. This region is strikingly diverse and complex in terms of the countries’ varied national interests, geostrategic concepts and security perceptions. Consisting of 65pc of the world’s oceans, this region is at the same time an outstanding story of interconnectivity, thanks to the thousand-year civilisational exchange, economic integration, and, most importantly, ocean-borne people-to-people contact.

In the decades after the end of the Cold War, the Indo-Pacific region, as the US coined the term to denote the area stretching from the US Pacific Coast to the Indian Ocean, has undergone ample change in every dimension. China has risen to prominence with promising aspects of being a global superpower, India has emerged as a powerful global stakeholder, and small countries from Bangladesh to Vietnam have exhibited the potential to be emerging economic powers.

There have been considerable divergence of respective national interests and behaviours manifested in border conflicts, diplomatic assertions, arms race, and ‘minilateral’ political polarisation. All these changes raise questions about the compatibility of the existing US-led security structure across Asia-Pacific with the current regional landscape and the sustainability of the ideologically overcharged but empirically empty US Indo-Pacific strategy.

In gist, both organic and state-driven forces have brought about meaningful changes in the Indo-Pacific region, with the potential for further evolution in the years to come. Powerful countries have come to the point of influencing or even overturning the regional landscape beyond the external will, and small ones have gained considerable stakes to influence regional outcomes beyond the assertion of regional powers.

The US needs to embrace these realities and attune those with the larger strategic posture. Any strategic framework driven by excessively symbolic principles and ‘sole containment purpose’, while adding no substantial value to the Indo-Pacific countries’ national interests, is bound to fail.

Hossain Delwar
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022

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