As we see on weekly basis, President Trump tends to use sanctions as a tactical & sometimes strategic weapon to persuade other countries to deal with him. His use of intense sanctions backed by a credible military threat has already produced a sea change in North Korea’s relationship with America. Yesterday, the No. 2 man in North Korea visited the White House after a lengthy meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo. As a result, the June 12 summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un is on. As a reciprocal gesture, President Trump has postponed the application of even more intense sanctions on North Korea.
Recently President Trump withdrew from the Nuclear Pact with Iran and imposed stringent sanctions on Iran. The objective is to create such an economic suffering on Iran that it will come back to the negotiating table. Though many have refused to go along, it is expected that the corporations in EU and in Asia would choose America vs. Iran regardless of what their governments do. Whether these sanctions on Iran prove successful or not, they are in strategic & tactical congruence with America’s objectives. And they are flexible because it is up to the President to apply them or not or decide on the intensity of the application.
Before we go to the other stupid & dangerous type of sanctions, look at what Admiral Harry Harris, the outgoing head of the Indo-Pacific Command, said this past Wednesday:
- “… make no mistake, our 27-year holiday from history is over; Great Power competition is back and I believe we are approaching an inflection point in history“.
Admiral Harris was referring to the challenge posed by China both in South China Sea and broadly in Indo-Pacific. What is Indo-Pacific, you ask? The US Navy defines it as the region from the western shores of India to the western shores on USA, a huge region. South China Sea sits right in the middle of it and China has publicly announced plans to impose Chinese hegemony there.
Secretary of Defense Mattis is equally blunt about what the US Navy plans to do in the international waters of the South China Sea:
- “We are also going to confront what we believe is out of step with international law, out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue, and part of this is we maintain a very transparent military activity out in the Pacific,”
China is the “biggest long term challenge” for America as Admiral Harris said this week and the center of the challenge is South China Sea and its extremities that open into the Pacific & Indian Oceans. At the Pacific end of the South China Sea sits Vietnam and at the Indian Ocean end sit Indonesia, India and the extremely vital Malacca Straits, China’s lifeline to the Middle East and Africa.
Both Secretary of Defense Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo are working together to build solid long term relationships with the Governments, Militaries & especially Navies of Vietnam, Indonesia & India.You would think the US Congress would join in and help the Administration in this long term challenge, right?
Wrong. The biggest problem the US Military, the US State Department face in meeting the long term Chinese challenge is the US Congress. Remember the aftermath of the November 2016 election? Remember how everyone was in rage about the accusations of Russian meddling and their “collusion” with President Trump. That rage ended up creating the Special Counsel Mueller investigation into “Russia collusion”. That we all know. But very few know or remember the other measure enacted by the US Congress.
Because the US Congress, especially the Republican majority, did not trust President Trump to be tough enough with Russia, the Congress passed Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) with veto-proof majorities. With typical Congressional blunt & dumb stupidity, this Act does not punish Russia; instead it punishes other countries for their arms purchases from Russia.
Which are the main countries that could be sanctioned under CAATSA? The same countries that the US Military is trying to build alliances with & trying to sell American weapons to. So CAATSA of the US Congress is the biggest obstacle & danger the US Military & State Department face in countering America’s biggest long term challenge.
Take Vietnam whose Cam Ranh naval base was once America’s biggest in Asia. The Vietnamese military has been getting all its equipment from Russia. What does the US Congress expect Vietnam to do? End their decades long relationship with Russia & junk all their existing equipment? As Stratfor wrote, the effect of CAATSA could actually “discourage Vietnam from further building its defense relationship with the United States, if only to avoid future compromises to its strategic autonomy.”
What about Indonesia? As Stratfor wrote this week Indonesia’s “… military has long relied on suppliers from multiple countries, including Russia, with which it is drafting a strategic partnership agreement. Indonesia reportedly defied U.S. pressure in February when it proceeded with a new order for 11 Su-35 jets in a deal with Moscow.”
And all these three countries are already working together to solidify their relationships and build a common base against Chinese Navy. Vietnam is working to build a strategic defense relationship with India and look what happened this week between Indonesia & India?
During the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Indonesia, “India & Indonesia reached an agreement on naval defense cooperation that would entail building infrastructure on India’s Andaman Islands and Indonesia’s Sabang Islands. The two sides also agreed to form a comprehensive strategic partnership.” In fact, Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs, was quoted as saying that Sabang port’s “40-meter depth is suitable for all kinds of vessels, including submarines.”
Look how close Indonesia’s Sabang is to Indira Point & Campbell Bay of India’s Andaman Islands.
Let us go up a little to get a wider view. Remember from the above map that Indonesia’s Sabang is just north of Banda Aceh in the map below and the islands you see to the immediate north east of Banda Aceh are India’s Andaman & Nicobar islands.
India is already upgrading its military infrastructure in Andaman & Nicobar by building both a fighter-bomber air base and a naval base. By building a submarine base in Sabang, closer to the entrance/exit of Malacca Straits, the Indian Navy, with the Indonesian Navy, could bottle up Chinese Navy & Marine ships in case of a conflict. And the US Navy would also get access to India’s bases in Andaman & Nicobar under the interoperability type agreement between America & India.
China is absolutely livid at this agreement between India & Indonesia. China’s Global Times was explicit in its condemnation:
- “China’s extensive use of the Malacca Strait means its economic and energy security gets threatened if India builds a military base at Sabang port in Indonesia … If New Delhi actually planned to get military access to the strategic island of Sabang, it might get entangled in a conflict with China and will eventually regret its decision … Hopefully, India and Indonesia can steer clear of any military cooperation”, as India would not be interested to get involved in an arms race with China”
American Military, American State Department, India & Indonesia welcome this. But there is an American entity that seeks to throttle this relationship. Who? US Congress & its CAATSA. The US Congress wants to sanction India for its 55-60 year old deep military relationship with Russia and demands that India stop that relationship. How deep is that relationship? As Stratfor writes,
- Russia “supplies most of the arms for the Indian military, including combat aircraft, naval destroyers, battle tanks and a lone nuclear submarine. … Furthermore, Russian arms deals offer generous terms, such as technology transfers and opportunities for joint production, that are important to India’s strategic autonomy doctrine.”
The US Congress actually expects & demands that India turn its back on a trusted multi-decade relationship with Russia, a relationship that was developed while America funded & built up the military of Napakistan that was used to attack India. Well, Stratfor doesn’t. Their opinion is:
- “If push comes to shove, India will not sacrifice its relationship with Russia. … In the longer run, however, the CAATSA process could rekindle anti-American sentiment in the Indian defense bureaucracy and the political class, two decades after a reset in U.S.-Indian relations consigned such nationalism to the margins.”
Forget a think tank like Stratfor. Look what Secretary of State Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Commitee this past week:
- “For scores of reasons, India needs to be central to what we do. Specific issues — South Central Asia issues, Southeast Asia issues. They ought to be one of our closest partners and we ought to do everything we can to make sure that we achieve that,”
That was not enough. Secretary of State Pompeo was virtually reduced to begging the Congress, especially the Ranking Democrat Robert Menendez:
- “Will you make a commitment that you’ll help (Defence) Secretary (Jim) Mattis get the waivers that he needs in order to make sure that these sanctions don’t hit folks that were not intended to be harmed by these sanctions?”
Senator Menendez was unmoved. But what about the Republican Majority in the Senate, you ask? Sadly, many of them are complicit because of their 2-year old mission to punish Russia. They know they are not punishing Russia; they know they are actually punishing American Military but they can’t seem to stop. Their anger about the November 2016 election seems to supersede everything including preparing the US Military to meet its biggest long term challenge.
What a difference between a deft, focused use of sanctions by President Trump against North Korea & Iran and blunt, stupid & utterly counterproductive CAATSA weapon created by the US Congress. No wonder the poll ratings of the US Congress are abysmally low.
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