The Geopolitics of Floating Bases and the New World Order
Posted on November 15th, 2017

by Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Those far distant, storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army never looked, stood between it and the dominion of the world.Alfred Thayer Mahan

US naval officer and strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan’s advice in 1890 for the US to push outwards to rule the oceans is still heeded by US maritime forces in the present day. The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, standing 23 stories high and 333 metres long with 5,000 personnel on board, arrived in Sri Lanka in October this year after 32 years since the last arrival of a US aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are sea-faring air bases equivalent to floating geographical land masses with significant firepower which have been proven as key strategic war machines in the recent past.

The visit of the USS Nimitz is a clear indication of the military and economic might that the US projects through floating bases, not only in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) but globally. Floating bases are indicative of the US world order – one that is predominantly unilateral, save for ‘collective security’ partnerships and one that seeks hegemony.

Nevertheless, the presence of USS Nimitz in the IOR intends to symbolise the strong cooperation between the US and Sri Lanka during the Sirisena regime. Back in 1985, the US aircraft carrier visit would have raised concerns for Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour, India. However, today, the US and India enjoy a different relationship than in the past. The US has clearly cemented strong ‘collective security’ relations with India, Japan, and Australia.

In this context, countries with a geostrategic advantage such as Sri Lanka are seen as ideal sites to further strengthen these lateral ties. From 2010 onwards, there have been more than 200 foreign naval visits to Sri Lanka, including India’s INS Vikramaditya, another aircraft carrier that visited the Colombo Port in 2016. Sri Lanka strives to balance all major powers’ interests in the country and thus accommodate these war ships as friendship visits. The prevalent counter-argument is that some major powers, most notably China, are aggressively and one-sidedly pursuing their own self-interest through setting up military bases in the IOR. However, one could also contend that aircraft carriers as floating bases (such as the US’) in the deep oceans are trying to showcase and achieve a similar military strategy and projection of power.

President Sirisena’s government is enacting this balancing act for Sri Lanka and creating equidistant foreign relations with the US, India, and China. In the region, India has also engaged in joint military exercises, the most recent being ‘Mitra Shakti 2017’ with Sri Lanka in October. According to the Indian Express, the joint military exercise was India’s response to China’s growing influence in South Asia and the IOR. However,this author’s opinion is that the article is speculative since the military exercise clearly falls short of limiting China’s growing power in the region. In this vein, many speculative media stories will raise similar questions with regard to Sri Lanka’s relationship with its neighbour, India.

President Trump visited China against the backdrop of all these geopolitical events in the IOR. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has arguably presided over more domestic stability and economic prosperity in his country than Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin, and Trump combined. President Xi, in his speech to the 19th National Congress in October, highlighted the founding aspirations of Chinese communist values. This included moving 80 million people from rural to urban areas, boosting the country’s GDP from 54 trillion to 80 trillion yuan, projecting China as the world’s second largest economy, and contributing to 30 per cent of global economic growth in a span of only five years. While propelling innovation and scientific advancement, China has also made more than 1500 reforms of a socialist nature to pursue modernisation, including fighting corruption. On the latter point, President Xi remarked We have taken out tigers, swatted flies and hunted down foxes,” leaving no space for corruption.

At the 19th National Congress, China’s external approach to the world was discussed. President Xi’s gigantic One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project has already altered the natural geography in many parts of the world. This includes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), connecting to Gwadar Port as well as Hambantota Port, which will change trading patterns in the region. The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund are other economic initiatives working towards funding a new economic order. Thus, it is apparent that China has charted its own course in creating an Asian-led new world order that is geo-politically, economically and militarily in direct contravention of the US’ world order, and that renounces the perceived Western view.

Today, China projects itself as a proud country, at a time when socialists around the world are celebrating the centennial of the great October Revolution of 1917, spearheaded by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin. From its long history of struggle, China has set itself in the right direction to alter the existing world order (the one contravened by the US), by pursuing a strategy that is rooted in economic and geopolitical prowess. Much like the US, China’s power projections are articulated through the amassing of land-bases. Yet, China’s world vision is far broader, in that it is striving to combine its economic and military might with its socialist-political orientation as well as the geo-strategic interests of developing countries.

(Views expressed here are personal and do not reflect those of the Government of Sri Lanka or the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS). Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is a visiting lecturer in international political economy (IPE) and Director General of INSS, the national security think tank of Sri Lanka. This article was initially published by the IPCS, New Delhi for Dateline Colombo- )

4 Responses to “The Geopolitics of Floating Bases and the New World Order”

  1. Senerath Says:

    Our Modayas Worshipping Politicians Should come to a stop earlier than Zimbabwe

    Zimbabwe’s military seized power on Wednesday saying it was holding President Robert Mugabe and his family safe while targeting “criminals” in the entourage of the man who has ruled the nation since independence 37 years ago.
    Soldiers seized the state broadcaster and a general appeared on television to announce the takeover. Armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, while taxis ferried commuters to work nearby. The atmosphere in the capital remained calm.
    In his first contact with the outside world since the takeover, Mugabe spoke by telephone to the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and told him he was confined to his home but fine, the South African presidency said in a statement.
    It was not clear whether the apparent military coup would bring a formal end to the 93-year-old Mugabe’s rule; the main goal of the generals appeared to be preventing Mugabe’s wife Grace, 41 years his junior, from succeeding him.
    But whether or not he goes, it may mark the end of the country’s dominance by Mugabe, the last of Africa’s state founders still in power from the era of the struggle against colonialism, and one of the continent’s most polarising figures.

    Mugabe, still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
    He plunged Zimbabwe into a fresh political crisis last week by firing his vice president and presumed successor. The generals believed that move was aimed at clearing a path for Grace Mugabe to take over and announced on Monday they were prepared to “step in” if purges of their allies did not end.
    “We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on television.
    “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
    In a sign Grace Mugabe’s allies were coming under pressure, the head of the ruling party’s youth wing, Kudzanai Chipanga, appeared on state TV on Wednesday evening to apologise for comments he had made criticising the army a day earlier. He said he was speaking voluntarily.
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the African Union and Western countries called for calm.
    South Africa’s defence and state security ministers flew into Harare to try to arrange talks between Mugabe and the generals, South African media reported without going into further details.
    “We cannot tell how developments in Zimbabwe will play out in the days ahead and we do not know whether this marks the downfall of Mugabe or not,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told parliament. “We will do all we can, with our international partners, to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”
    Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a leading member of the ruling party’s ‘G40’ faction, led by Grace Mugabe, had been detained by the military, a government source said.
    By Wednesday afternoon it was business as usual in Harare’s suburbs while there was less traffic than normal in the city centre. Residents spoke in awe of events that had previously seemed unthinkable.
    “I don’t support the army but I am happy to see Mugabe gone, maybe this country can start to develop again,” said Rumbi Katepfu, preparing to shut her mobile phone shop early in downtown Harare. “I did not think this would ever happen… We used to think Mugabe and Grace were invincible.”
    As evening fell there were fewer people on the streets than usual. In one park, a lone couple shared a chocolate bar, seemingly unconcerned by the presence of troops. “What’s there to fear? This is a free country,” said Nathan Mpariwa, stroking the hand of his partner.
    Tanks blocked roads after dark and soldiers with automatic weapons kept up their patrols, but made no effort to stop people streaming home from work.
    Whatever the final outcome, the events could signal a once-in-a-generation change for the southern African nation, once a regional bread-basket, reduced to destitution by an economic crisis Mugabe’s opponents have long blamed on him.
    Even many of Mugabe’s most loyal supporters had come to oppose the rise of his wife, who courted the powerful youth wing of the ruling party but alienated the military, led by Mugabe’s former guerrilla comrades from the 1970s independence struggle.
    “This is a correction of a state that was careening off the cliff,” Chris Mutsvangwa, the leader of the liberation war veterans, told Reuters. “It’s the end of a very painful and sad chapter in the history of a young nation, in which a dictator, as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife.”
    The opposition Movement for Democratic Change called for a peaceful return to constitutional democracy, adding it hoped the military intervention would lead to the “establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state”.
    Zuma – speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – expressed hope there would be no unconstitutional changes, and urged Zimbabwe’s government and the military “to resolve the political impasse amicably”.
    (For a graphic on Zimbabawe’s economic struggles, click
    While most African states gained independence by the end of the 1960s, Zimbabwe remained one of the last European colonies on the continent, ruled by white settlers as Rhodesia until 1980. Mugabe took power after a long guerrilla struggle, and two decades later ordered the forcible seizure of white-owned farms.
    The collapse in output that followed was one of the worst economic depressions of modern times. By 2007-2008 inflation topped out at 500 billion percent. Mugabe blamed Britain and the United States for sabotaging the country to bring it to heel. His followers used violence to suppress a growing domestic opposition he branded lackeys of former colonial powers.
    The economy briefly stabilised from 2010-2014 when Mugabe was forced to accept a power-sharing government with the opposition, but since then the recovery has unravelled. In the last year, a chronic shortage of dollars has led to long queues outside banks. Imported goods are running out and economists say that by some measures inflation is now at 50 percent a month.
    The economic implosion has destabilised the region, sending millions of poor labourers to neighbouring South Africa.
    “It’s an amazing thing that is happening. It was about time but it might be 20 years too late,” said Billy, 30, a Zimbabwean working as a marketing officer in South Africa. Asked if he would return to Zimbabwe if the economy was revived, he said: “Definitely, there is no place like home.”
    The political crisis came to a head last week when Mugabe sacked his presumed heir, Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, a long-serving former leader of the security forces nicknamed “the Crocodile” for his role as Mugabe’s enforcer over the decades.
    The head of the military held a news conference with top brass on Monday threatening to “step in” if the purge of veterans continued. Soldiers deployed across Harare on Tuesday and seized the state broadcaster after Mugabe’s ruling party accused the military chief of treason.
    According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalise the economy by bringing back white farmers kicked off their land and patching up relations with the World Bank and IMF.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    However, Sri Lanka must stick to democratic traditions because most of our export destinations (USA and the EU) value democracy. Any other system will collapse the already fragile economy. Democracy has worked for Sri Lanka to change power. The question is not just about regime change but more about policy. Elections must be held when due.

  3. Senerath Says:

    Non-violence definitely, democrazy- not necessarily and policy based -100%.
    It should be a take over based on CORRUPTION and resotration of JUSTICE. That is good enough for the POLICY. This is the mother of all injustice. If the ARMY MAN comes with that good intention and onlt that intention, he can win the world and good decomcracy can follow within 1 year. ALL THE CURRENT CROOKS shall be jailed forever and all their money extracted can run the country for that whole year easily.
    I gurantee the TAMIL crooks will be wisper quite. Muslim crooks might ask Saudi help which they will not get.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    There was a time not so long ago some commentators promoted a military takeover here. They have gone silent. People would not support a military coup. With all its problems, democracy is still preferred.

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