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Arc of instability

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

The arc of instability is "a swath of territory running from the Caribbean Basin through most of Africa, the Middle East and Central and Southeast Asia. It is countries along this arc—often failed states—that U.S. officials argue have been left far behind as the rest of the world is brought into the global economy." [1]

The term arc of instability "came into use in the 1970s to refer to a 'Muslim Crescent' extending from Afghanistan to the 'Stans' in the southern part of the former Soviet Union." [2]

Defending the arc

Carter Doctrine

In his 1980 State of the Union Address, President Jimmy Carter "stated it clearly: 'Any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by the use of any means necessary, including military force.' Though it came in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, this Carter Doctrine was a product of the Cold War. In striking his pose, Carter was self-consciously emulating a Democratic predecessor, Harry Truman, who once had a speechwriter delete references to how important the 'great natural resources' of the Middle East were 'for the very existence of our own economy' in favor of generic support for 'democracy' in the region."—Joe Stork, "The Carter Doctrine and US Bases in the Middle East," MERIP Reports 90 (September 1980); quotes from Stork’s Middle East Oil and the Energy Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 39–45.

"This never-superseded doctrine was Carter’s response to the Christmas Day 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which took place just seven weeks after the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran." [3]

"When President Carter issued this edict," Michael T. Klare wrote January 14, 2007, for TomDispatch.com, "the United States did not actually possess any forces capable of performing this role in the Gulf. To fill this gap, Carter created a new entity, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an ad hoc assortment of U.S-based forces designated for possible employment in the Middle East. In 1983, President Reagan transformed the RDJTF into the Central Command (CENTCOM), the name it bears today. CENTCOM exercises command authority over all U.S. combat forces deployed in the greater Persian Gulf area including Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. At present, CENTCOM is largely preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has never given up its original role of guarding the oil flow from the Persian Gulf in accordance with the Carter Doctrine."

The Role of NATO

"The distinct line of the Iron Curtain has been replaced by an arc of instability. This arc stretches from sub-Saharan Africa, through the Balkans to the Middle East, into the Caucasus and Central Asia and is witnessing risks from separatism, extremism, ethnic disputes, border conflicts and mass migration. The rise of non-state actors has resulted in increased risks from terrorism and organised crime. To the ever-present threat of natural disasters, we must now add the risk from nuclear plants. For the Allies of NATO and the PfP member countries who face these threats, they are aware that one of the organisations best able to deal with crises is NATO," Admiral Guido Venturoni (bio), former Chairman of the Military Committee, wrote August 23, 2000, in Janes Defence Weekly.

2002 National Security Strategy: "vital interests"

The 2002 National Security Strategy (pdf/html), released in September 2002 by the White House, "announced that the U.S. was committed to maintaining global military supremacy and was ready to fight preemptive wars against states that threatened its vital interests by harboring 'terrorists' or developing weapons of mass destruction. The generally multilateral approach of previous U.S. administrations was abandoned in favor of organizing 'coalitions of the willing' under Washington's leadership." [4]

The 2002 NSS "asserted that the key objective of US strategy should be 'to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power'. ... Observers will note that this 'Arc' corresponds well with main regions of great oil, gas and mineral wealth." [5]

The "Atomic Arc of Instability"

Within the arc lies the "Atomic Arc of Instability"—a "Nuclear Asia"—that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Japan. [6]

"The consequences of the rise of this 'atomic arc of instability' will be profound. The most important implication of the proliferation of nuclear-armed states is the increase in the likelihood that these weapons will be used. It is unclear whether countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, whose cultures and political systems are profoundly different from our own, will share the American view that nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort."—Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments [7]

2004: A "globe-girdling" Baseworld

In January 2004, Chalmers Johnson, president of the California-based Japan Policy Research Institute, said "As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize—or do not want to recognize—that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire—an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order."

"It's not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual 'Base Structure Report' for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories," Chalmers wrote. "These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo—even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11."

"To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage -- Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John C. Stennis, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another," Chalmers wrote.

2004 = 1992 George H.W. Bush Redux

In an August 2004 speech to an Ohio veterans' group, President George W. Bush said "one of the largest planned troop redeployments since the onset of the Cold War 50 years ago"—an initiative that would be "implemented over 10 years and bring home up to 70,000 U.S. troops from major bases in Asia and Europe"—would "create a 'more agile and flexible force,' as well as 'reduce the stress on our troops and military families'," Eli Clifton wrote August 17, 2004, for Inter Press Service.

In May and June 2004, the Pentagon "confirmed plans to sharply cut forces stationed at large U.S. bases in Germany, South Korea and Okinawa, Japan, and to redeploy many troops to smaller, more widely dispersed facilities—sometimes called 'lily pads'—along an arc of crisis stretching along a wide band from Southeast Asia to West Africa, as well as to bases at Guam in the Pacific Ocean and back home," Clifton wrote. [8]

"To many military analysts, the plan makes a lot of sense. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the need for large military bases housing conventional forces in Germany and elsewhere in Western Europe evaporated from a strategic point of view." However, Clifton wrote, others viewed the redeployment "as both a pointer of the United States' imperial overreach and a contradiction of the Bush administration's stated policy of supporting the global spread of democracy." [9]

Chalmers Johnson said "'We talk about how we want to bring democracy, but we're moving our bases to the most autocratic places on earth'," Clifton wrote, "noting growing military deployments to Baltic, central Asian and Eastern European states." [10]

"Under the plan, some European soldiers would be sent home, while most would be moved to cheaper bases in Bulgaria and Romania, closer to the Caucasus and the Middle East," Clifton wrote. "The strategy is, largely, an update of the controversial 1992 draft Defence Planning Guidance (DPG) written under the auspices of current Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby—both of whom played key roles in driving the Bush administration to invade Iraq "

"The 1992 paper," Clifton wrote, "which was significantly watered down at the insistence of then-Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, called for Washington to act as the guarantor of global security and predicted that U.S. military interventions would be a 'constant fixture' of the future—a prospect that, in light of the unhappy and costly experience in Iraq to date, is not very popular at the moment, either here or abroad."

2003 Military Planning

June 2003

On June 11, 2003, Ghanaweb reported that US "military planners are talking about establishing semi-permanent or permanent bases along a giant swathe of global territory—increasingly referred to as 'the arc of instability'—from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea. ... Observers will note that [the] arc of instability corresponds well to regions of great oil, gas and mineral wealth,..."

A June 2003 Wall Street Journal article reported that "small U.S. bases are also envisioned for the Caucasus—possibly Azerbaijan—to protect against instability in the oil-rich Caspian Sea region. Still more bases may be set up in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa and Senegal, Ghana, Mali, and Kenya in sub-Saharan Africa."

Jim Lobe commented June 17, 2003, for Inter Press Service:

"Much like its successful military campaign in Iraq, the Pentagon is moving at seemingly breakneck speed to re-deploy U.S. forces and equipment around the world in ways that will permit Washington to play GloboCop, according to a number of statements by top officials and defence planners.
"While preparing sharp reductions in forces in Germany, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, military planners are talking about establishing semi-permanent or permanent bases along a giant swathe of global territory—increasingly referred to as the arc of instability—from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asiaa and across to North Korea."

July 2003

The Palestine Solidarity Committee of South Africa reported July 5, 2003, that the U.S. had "stationed 2000 troops in the East African country of Djibouti" and "transformed Diego Garcia, an island belonging to Mauritius, into a military base and with the British, displaced the inhabitants of this island. The US gets 15% of its crude oil from Africa at cheap prices. US oil companies require African soldiers particularly from Nigeria to suppress communities such as the Ogoni people who want to benefit from this wealth. The US intends building bases in Ghana, Senegal and Mali."

September 2003

The Center for Defense Information (CDI) reported September 19, 2003, the U.S. military basing was being reoriented worldwide.

During President George W. Bush's mid-July 2003 visit to Africa, "it emerged that one of the aims of the visit was to investigate expanding the austere bases concept to Africa... [reversing] a previous lack of interest in Africa by the U.S. military, exacerbated by the humiliating Somalia experience in 1994." Previous U.S. military operations in Africa had been "dominated by humanitarian relief, and basing facilities limited to landing rights agreements with half a dozen Western and Southern African countries: Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Namibia, Uganda, and Zambia."

CDI reported that two "principal reasons [were] driving the new U.S. military interest in Africa. ... U.S. officials say that vast swaths of the Sahara from Mauritania to the Sudan, traditional smuggling routes, have become operating areas from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." The U.S. European Command was "sending trainers to work with four North African states on gathering intelligence and patrolling."

The second reason, CDI reported, was "increased U.S. interest in African bases is oil", as U.S. oil industry officials had been "emphasizing that the U.S. intelligence community ... estimated that the United States will buy 25 percent of its oil from Africa by 2015," which, in turn, prompted "greater efforts from industry to interest the Pentagon in the area."

According to a 2002 report published by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group, a "panel that included oil executives" and U.S. Department of Defense officials, "recommended the establishment of a U.S. joint sub-unified command, primarily focused on the Gulf of Guinea region - which is rich in oil, as well as a regional homeport to support U.S. naval vessels."

Plans indicated semi-permanent bases that "might accommodate up to a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000, perhaps with an airfield nearby", while other reports indicated "up to a dozen of these bases might be being considered, with up to 5,000-6,500 troops based there. Forward operating locations are being planned, where small infantry or Special Forces units could be landed and built up as the mission required. Jones also predicted that carrier strike groups and marine expeditionary units would spend much more time patrolling the African coast."

In 2002, after the oil industry declared "its interest in the Gulf of Guinea, the then second-in-command of the European Command visited Sao Tome and Principe ..., which led to a claim by the Sao Tome government that the country had an agreement with the United States to build a port in the country." Although Washington denied that report, the U.S. Department of State "did say the U.S. would offer naval and coastal patrol assistance," CDI reported.

2007: U.S. Economic Status

"The headlines and opinion formers are not short of topics to make us anxious," Brian Durrant (bio) wrote January 22, 2007, in MoneyWeek.

"There is an arc of instability running from Afghanistan, through Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon to Israel. In each theatre the situation deteriorated last year. The Taleban are resurgent in Afghanistan, President Musharaf has failed to quell Islamo-fanatics within his borders, an increasingly confident Iran craves a nuclear deterrent, Iraq descended into civil war, Syria continues to cause mischief in its neighbourhood, progress in Lebanon has gone abruptly into reverse gear and Israel was trigger happy in dealing with threats north of its border. US policy in this area has backfired but the lame duck President Bush does not appear to want to entertain plan 'B' embodied by the Iraq Study Group's findings.

"At the same time America’s trade deficit widens inexorably and protectionist pressures are mounting. US economic activity has been underpinned by unprecedented levels of public and private borrowing. Meanwhile falling house prices and globalisation induced job insecurity have contributed to high levels middle class economic anxiety. Yet stock prices in the US are close to all-time highs. The risk premiums to cover the possibility of default that corporations and developing countries have to borrow money are at or near historic lows. Meanwhile the estimates of volatility of stock prices, bond prices and foreign exchange rates calculated from options prices are near record lows," Durrant wrote.

Australia's arc of instability

  • In Australia, the "phrase arc of instability was coined originally to describe the geopolitical consequences for Australia of the collapse of the Suharto regime, the economic impact of the Asian economic crisis in effectively destroying Indonesia's growth economy, and the possible foreshadowing of the break-up of that Republic by the bloody separation from it of East Timor." [11]
  • "The term arc of instability was first coined back in the late 1990s as a polite way to describe the uncertain future of countries to Australia's north and northeast—from Indonesia and East Timor through to Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific." [12]

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