By William Holland
January 15, 2018
Year one of the Donald Trump presidency reveals startling reversals of US priorities abroad, from Iranian domestic disruption to the arrival of a North American petrol powerhouse displacing Saudi Arabia as a premier exporter of oil.
But these favourables don’t weigh against a new frontier emerging. The Indo-Pacific is ground zero for the long war. This confirms insights from previous geographers like Halford McKinder’s concept of ‘the Heartland’, the ominous region of Eurasia that juts southward toward the northwest frontier in the subcontinent. This region remains anathema even to American power. But team Trump needs to find a way to tame tribal Sunni Islamists in “the Heartland,” if only to soften Islamabad’s hold on proxies that serve archaic domestic policy.
The nature of the threat isn’t ideological but strategic and technological. The entire Sunni Eurasian continent requires what America doesn’t have: the primacy of light infantry. American defence posture heavily weighs air support over every other factor in war. The Iranians continue to demonstrate where the future lies. And it lies with light infantry.
Absent Political Centre Confounds Enduring Peace
Examining the fractured social base of the entire Indo-Pacific reveals a frightening theatre of war that the Americans wish to directly avoid. Because light infantry commands resources on the ground, it must reckon with determinants that often preclude political solutions that war envisions for the West. If Clausewitz saw war as “merely the continuation of policy by other means,” the Americans will find no political centre from which to coalesce an enduring victory in Eurasia or the subcontinent.
Pakistan perfectly embodies the limits of conflict the Americans wish to avoid. Having multiple ethnicities subjugated to Punjabi rule from Islamabad makes regional sense, but no Western power wishes to elevate a distinct ethnic group to govern others. The Indo-Pacific is writ large by governing foundations whose source is ethnicity.
Strengthening the social components of state rule is the first requirement, but this isn’t a function of US war policy. For Eurasia and the rest of the Indo-Pacific the social and political constituents of state formation remain to be addressed. This is partly explained by the impact the Cold War had upon regional governing institutions as well as local history.
Witnessing Bangladeshi leadership address criminal components of a genocidal conflict that ended decades ago is evidence of just how difficult it remains for heterogeneous composite societies to gain state formation in geographically fractured regions.
Historically, war remained the most powerful source coalescing state formation, but this isn’t viable policy given the range of contemporary war-craft. For the Indo-Pacific to open itself toward comity, it needs functioning, governing institutions and connectivity.
As team Trump pivots to address Iran, North Korea and failing multi- regional institutions like the UN, it must demonstrate diplomatic leadership driving weak nation-states toward reform in opening markets. Functioning economies alleviate social grievances. They also form the backbone of civil society, the very requirement needed for the West to succeed in its engagement with Islamism.
Civil Society Restores Fragmented Communities
The ethos of empire can indeed fortify the West as it engages fractured communities throughout the Indo-Pacific, but empire cannot be the fulcrum, for empires exhaust themselves. The fulcrum embodying the West’s best efforts abroad is civil society.
The Indo-Pacific is the new ground zero for the long war. And this isn’t Mesopotamia with its neatly organized regional estates of ethnicities coalescing near major tributaries for connectivity. Eurasia, the subcontinent, and weak-state formation require our best efforts to fuse US war policy, diplomacy and foreign aid toward emerging civil societies.
Team Trump should begin by seeking normative diplomatic relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, and the framework harnessed should be East Africa’s Swahili contingent upon the Mughal from Kabul to Mumbai.
If the Mughal emperors could connect East Africa to India, then American efforts should seek identical aims in state formation throughout the Indo-Pacific, for civil society remains the last bulwark against the vicious wiles of Islamism.