The American world

By: Shahzad Chaudhry

The US runs the world, politically and militarily through its six geographical unified commands. One each for North America and South America, Northcom and Southcom, are located in the continental US (Conus).

Another, called the Central Command (Centcom), responsible for all countries of Asia – excluding India and Turkey, but including all of the Middle East and Central Asia excluding China – is also located in Conus. Northcom operates from Colorado, while Southcom and Centcom operate out of Florida. Centcom retains a forward Headquarters in Qatar too.

Centcom is well known to the Pakistanis since the Centcom commander is a frequent visitor to Islamabad. Pakistan gets counted in the Centcom Area Of Responsibility (AOR), but not India. Doha is the hub of all diplomatic activity for Afghan issues and houses the only formal Afghan Taliban diplomatic mission in the world; conveniently collocated with Centcom’s forward HQs.

There are three other regional commands: Eucom located in Germany, Africom responsible for all matters related to Africa and Pacom (Pacific Command) – perhaps the most potent of them all for its combustibility and the strategic context in all aspects of American interests; strategic, economic, military and political. This is where the declared American focus lies for the next century. It includes everything that lies in the Pacific and contiguous to it in Asia including India and China. It operates out of Hawaii.

Each geographical command is headed by a four-star general who reports directly to the president of the US; not to a service chief. These generals or admirals are responsible, on behalf of the president, for all military matters of interest to the US and most political matters that pertain to those interests.

These six circles of influence form the foundation of the US strategy to govern its interests. These do not intersect at any point, especially in the American eye and there are clean divisions in terms of their characteristics, nature of strategic and politico-economic determinants, and hence clearly define American objectives within the respective spheres. To them each is a different entity with a different set of issues and thus a varying level of American investment.

For example, the Asia-Pacific is the primary focus of the US. China too is aggressive in the region to safeguard its interests while the US has a permanent presence in East and the South-East Pacific in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. It has basing and other agreements with almost all other states including Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore and Malaysia also sit on the mouth of the Malacca Straits where the American presence is almost perpetual. This is the choke point for all shipping and trade from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and onwards to China and the rim states of East Asia.

The US has helped knit Asean as an alliance of the South East Asian nations that serve as its base for political and economic influence. As a Pacific rim state the US recently reinforced its presence through another Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement which will keep the politics of those 12 nations in the alliance in line with their mutually serving economic interests.

India is in the Pacom circle of influence. And the US would surely like India to augment the US effort to dominate the Indian Ocean access to the South China Sea spread from the Bay of Bengal to the Malacca Straits. The Kerry-Swaraj joint communiqué delineates India’s role in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Through investment that India has made into its navy and other seaborne capability it is obvious that India wishes to challenge China’s increasing domination of the India Ocean.

So when the US signs the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA), it actually knits India into its strategic sphere where both nations can per the agreement permit free berthing and logistics support to transiting vessels. Aircraft and military material could be based through for temporary or transitory deployments. Usually nations ask for money for such facilitation but after this agreement these will become mutually available on need basis.

India has had to give up on its foundational non-aligned philosophy in agreeing to join an international alliance. John Kerry was in Delhi to sweeten the deal by inking the sale of the six nuclear reactors to India to sustain its own civil-nuclear industry back home as well as to enable a further step towards the sharing of defence technology. Were India to agree to purchasing American military equipment they will then sign the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).

This is the bedrock of all enablers for the US to sell technology to India but in return it shall hold the most vital control of all electronic and avionic software source codes for which India will be perpetually dependent on the US to even make the slightest modification to its own warfare suites. For this reason alone, India has dithered from signing and ratifying the CISMOA. When that happens India will truly be in the US’s lap; far from the credence of its founding fathers.

Where is Pakistan in all this? Pakistan exists in the US’s adjacent circle of Centcom and each has a different purpose to the US. In the Centcom circle, oil, gas, Islamic extremism and terrorism, and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Syria are the focus. Pakistan is relevant and critical to the US for Afghanistan and the fight against terror, and in rectifying the fault-lines in Islam that give rise to phenomena like Al Qaeda and Daesh. These are entirely different kinds of challenges.

Hence, to the US, there is absolutely no contradiction of policy when it engages India on a different plane from Pakistan. Both serve different purposes quite independent of each other.

How will India want Pakistan to assess it? Surely as a diplomatic coup where the US was squarely in their corner with all offers and all diplomatic niceties coming India’s way. India is a bigger country, has a more eminent emerging role and will therefore serve the US in a far more crucial area of concern. Afghanistan is a fading issue, long imbued in fatigue and mission creep now. It is natural for the US to give more eminence to the Indian relationship.

We need to be clear about what is important to us and how it feeds into our national objective. Where interests converge like in Afghanistan and against terror the US will be seen to be falling back on Pakistan regardless of what goes on in Delhi. We just need to know the American world better.

The writer is a retired air-vice marshal, former ambassador and a security and political analyst.