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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaking at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. on April 6, 2015.  (Photo via flickr)

Push for Controversial Trade Deal Continues With Pitch From Defense Secretary

Carter says TPP is 'as important to me as another aircraft carrier'

Andrea Germanos

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Monday trumpeted the administration's so-called Pacific pivot and urged passage of legislative power that critics say will allow a massive corporate-friendly trade deal to be rammed through Congress.

Carter made the remarks during a speech at the McCain Institute of Arizona State University ahead of his inaugural trip to Asia, which begins with visits to Japan and South Korea.

He emphasized that the U.S. is forging ahead with its Asia-Pacific focus "to secure our enduring interests" and said that the region's growth represents "an enormous opportunity" for the United States.

Carter outlined how he said the U.S. would be investing in areas relevant to the the region's "complex and dynamic security environment":

These include high-end capabilities, such as a new, long-range stealth bomber and a new, long-range anti-ship cruise missile – just to name two…[...] We’re also working on new weapons like a railgun, which uses electromagnetic forces rather than high explosives to fire rounds at much higher speeds, lower cost, and with greater effectiveness. And we’re developing new space, electronic warfare, and other advanced capabilities, including some surprising ones.

Carter also mentioned U.S. arms systems currently deployed in the Asia-Pacific, like

the latest Virginia-class submarine and the Navy’s P-8 surveillance aircraft. We’re deploying our most advanced fighters in the region – the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – as well as our long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers. And given the region’s growing missile threat, we are forward deploying two additional Aegis missile defense-equipped ships.

Carter's speech also focused heavily on the other part of the "one-two punch"—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Defense Secretary said the U.S. will be able to capitalize on the region's "customers" with the passage of vastly opposed Trade Promotion Authority, aslo known as fast track, which would speed passage of the controversial and secretive trade deal currently under negotiations. The TPP, he said, is "as important to me as another aircraft carrier."

Though critics have challenged these supposed benefits of the deal, Carter said the TPP would offer U.S. job growth. He also said the trade deal would require the other 11 nations in the trade deal to "adopt the standards that we hold ourselves to here in the United States, such as: government transparency, intellectual property laws, a free and open internet, environmental protections, and workers’ rights. TPP would also lower barriers to American goods and services in the Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing markets."

In contrast, watchdog organization Public Citizen has characterized the trade deal, dubbed "NAFTA on steroids," thusly:

The TPP would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) "trade" pact model that has spurred massive U.S. trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports. The TPP not only replicates, but expands NAFTA's special protections for firms that offshore U.S. jobs. And U.S. TPP negotiators literally used the 2011 Korea FTA – under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged – as the template for the TPP.

In one fell swoop, this secretive deal could:

offshore American jobs and increase income inequality,
jack up the cost of medicines,
sneak in SOPA-like threats to Internet freedom,
and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards.
expose the U.S. to unsafe food and products,
roll back Wall Street reforms,
ban Buy American policies needed to create green jobs,

Digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have exposed the deals potential threats to an open internet, while environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth have called it "a potential danger to the planet, subverting environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology."

As for Carter's optimistic portrayal of the Pacific pivot, including saying, "Over the next century, no region will matter more for American security and also for American prosperity," analysts such as Foreign Policy in Focus's Walden Bello and John Feffer have written that the so-called shift, in fact, represents a retreat.

Bello has written that the pivot "has intensified the already intense militarization of the area," adding that the so-called re-balance (pdf) "is not novel. It is simply a return to the pre-9/11 global military posture of the George W. Bush administration, which redefined China from being a 'strategic partner' to a 'strategic competitor.'"

He adds: "To many analysts, the Pivot actually represents a retreat from the comprehensive global military dominance that the neoconservative faction of the U.S. ruling class attempted under Bush."

Feffer echoes that point, writing last year, "The administration's much-vaunted pivot looks ever more like a divot—a swing, a miss, and a hole in the ground rather than anything approaching a hole-in-one." He adds:

Indeed, sometimes the pivot seems like little less than a panacea for all that ails U.S. foreign policy. Upset about the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan? Then just light out for more pacific waters. Worried that our adversaries are all melting away and the Pentagon has lost its raison d'être? Then how about going toe to toe with China, the only conceivable future superpower on the horizon these days. And if you’re concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, then the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the regional free-trade deal Washington is trying to negotiate, might be just the shot in the arm that U.S. corporations crave.

"The lumbering aircraft carrier known as the United States should be executing a pivot that lives up to its name: a shift from the martial to the pacific," Feffer concluded. "Instead, it’s just roiling the waters and leaving instability in its wake."

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