As this author had written in a previous article “Kerry’s Foreign Policy and Israel, East Asian Allied Distrust of Washington”, Secretary Kerry’s current policies and lack of strategic foresight will harm long-term U.S. power projection capabilities and continued preponderance on the global stage.
Whether it’s abandoning Israel and appeasing her enemies in the recent conflict or shackling Japan’s response when her airspace was violated, U.S. credibility and trustworthiness is quickly eroding among friends, and as a corollary its influence and power projection in their region. While the Pentagon may be preoccupied with China’s military anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy against U.S. power projection in the Western Pacific, the biggest A2/AD threat U.S. faces in both East Asia and the Middle East is loss of trust from its allies.
China understands this maxim well, and has embarked on a rather successful extra-military A2/AD strategy to fill the U.S. vacuum in the Greater Middle East.
China’s A2/AD Strategy
China’s policy towards the Middle East is similar to its approach to Central Asia—courting countries with economic carrots in exchange for support for China’s policies. This soft power over time translates into political influence in an A2/AD strategy. A2/AD here means extra-military means of leveraging soft power with proxies to counter U.S. power projection capabilities. For example, rather than using military hardware of DF-21D aircraft carrier killer missiles in the Western Pacific for an A2/AD strategy against U.S. power projection, China is using economic software of investments via proxies in the Middle East to deny U.S. access (e.g., basing, over-flight rights, etc.) and power projection capabilities over time.
Because U.S. depends on regional military bases in the Greater Middle East ranging from Central Asia, Gulf state such as Bahrain (U.S. Fifth Fleet) and Qatar (U.S. Central Command Forward Operating Base) and priority access to Egypt’s Suez Canal, without assistance of regional partners or access to bases from which to operate, U.S. military freedom of action would be constrained.
A case in point is in 2005 when under Sino-Russian pressure within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Uzbekistan ejected U.S. troops from its military base to wage war in Afghanistan. Economic carrots over time had translated into politico-military influence (Similarly, in 2009 Russia also offered economic carrots for Kyrgyzstan to evict U.S. troops, and U.S. had to counter offer with a larger carrot to reinstate itself.)
China’s increased investments in Central Asia, Gulf states, Egypt, may translate into reluctance of these states to cooperate with the U.S. should a conflict break out with China, especially given Beijing is now an economic power house while the U.S. economy continues to retrench.
And although the Obama administration just signed an $11 billion arms deal with Qatar while touting their strategic partnership and gratitude for providing the Al Udeid Air Base rent free, there is no guarantee that should bilateral relations fall out in the future due to Qatar’s support of Hamas, Al Qaeda and other State Department designated terrorist groups, Doha would not kick out the U.S. military just as Riyadh did in 2003.
In fact Beijing is also upgrading ties with Qatar. With Qatar’s importance as a top LNG exporter, China is upgrading ties with Doha in the energy, high finance and geopolitical front. China granting Qatar the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) status makes it the largest foreign investor in Chinese capital markets, and Doha’s Taliban office provides Beijing with an alternative to Pakistan for accessing the Taliban.
Whereas U.S. military base in Qatar has been a vital hub for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, now that U.S. troops have left Baghdad and on its way out of Kabul, Doha knows eventually it needs to look elsewhere for new business partners like Beijing.
China is also focused on Israel. In light of Arab states instability in the Levant, Beijing sees Israel as a rock of stability in midst of a sea of upheavals and upgraded bilateral relations including defense ties. According to Yoram Evron from INSS, China believes that “strengthening its relationship with Jerusalem would be sign that it gradually is coming to possess a foothold in the region, while somewhat offsetting, and perhaps even undermining, American political influence there.”
Enter Secretary Kerry to further undermine U.S. political influence in Israel.
Kerry’s A2/AD Strategy
It is ironic that in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, along with its Iranian and Qatari sponsors, the U.S. and North Korea are on the opposite side of Israel to provide arms to Qatar and Hamas.
While on July 14 the Obama administration signed its biggest arms deal of the year with Qatar, on July 26, the London Telegraph reported Doha’s proxy Hamas is also negotiating a new arms deal with North Korea for missiles and communications equipment to maintain their offensive against Israel.
And rather than meeting parties directly affected by the conflict such as Israel, PA and Egypt, Kerry displayed duplicity by meeting with their rivals Qatar and Turkey to impose a cease-fire that sustains a militant Hamas. With allies like this, one wonders if it is a matter of time before Egypt decides to grant priority access to Chinese warships rather than the U.S. Navy, or Israel offers Haifa port—where U.S. Sixth Fleet makes frequent port calls—as a replenishment and logistics base for the Chinese navy. China has already won a $1 billion port tender to enlarge either Ashdod or Haifa port.
In October last year former Mossad director, Ephraim Halevy, warned of Beijing’s increasing presence in Israel and its soft -power access denial strategy towards Washington. He cautioned that Chinese involvement in building and operating the railroad line to Eilat, and its ability to control the railway, could create “economic and diplomatic pressure levers” against Israel and harm Israel’s strategic alliance with the U.S.
However, it seems there is no need for China to exercise any such pressures. Secretary Kerry appears quite effective in harming Israel’s alliance with the U.S., and providing an open door for Beijing’s to step in. As Kerry continues to lose the trust of regional allies, states in the Levant–Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria–would likely see China’s rise in the Middle East as a welcomed change.