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Murfett - the Cold War in Hindsight scanned article - THE...

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Unformatted text preview: THE COLD WAR IN HINDSIGHT= LOCAL REALITIES AND THE LIMITS OF GLOBAL POWER Merle c. Rick During the Cold War, unquestionably great powers loomed 0 Southeast Asia. The US and USSR, principal poles of the divid" world after World War II, wielded real influence in the region around the world. China, though preoccupied with internal pr lems, was never entirely absent from the political calculation Southeast Asian leaders (and would become more so in the 19" as Deng Xiaoping’s reforms brought greater development). In“ i“ political climate, several Southeast Asian states came to be dir connected with the Cold War powers: Thailand and the P . pines, as members of SEATO; the South Vietnamese, with ‘ American backing; and the North Vietnamese, with their l munist supporters. But these obvious cases tend to oversh other, less significant consequences of the great powers’ influ‘ ‘ We may still ask to what extent the competition among the 2 Cold War powers shaped the affairs of the Southeast Asian ‘ what was the direction of causation, where did agency lie, an? were the limits of the great powers’ powers during the Col Causation. agency and control These issues are part of a larger historical topic in two cont the context of Southeast Asian history, it was a common tion of colonial—era historiography that the colonial p0 the agenda and the colonised peoples responded. As the era has receded in time, this stereotype has largely dis THE COLD WAR IN HINDSIGHT 323 from Southeast Asian historical studies. There is no doubt that the colonial period and the colonial powers were important, but we now see more clearly that Southeast Asians retained much room for manoeuvre and that their powers of agency were not entirely lost. We have come to think of the colonial period more as a time of interaction, synthesis and partnership. The same may now be true of our views of the Cold War, already more than two decades behind us. If so, then reconsidering the impact of the Cold War can contribute to our understanding of the tenacity and ongoing agency of local politics, local issues and local leaders. The second context is that of global geopolitics. World his— tory teems with aspirant global hegemons. We need only think of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, or of Pope Alexander VI, the Spanish and the Portuguese in the 16th century imagining that they could divide the globe between two Catholic states, to recognise that pretensions to global hegemony are hardly new. The colonial period was full of boundaries agreed on maps by colonial powers whose writ was hardly—or not at all—recognisable where those lines lay on the ground. The Cold War was part of this pat- tern, as each ‘bloc’ looked at the world in terms of where its influ— ence or intervention could be decisive. The pattern was replicated more recently in triumphalist American rhetoric about the “end of history” and aspirations to international dominance that followed the Cold War. Looking again at the Cold War period itself should convince us, as does earlier history, that there are major constraints on the capacity of aspirant hegemons to set the agenda, to control the direction of causation or to know the consequences of their policies. This is a lesson not just for historians, but for policy- makers in every age. The Cold War, in hindsight, had its greatest impact in South— east Asia at its beginning and—perhaps—at its end. At both times, world politics seemed in flux, old certainties no longer applied, new kinds of relationships seemed possible. It was unclear just how ‘ the world was going to work—both in the latter half of the 19403 324 com WAR SOUTHEAST ASIA THE ”UL” WAR '" "’"DS’GHT 325 The Communist coup d’etat in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin - Blockade confirmed the depth of conflict in the European thea- . tre. These events seemed to be paralleled in East and Southeast Asia: the rebellion of the Red Flag Communists in Burma (the White Flag Communists having been in rebellion since 1946); the generally the latt - outbreak of the so—called ‘Emergency’ in Malaya; the advances of ’ er explmted the the Hukbalahap guerrillas in the Philippines; and Mao’s advances in China. In the following year, the Soviet nuclear test of August 1949 and Mao’s declaration of the People’s Republic of China in October intensified the anxieties of the Americans and their allies. A Soviet—led Communist empire appeared to be advancing aggres— sively on a world scale, and was nuclear—armed like the Americans. American strategic thinking was now dominated by the idea that a ‘Cold War’ was under way, pitting an American—led ‘Free World’ against a Soviet—led ‘bloc’. The defence of the United States and its allies therefore depended on ‘containing’—and if possible turning back—the threat posed by that bloc. Within Southeast Asia, it was American strategic doctrines and actions that were most important throughout the Cold War. This was because in fact the United States’ presence was far stronger there than that of either the PRC or USSR. The PRC had the weight of population on its side, but could never match Amer— ican economic, technological or military power. The USSR was more of a match, but given the distances from Soviet territory to Southeast Asia and American capacity to dominate shipping lanes, Soviet power could never be projected there on a par with that of the US. In any case, American, Chinese and Soviet histories gave these states differing priorities. For the USSR, Central Europe and Central Asia were the sources of the greatest threats to the Soviet _ _ . . heartland and therefore received the greatest priority in strategic ’ 1n WhICh the term ‘Iron » thinking. For the Chinese, the greatest threats had always come from their Inner Asian frontiers, where they now bumped into the Soviet Union; Chinese policies had only rarely involved project— may ing power by sea or overland into Southeast Asia. PRC priorities Asi ' a demonstrates again—as do countless episodes from ‘ der the Great to the colonial period—that power does not in fact frequently does not, add up to control. The beginning: Cold War geopolitics. 1945—1950 - In late 1945 the United States was the most powerful stat ’ world—victorious over its enemies, richer than in 1 :1 mllitarily than any other state, the world’s first and 2131?}: ar . . . med nation, Without a peer 1n world politics or history Western European states were devastated and exhausted by war and dependent on US economic ai Unlon—America’s future competitor— aged by the war and concentrating on Eastern Europe under its domination, b Over 1945 was similarly heavily I creating a secure zo ' tain’ was born. Events in 1948 confirmed in US eyes that an aggressive ‘C munrst bloc campaign for hegemony was not confined to Eu 326 COLD WAR SOUTHEAST ASIA For the Americans, however, the Western Pacific and East had long been a significant area, where commercial interests committed and power was projected Via a powerful navy. Ame possessron of Hawaii, along with the American colonial er' the Philippines, the continued American military presenie i and the post-war US occupation of Japan, all reflected this ' 1ty. Thus, for the Americans, events in Southeast Asia were :1 to historical strategic priorities than was true of the USSR For PRC, Southeast Asia gained greater strategic importance in period precisely because of the American presence and the th of American—led ‘containment’. American policy saw the struggle against Communism versal—domestic as well as international. Hence the Ameri domestic political furore over China being ‘lost’ to the Co nrsts—as if it had ever been America’s to lose—which alon =1 other events, sparked the McCarthyism of the 19505, Ami" television and politics of the 19503 promoted the idea of pervasive threat of Communist espionage and sabotage within" country and abroad. Later, the launching of the Soviet Sp “ satellite in 1957 produced still further American anxieties that. presumed American technological lead no longer existed. Tm Southeast Asia and the developing Cold War. 1945-1950 Wlthln Southeast Asia, the array of US-USSR—PRC strategic political thought and priorities had its greatest impact over period 1945—50 in Vietnam and Indonesia. A consideration of THE COLD WAR IN HINOSIOHT 327 diametrically opposite outcomes in those two areas can tell us a great deal about this early period, when much remained uncertain about just how the world was going to work and while American global predominance was still evident. In September 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in Hanoi. During the war his Viet Minh guerrillas had worked with the American Office of Strategic Services (088) and when the DRV was declared, signs of 088 sym— pathy were to be seen. The DRV declaration quoted the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. During the war, President Roosevelt had displayed considerable hostility to French inten— tions to reoccupy Indochina and preferred the idea of a United Nations trusteeship—although what that might amount to was far from clear. These ideas died with Roosevelt in April 1945. Upon the Japanese surrender, British—commanded South-East Asia Command (SEAC) forces occupied Vietnam south of the 16th parallel and allowed the French to return and reoccupy the towns. Chiang Kai-shek’s forces reoccupied Vietnam north of the 16th parallel, but had no long—term interest in the region. They concen- trated on looting anything of value and then turned the area over to the French in February 1946. The French and DRV sides made some efforts at negotiations, but there was distrust and bad faith on both sides and fighting broke out in December 1946. What position the Americans would take in this conflict was crucial to both sides. For the Americans, the choice was fairly straightforward. Europe was the top priority in the thinking of President Truman and the State Department. There, the issue was how to keep France on the ‘Free World’ side and strong, and at this time it was conventional wisdom that colonies were a source of strength, for no European power had yet been drained by fight— ing to retain a colony in Asia. Those resisting French reoccupa— tion—mainly Ho and his Viet Minh—were Communists, and in the context of the emerging Cold War, that was a decisive issue in US thought. The European priority therefore won and American 328 ‘ COLD WAR SOUTHEAST ASIA sympathy was on the French side. The Americans’ sympathy for the French was transla support of their military action in Vietnam—really as one i a wider anti—Communist strategy in Asia. In June—July 1950,, _ Korean War erupted, President Truman took three related he ordered the US Navy to block the Straits of Taiwan to pr PRC action against Chiang’s government in Taiwan; auth the use of American forces in Korea; and allocated majo ing to support French military action in Vietnam. By 195310. United States was covering some 80 per cent of French mi costs there. Arguably, for the Americans this war was never‘ Vietnam itself; it was about France, China and the USSR. Th ' in Korea was something more than just a ‘proxy war’, in the a that American, Russian and Chinese forces were directly en’ “ from 1950 and the war was fought near the borders of the and PRC. The Vietnam War had crucial differences. While ‘ ' can combat forces eventually became directly involved in Vi , there were never significant Soviet or Chinese combat forces ti The PRC provided a rear base, materiel and advisers for the Minh in the early 19503, but Chinese support was limited, n " because of the PRC’s entanglement in Korea. Moreover, Chi a very poor country, rich only in people. The Soviet Union W stronger by 1950, but it was difficult for it to send military su :1 to the Vietnamese Communists given the distances involved. American wealth and power were ever to prevail in a ‘hot’ ve of the Cold War, its best prospects were in Vietnam. The motivations of the main actors in the Vietnam co c.1945—50 were clear. For Ho and his supporters, the goal independence and the creation of a Communist—dominated S Non—Communists would either collaborate or be eliminated. ‘ it aims, it should be emphasised, long pre—dated the Cold War. 7‘ pation, collaboration and liberation at the hands of others. THE COLD WAR IN HINDSIOHT aim also pre-dated the Cold War. For the French, the anti—Com; munism of American Cold War doctrine provided an opportunity to manoeuvre the Americans into supporting their cause. The US had two potentially conflicting ideologies. One Pre— dated the Cold War, being American anti—imperialism. This was a powerful tradition and had been reflected in Roosevelt’s ideas of UN trusteeships for former European colonies after the war. The other American ideology was anti—Communism, which the Cold War reinforced, and this time anti~C0mmunism trumped anti-imperialism. Those resisting French reconquest were Com- munists, so American support went to the French. This also saw the beginning of the American search for non—Communist nation- alists, who could reconcile America’s policy dilemma between anti—Communism and anti—imperialism, but this search met little success in Vietnam. Hence it was the US whose analysis and actions were con— strained by Cold War doctrine. Pressuring the French and DRV to achieve some sort of accommodation was never a realistic policy objective to the Americans. France was too important in Europe to offend and the main opposition to the French in Vietnam were Communists. Thus began over two decades of frustration and ter— rible costs for the US, as the hegemon that had fought World War II on two fronts, and had won it almost single-handedly in the Pacific, found itself facing the limits of its hegemony in a smallish country stretched narrowly along the South China Sea. Meanwhile the DRV and French pursued objectives far older than the Cold War, the French using Cold War thought to their advantage, H0 and his followers pursuing their goals despite the additional diffi— culties of doing so in the midst of the Cold War. The Indonesia story was very different and even more clearly ~ instructive about the years between 1945 and 1950. In August 1945 Sukarno and Hatta declared independence. At this stage there was a political and military vacuum in the archipelago. Japan had sur- rendered but the Allied forces under SEAC who were to accept 330 COLD WAR SOUTHEAST ASIA that surrender had not yet reached Indonesia. This vacuum. the Indonesian revolutionaries—which in many cases meant 1 formed groups of youth activists—the chance to take control main cities and public facilities, particularly in Java and Sum It was some time, however, before news of the declaration o pendence reached some more remote parts of the archipelag In September SEAC troops arrived in Java and Suma faced an Indonesian republican fait accompli. SEAC’s comm ing general, Lord Mountbatten, treated the republican adm trations that he faced as the de facto governments, but con i nevertheless arose. They came to a head 1n the bloody Batti. ‘ Surabaya 1n November 1945. The SEAC forces prevailed Ii inflicting major losses on the Indonesian side, but lost thei manding officer. The British decided at this stage that exit W be prudent and allowed the Dutch to resume control of map ies over late 1945 and early 1946. In eastern Indonesia, Austf. forces under SEAC took the Japanese surrender and facilita.‘ quick Dutch restoration there, where in any case the revel: had more shallow roots. Indonesian—Dutch negotiations followed. As in Vietnam). was distrust and bad faith on both sides and the agreements f In July 1947 the Dutch felt able—and indeed obliged by mou costs—to take military action. This was dubbed a ‘police act View utterly rejected by the Indonesian Republicans. Dutch f gained control of all of the deepwater ports of Java, Madura, , of Sumatra (where there were much—needed oil, coal and ‘ stocks) and part of East Java (where sugar was stockpiled). At this stage, Australia—now under Chifley’s Labor: ernment—drew the attention of the UN Security Council thin Indonesia conflict. The Americans were uncomfortable abou Australian action, and indeed suspected Chifley’s governm leftist inclinations, but did not attempt to block this action. and the USSR also expressed support for the Indonesians. THE COLD WAR IN HINDSIGHT 331 At this stage no one knew whether the UN would have teeth. The Soviets had already begun to use their veto power to block Security Council decisions, but the UN was nevertheless still thought to be potentially powerful. In 1950—53 it did, in fact, fight a war in Korea, although that was because the USSR made the mis— take of walking out of the meeting rather than casting a veto. So in 1947, UN attention to the Indonesian conflict was thought likely to be a development of significance. The Security Council called for a ceasefire in Indonesia, a vote on which the US abstained. Again the Americans faced the policy dilemma of deciding between their ' anti—imperialist and anti—Communist instincts (for there were obvious leftists in the Indonesian government), and between their interest in Europe and their interest in Asia. In this latter context, it was to the disadvantage of the Dutch that they were of far less significance in European politics than the French. The anti—imperialist versus anti—Communist dilemma of the Americans was resolved by developments in Indonesia in 1948. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) leader Muso returned after years of exile in August 1948 and set about unifying Indonesian leftists under the leadership of the party. The following month PKI activists took control in Madiun and Muso declared a new Indo— nesian Republican government, formally initiating a Communist rebellion against the Republic led by Sukarno and Hatta. Com- munist activists took over many other towns in East Java as well. In the areas they held, they attacked and killed enemies, including Islamic religious leaders. Sukarno ordered the Indonesian mili— tary to crush the rebellion. Although there was considerable left— ist sympathy within the regular military, Sukarno’s influence and the threat posed by PKI to the republic—while Dutch forces stood Watching at nearby ceasefire lines—proved decisive. The Siliwangi Division led the assault on Madiun. Muso and others were killed , and the uprising was crushed. Perhaps some 8000 were killed in these events and the PKI was destroyed as a political force until the 1950s. 332 COLD WAR SOUTHEAST ASIA In the crushing of the Communist uprising by the Ind Republic, the Americans found what they wanted—the co, tion that resolved their policy dilemma—for here were um“ tionably anti—Communist nationalists. Indeed, the Indo‘ Republican forces had gone into battle against and cut dow ' munists, so their anti—Communist credentials could not be da in Washington. When the Dutch now attempted a second ‘s action’ in December 1948, they wonya military victory but ga political disaster. They took most of the remaining Republica ritory and captured Sukarno and most of the cabinet. The R, lican military, however, broke up into smaller guerrilla un' harassed Dutch forces wherever they could. The civilian pg tion and even the governments of Dutch-created ‘federal s protested. In the diplomatic realm, the Dutch now encou ‘2' solid opposition both in the UN and from the US. Since the economy was heavily dependent on American aid for re in the end the Dutch had no choice but to give in and acc __ inevitability of Indonesian independence. They restored th H nesian government to its capital in Yogyakarta, agreed a ce entered into negotiations in the Netherlands and acknow Indonesian independence in December 1949. Thus it was that, unlike in Vietnam, Cold War assess _ worked to the advantage of the Indonesian revolutionarie ' unique geopolitical circumstances of the late 194os—Am predom...
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