After traveling to Cambodia for the US-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit Manila and meet with President Marcos and Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo. Presumably, Blinken’s strategic goal is to “strengthen the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines.”
Blinken has been instrumental in the controversial geopolitics of the Biden administration. It is also central to the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a White House think-tank funded by the Pentagon and Big Defense.*
Blinken’s Cash Machine from Differencegroup
CNAS War Gaming Scenario (June 2022). Screenshot from Dangerous Straits, CNAS, June 2022
From Cold War to Hot War: CNAS War Games by NBC. Battle of Taiwan screenshot: Meet the CNAS Gaming Lab reporters on NBC’s
Over the past few months, CNAS has left no doubt about what it expects to happen in Asia and how the Biden administration should respond to such scenarios. Such priorities will require great discretion on the part of the Marcos administration.
“The Philippines will be the friend of all and the enemy of none,” said Marcos in his first State of the Union address. “We will remain steadfast in our independent foreign policy, with the national interest as our prime guide.”
Believing in peace, stability and development, the national interest of the Philippines is to navigate the interplay of great power interests. At worst, profit-driven geopolitical interests must be confronted.
CNAS Taiwan War Games
In mid-May, US NBC’s popular “Meet the Press” aired a segment that envisioned a conflict over Taiwan in 2027. In a war game simulation, US-China tensions erupt into open war over Taiwan.
The NBC promo slogan was dramatic: “America should prepare for conflict if China invades Taiwan… An attack would plunge the region into a broad, inconclusive war.”
In the CNAS scenarios, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines are defined as “US allies”. (Blinken means that his term is “enduring alliances.”) In the Taiwan situation, Australia and Japan grant base access and contribute troops to Taiwan’s defense, while the Philippines allows US troops to use bases on its territory, which in turn made the country an actor in an imaginary war. Nor does the CNAS rule out the limited use of nuclear weapons in the region.
Here’s an inconvenient truth: The Philippines would be the only ASEAN country to suffer the potentially devastating consequences of a hypothetical war.
Fighting to the last Asian?
What made China choose to invade Taiwan in 2027 as suggested by CNAS? Actually, China did not. The chosen year did not come from Beijing at all, but from Washington.
Admiral Philip Davidson, former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, “postulated” the year 2027 in public Washington testimony in March 2021. He is the controversial Cold Warrior who ignored the US Navy’s Covid-19 order in 2020, which led to 600 sailors testing positive, including one death. Yet, Sakshi diverts attention from his misbehavior to alleged patriotism – an excellent diversionary tactic.
What was the CNAS solution to the Taiwan tension? Strategic discussions? International diplomacy? Not at all.
Instead, CNAS co-founder and veteran Hillary Clinton adviser Michelle Flournoy urged the United States to “develop a credible threat capability to sink all Chinese military vessels, submarines and merchant vessels in the South China Sea within 72 hours.”
From Afghanistan and Ukraine to Asia, Flournoy is notorious for her desperation. Building on the lessons of Ukraine, the effective objective is to militarize deterrence and reduce US costs by diversifying risk and proxy conflicts to allies in Asia.
Whether it will contribute to peace is debatable, but it is certainly in line with the interests of CNAS’s major donors, including the crème de la crème of Big Defense: Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Donors also include energy giants Chevron and Exxon, Soros’ Open Society Foundation and the US-based Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO).
US policy toward Taiwan has shifted and arms shipments have increased, along with large donations from Taipei to companies and organizations led by White House heavyweights.
Like Flournoy, Blinken is a co-founder of CNAS.
Shaping the future through geopolitics
Arguably, geopolitics can be beneficial for advisers whose ideas promote military objects. During the Obama and Biden administrations, Blinken co-led WestExec Consulting with Flournoy. Surprisingly, there have also been allegations of his conflict of interest.
After 25 years in government, Blinken moved into the private sector after Hillary Clinton was defeated by Trump in the 2016 election. With major clients in the defense industry, private equity and hedge funds, WestExec is manna from heaven for them. Today, just over half a decade later, Forbes estimates his WestExec contributions, real estate, equity stakes and board memberships to be worth around $10 million.
When cabinet members have significant investments in big tech like Alphabet (Google), Facebook and Apple, the bold antitrust policies initially promised by the Biden administration are unlikely.
Venture capital firm Social Capital was founded by a former Facebook Sri Lankan-Canadian-American entrepreneur. In 2017, Mark Mezvinsky, known as Chelsea Clinton’s husband, became its vice president. Mezvinsky, a former Goldman Sachs banker, started a hedge fund to profit from the Greek debt crisis. As of 2016, with $330 million under management, Eaglevale Partners closed its Hellenic fund after it lost 90 percent of its value. Social capital was a welcome work after the defeat.
Flournoy and Blinken served as strategic partners at Pine Island Capital Partners, a private equity firm led by notorious investment banker John Thein, who tanked Merrill Lynch in 2008, giving themselves hefty bonuses along the way. During the subprime debacle, Thain spent $1.2 million remodeling his office, including $35,115 for a commode with gold-plated legs (he apologized to the company and repaid it after he was caught).
In the late 2020s, Pine Island Capital was well-positioned to invest in government contractors, to shore up the US Covid-19 response.
Big defense bottom line
At the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense summit, General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic asked why US defense contractors aren’t making more money in Asia, the world’s fastest-growing market. She advocated upgrades to “fight together if necessary” to win over “unpredictable purchasing authorities” (read: governments in East and Southeast Asia).
At that time I warned of intensified efforts in the arms race in the region.**
Since then, progress has been rapid. Today, Asia is geopolitically more divided, economically weakened, and militarily more vulnerable as money is diverted from economic development to rearmament. In other words, new opportunities and new markets are now more viable for large defenses.
The other side of the story is runaway inflation, growth-slowing inflation, and collateral damage spreading rapidly from new conflicts to new Cold Wars. Even the national interest is no longer national when greater defense requires new enemies.
In East and Southeast Asia, disputes have been negotiated for years to prevent disputes. When destructive conflicts do not exist, there is now a huge profit motive to create them — even in peaceful Asia.
Dr. Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognized strategist in the multipolar world and founder of The Difference Group. He has served at India, China and America Institute (USA), Shanghai Institute for International Studies (China) and EU Center (Singapore). For more information, see https://www.differencegroup.net
*For a complete analysis of CNAS, WestExec, the Biden administration, and Big Defense, see Steinbock, D. 2022. “The Center for International Insecurity” (World Financial Review, July-August 2022).
** On General Dynamics and Asian Rearmament, Steinbock, D. See 2018. “Shangri-La Arms Race: Follow the Money.” (Manila Times, 11 June 2022).
Relying on think-tanks and corporate proxies, notably Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Big Defense is driving White House priorities from Ukraine to Southeast Asia.