The first part of this transitionary chapter explains how the strategic friction between China and the CCC in the Greater Mekong Subregion sets the foundation for American-directed Hybrid Wars against Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. After that, the second part explores some of the strategic reasons why the US could potentially apply this weapon towards its own nominal ‘allies’ in order to pressure or punish them for their respective stances towards the CCC.
Explaining The Impetus
The multiple geopolitical convergences in Thailand between China, India, and Japan have the constructive potential to have all parties multilaterally cooperate in ensuring their shared ASEAN partner’s stability, but this is the last scenario would be absolutely contrary to the US’ grand strategic designs. Washington believes that the passive cooperation between China and the CCC over their intersecting interests in Thailand would basically result in ‘ceding’ Southeast Asia to Beijing by allowing it to successful build its non-South China Sea ‘escape route’ to the Indian Ocean. This would in effect nullify everything that the US is trying to accomplish in ASEAN’s maritime front and would represent a major victory for multipolarity.
The US’ dilemma then becomes one of figuring out how to disrupt China’s plans without endangering India and Japan’s, and in finding ways to do so unilaterally since it’s unlikely that neither New Delhi nor Tokyo is willing to take any geostrategic risks that could possibly backfire against their projects. Given these situational constraints, US strategists likely see Hybrid War as their best (and perhaps only) option. The trick in this specific regional application would be in limiting the destabilization to northeastern Myanmar, north-central Laos, and the northern regions of Thailand just shy of the East-West Corridor, but the nature of chaos is that it’s inherently uncontrollable and unpredictable, and it’s very likely that the debilitating chain reactions that it could unleash would spread well past the US’ ‘chaotic containment zone’.
In any case, that wouldn’t be absolutely anathema to the US’ grand strategy because its primary concern is to prevent China’s ‘containment breakout’ by one way or another. Geopolitical ‘scorched earth’ tactics are not beyond its operational capability and it would certainly apply them if it saw the need to do so, regardless of the collateral damage this could have on its Indian and Japanese allies’ infrastructure projects. Unipolarity’s tightening grasp over Southeast Asia would be irreparably weakened if China were successful in circumventing the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca through the construction of its two mainland ‘detour routes’ through Myanmar and Laos-Thailand, thus explaining the urgency with which the US aspires to destabilize all three countries (or at least portions thereof) if it can’t ‘convince’ their governments to halt the Chinese projects. US strategy dictates that the Greater Mekong Subregion must be thrown into total chaos as a last resort to stopping China’s geostrategic-infrastructural ambitions if all else fails because the resultant combination of an impassable war-zone mainland and American-controlled waterways is the only possibility the US would have left for containing China in its ‘backyard’.
The Only Unipolar Back-Up Plan
It doesn’t matter that much to the US if the destabilization extends beyond the ‘chaotic containment zone’ in northeast Myanmar, north-central Laos, and the northern reaches of Thailand and begins to interfere with and possibly disrupt the Western Corridor”(India’s ASEAN highway), the East-West Corridor, and even the Southern Corridor” because it knows that India and Japan are not as dependent on this region for their strategic growth and geopolitical security as China is. As the only back-up plan in cushioning some of the geopolitical blowback that could result from Hybrid War breaching the ‘containment zone’ and disrupting the East-West Corridor, the US could simply suggest that India redirect its ASEAN highway to Dawei and then connect it with the Southern Corridor. This would result in sacrificing one of the region’s landmark unipolar trade routes, but the strategic recompense would be that the Southern Corridor could still fulfill this function while China has no such alternatives available. However, there’s also the possibility that the chaos would extend well past the ‘front lines’ that the US is anticipating and could come to envelop the entirety of Myanmar and Thailand, thereby preventing this back-up plan from being actualized and leading to the full cancellation of all of the Greater Mekong Subregion’s connective infrastructure projects.
A Zero-Sum Game
Both Lead From Behind partners could still sustain their trade and operate freely despite the absence of the convenient connective infrastructure that they’re planning in the Greater Mekong Subregion due to their American ally’s naval power in the South China Sea, but conversely, this scenario would leave China wholly vulnerable to the Pentagon’s blackmail in this area and the Strait of Malacca and thereby threaten the viability of its economically necessary Africa policy. For American planners, this course of events would be more than ideal for the indefinite retention of unipolarity and it would represent a back-breaking defeat for China’s global strategy and that of the multipolar world in general. Therefore, from the perspective of the US, it doesn’t matter that much if the planned Hybrid Wars remain in their ‘containment zones’ or not, since ultimately, ‘the ends justify the means’ for them so long as the final result is China’s full geostrategic containment.
Hybrid War ‘Friendly Fire’
As history plainly shows, it’s impossible for the US to fully control the chaotic processes that it unleashes, and more often than not, they seem to always have a way of boomeranging back and ultimately dealing some form of unintended collateral damage. This is most popularly recognized in the cases of Al Qaeda and ISIL, and interestingly enough, as most of the Hybrid War destabilizations in maritime ASEAN (the part of the organization most closely aligned with the US) deal with Islamic terrorism, the US would ironically be repeating the same pattern that it’s already gone through twice before, even using the same organizational actors in the most probable cases. The only thing that can explain this seemingly illogical fallacy, especially in the sense that it could be targeting the US’ own allies with Hybrid War ‘friendly fire’, is that it’s actually precisely what Washington wants. The reader should hopefully have acquired a sense of cynicism and a deep understanding of the unprincipled nature of American foreign policy after having arrived at this point of the book, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that ‘controlled chaos’ is used by the US in order to advance its divide-and-rule policies all across Eurasia, even in regards to official partners.
When low-intensity Hybrid War threats are purposefully manufactured against its supposed ‘allies’, the geopolitical arsonist-firefighter is intending to put pressure on their leadership and create the conditions where they’re prompted to request American military assistance in order to quell the upstart destabilization. The formalization of the target/’host’ nation’s relationship with the American military (even if done behind closed doors) is expected to tighten the patron-proxy relationship between them and craft the conditions for a prolonged Pentagon presence inside the country. Understandably, it wouldn’t just be military servicemen that are deployed, but also their associated support and intelligence staffs (whether or not the target/’host’ nation is even aware of this), the latter of which could then be operationally reoriented towards embedding their network even deeper into the country and engaging in anti-government organizational and informational activities.
The sum effect of all of this stage-managed subterfuge is to cripple the targeted/’host’ government’s sovereignty and transform it into a full-fledged American vassal. The strategically manufactured Hybrid War crisis or reasonably imminent fear thereof (purposefully kept at low-intensity at the beginning but which could predictably get out of control) is nothing more than a calculated ruse by the US to strengthen its hold over its so-called allies and/or punish some of them for their perceived strategic intransigence (i.e. not cooperating as closely as the US would like in the CCC or outright refusing to take part in the destabilizing venture). It will soon be seen in the next chapter just how susceptible the maritime members of ASEAN are to these scenarios, but Vietnam and Cambodia are also somewhat vulnerable too, albeit more in the sense of NGO- and intelligence-organized labor disturbances than to Wahhabist terrorism.
The most likely case of the US using Hybrid War against one of its allies is undoubtedly Indonesia, as this state has yet to fully commit to the China Containment Coalition (CCC) despite the US’ implied urging to do so. Like was earlier discussed in the previous chapters, it did state that it wants to join the TPP in the near future, but this may not be the desired level of CCC coordination that some influential hawk-like decision-makers in the US are anticipating, especially if Indonesia’s accession talks stall for whatever reason (note: they have yet to even formally begin). In that case, it’s very likely that some of the Hybrid War scenarios that will later be discussed could be facilitated or outright engineered in order to put Indonesia’s ‘feet to the fire’ and compel it to request the type of insidious American assistance described above. Washington’s end goal is to turn the geostrategic island chain into its largest-ever proxy state, thus cementing the CCC with a coerced and totally manipulated Lead From Behind actor that can provide the regional economic and political finesse that’s required to majorly disrupt China’s soft presence in the maritime reaches of ASEAN.
The strategic flaw in this approach is that the target/’host’ state is not voluntarily joining the CCC, but is being forced and manipulated into it, whether it’s cognizant of this process occurring or not. Should the leadership or influential elite (likely concentrated in the military and/or political spheres, with their economic counterparts expected to be pro-US) become aware of the scheme that’s being played, they may instigate an internal revolt or outright coup against the US-manipulated authorities, which would then have the consequence of reversing the US’ ‘successes’ and possibly provoking it to unleash an all-out Hybrid War if the new administration drifts too close to Beijing.
None of this would be unprecedented either, since investigative journalist Tony Cartalucci convincingly argued that Thailand’s 2014 military coup was a patriotic move against the pro-US proxy leadership that was earlier installed in the country. Similar blowback could occur in Indonesia, the Philippines, or any of the active or probable CCC-member states in the future, and the reader must always keep this in mind. Accordingly, because of the instrumentality of Hybrid War in pressuring and punishing nominally allied states vis-à-vis their position to the CCC as well as disrupting China’s regional infrastructure projects, it’s worthy to explore all of the ASEAN-member states’ socio-political vulnerabilities to this post-modern weapon, which is exactly what the proceeding chapter will do.
Andrew Korybko is the post-graduate of the MGIMO University and author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.