FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Command and General Staff College’s Cultural and Area Studies Office hosted “Understanding INDOPACOM’s Geopolitical and Military Environment: Where Sino, Russian, and American Interests Collide,” Nov. 30 at the Arnold Conference Room, Lewis and Clark Center, Fort Leavenworth. The panel of Command and General Staff College scholars and international officers is one in a series of panel discussions on the Indo-Pacific area that is part of the education effort to move the college along the pathway to a two theater curriculum.
Maj. Gen. Donn H. Hill, Deputy Commanding General for Education, Combined Arms Center; and Provost of the Army University, provided opening remarks. Dr. Mahir J. Ibrahimov, Director, CASO, served as the panel moderator. Panel Members included Dr. Joseph Babb, Department of Military History; Lt. Col. Holly Y. Maness, Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations; Lt. Col. David C. McCaughrin, DJIMO; all faculty members at CGSC and Maj. Frederik Wintermans, Royal Netherlands Army, currently assigned to CGSC. “They all bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in the region,” said Hill. “They’re true SME’s”
Hill reflected on being in Beijing 24 years ago on leave. China at the time seemed dark and cold he said and he couldn’t have imagined then that today we are talking about China as a peer or near-peer threat. He also said the atmosphere in the United States toward China was much different than it is today.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called China our “pacing threat” in June and our Interim National Security Strategy identifies the United States “growing rivalry with China, Russia and others” said Hill. With China in the news and on the front pages, the CASO panel cannot be more timely, he concluded.
Ibrahimov set the stage for the panelists saying the Asia-Pacific region includes 36 nations and approximately half of the world population. More than 3000 languages are spoken in the region that includes two of the three largest economies in the world, seven of America’s top 15 trading partners and five nuclear states. The panel, Ibrahimov said, focuses on the relationships between China, Russia, and the United States and the areas where the interests of the three nations intersect.
Babb was the first panelist to give his remarks. He talked about the history of China and its relationships with Russia and the U.S. He noted the Russia-China relationship began in the late 1600’s and that trade between the U.S. and China began in 1784. Trade, he noted, is a huge difference in comparing our current relationship with China to the former Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union. “We are an Asian power,” Babb said. “The Chinese have had a chance to look at us since the 1700’s.”
Babb said initial relationship between Russia and China was equal and fair but by the mid-1800’s the relationship had shifted and treaties between the two countries took land and power from the Chinese.
From 1901 to 1941 there was a U.S. Army presence in China and the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps presence there goes back to the mid-1800’s. In the 1900’s the situation becomes more confused and more tangled as there is war between China and Russia and both Russia and the U.S. provide advisors to Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese nationalists who eventually lose to forces under Mao Zedong. Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the nationalists retreated to Taiwan.
McCaughrin picked up the story from there. He began with the collision of Russian, Chinese and U.S. interests in the Korean conflict between 1950 and 1953. Over time, China begins to resent their “junior partner” status in the communist coalition, said McCaughrin. This is especially true after the death of Joseph Stalin and the power struggle in Russia that eventually brings Nikita Khrushchev to power. Mao admired Stalin and was unhappy with Khrushchev’s move away from Stalin’s repressive communist tactics, said McCaughrin.
Maness served as a foreign area officer in Japan and examined the region from the Japanese point of view. She said the height of Japanese expansionism was about 1942 but that the treaty that ended World War II and the new Japanese constitution dictated by that treaty had changed Japan to a pacifist country. The Interim National Security Strategy identifies alliances with Japan and South Korea as critical to U.S. interests in the region. Nearly half of the U.S. forces permanently stationed overseas are in Japan and South Korea, she said. Both nations view of Russia and China are similar to the U.S. view, she said.
Netherlands Maj. Wintermans was the final speaker. He brought a European flavor to the panel and spoke of the Russian view of the Asia-Pacific region. The key takeaway, said Wintermans, is “Moscow will not pivot to Asia in the medium term. Russian security interests are European. The Diplomatic, Military and Economic activities in the Pacific region revolve around the partnership with China, and the rest of the security dynamic in the area are of secondary to Moscow.”
Wintermans said Russian military forces are primarily focused on Europe and the Atlantic and both land forces in Russia’s eastern area and the Russian pacific fleet are under developed. Russian foreign policy is security first then economic. The West is opposite, said Wintermans.
The Netherlands officer reminded the audience that Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said “We (Russia and China) noted the destructive character of Washington’s actions that undermine global strategic stability. They are fueling tensions in various parts of the world including along the Russian and Chinese borders.”
Following presentations by each panel member, the audience of more than 100 in the conference room and more than 100 attending by Facebook and VTC were able to ask questions of the panel experts. Video of the complete panel discussion is at https://youtu.be/lR5AdVmovkg.
This panel is part of series of seminars and panel discussions on issues of operational and strategic importance to the United States that CASO in coordination with CGSC, universities, think tanks, interagency organizations and other partners conducts every two to three months broadcasting them through Video Teleconference and live on CGSC's Facebook page. Videos of the sessions are available on the CGSC Facebook and YouTube sites.
For questions on CASO events please contact: Dr. Mahir J. Ibrahimov, Director, Cultural and Area Studies Office (CASO), U.S. Army CGSC at (913)684-3345 or firstname.lastname@example.org.