After traveling to Cambodia for the US-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Manila and meet with President Marcos and Secretary of State 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 Central for National Security (CNAS), a White House think-tank funded by the Pentagon and Big Defense.*
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 stick to 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 journalists Aired a segment envisioning a conflict over Taiwan in 2027. In a war game simulation, US-China tensions erupt into open war over Taiwan (Figure 1).
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 CNAS scenarios, Japan, Australia, And The Philippines is defined as a “US ally”. (That’s what Blinken means by the word “enduring alliance.”) In the Taiwan situation, Australia and Japan provide base access and contribute troops to Taiwan’s defense, while the Philippines allows the US military to use bases on its territory, making the country an actor in a hypothetical war. Nor does the CNAS rule out the limited use of nuclear weapons in the region.
Here’s an inconvenient truth: The Philippines will ASEAN countries only Suffering the potentially devastating consequences of an imagined war (Figure 2).
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.
The year 2027 was “postulated” by Admiral Philip Davidson, former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, 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 Michel Flournoy urged the United States to “develop a credible capability to sink all Chinese military vessels, submarines and merchant vessels in the South China Sea within 72 hour.”
From Afghanistan and Ukraine to Asia, Flournoy is notorious for her desperation. This is an effective goal Militarization prevention and to reduce Building on the lessons of Ukraine, the US costs allies by diversifying into proxy conflicts and risks in Asia.
Whether it will contribute to peace is debatable, but it certainly suits 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).
A shift in U.S. policy toward Taiwan and an increase in arms shipments have paralleled large donations by Taipei to companies and organizations led by White House heavy-weights.
Like Flourney, Blinken is a co-founder of CNAS.
How to shape the future in 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 about his conflicts 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 him. Today, only half a decade later, Forbes lists WestExec contributions, real estate, equity stakes and board memberships (Figure 3).
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% 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 “untapped procurement authority” (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, see https://www.differencegroup.net
* For a complete analysis of CNAS, WestExec, the Biden administration, and Big Defense, see Steinbock, D. 2022. “Center for International Vulnerability.” World Economic ReviewJuly-August.
** On General Dynamics and Asian Rearmament, Steinbock, D. See 2018. “The Shangri-La Arms Race: Follow the Money.” Manila TimesJune 11.
This commentary was published by The Manila Times on August 1, 2022
Views are personal and do not reflect Qrius and/or any of its employees
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