Partnerships Key to Future U.S. Strategy in Asia-Pacific Region
SAN DIEGO — The United States military plans to rebalance its forces toward the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years. Developing and strengthening partnerships with countries in the area will be critical to the success of this strategy, said a panel of retired admirals on Feb. 12.
“The Indo-Asia Pacific is home to half of the world’s population in 36 countries,” said panel moderator David Finkelstein, vice president and director of the China studies department at the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research and development center based in Arlington, Virginia. It is a dynamic region that is undergoing dramatic change across political, economic and military spectrums.
“The developments in the Indo-Asia Pacific region really do affect a wide array of important U.S. national security interests,” he noted during a panel discussion at the AFCEA West 2015 Conference.
Countries in the area face a variety of issues including piracy, pandemics, natural disasters and rampant transnational crime, he said. “All of these conditions exist in one of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic regions of economic development and growth.”
Retired Adm. Timothy Keating, former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said by and large these countries want the United States to be there for them in case of an emergency.
“Everybody over there wants us to some degree or another,” he said. “They really like the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps because we might be in port, we might be two miles away, we might be 200 miles away or 2,000 miles away, but in the minds in a lot of the folks over there, that’s real power. ‘We don’t know precisely where you are but we know you could get here in a hurry and you always come back,’” he said.
Vice Adm. Doug Crowder, former commander of the Navy’s seventh fleet, echoed Keating’s sentiments. He frequently heard from foreign officials who made it clear — publicly and privately — that the United States’ presence in the region was a reassurance of support and a deterrence to regional countries that may want to do others harm.
The term “rebalance or pivot” to Asia an unfortunate one, Keating noted. The U.S. has had a sustained presence there for decades, participating in exercises with a variety of countries and assisting in various emergencies.
With the rebalance, the United States is expected to take a greater role in humanitarian efforts. And in a region plagued with frequent natural disasters, relationships will be more important then ever, said retired Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny, former commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet’s submarine force.
“If you don’t have a relationship with the country you’re trying to help, it makes it very, very hard to render assistance,” he said.
The United States faced this issue during the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. Tensions between the country’s respective military were high at the time, but have since softened due to the United States’ swift assistance during the disaster, he noted.
A presence in the region will also be important as China and North Korea become greater issues, Finkelstein said.
China is currently embroiled in a sovereignty dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands. At the same time, it is also growing its Navy significantly, he said.
“[The Chinese navy] previously was viewed as the stepchild of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] but now is being looked [at] … as being on the pointy end of the spear of asserting and achieving China’s expanding national security interests,” Finkelstein said.
North Korea is also a great concern for the Asia-Pacific region, McAneny said.
“The country I watch in the region that I find most fascinating is North Korea. I’ve got to tell you, I was hoping the new leadership in North Korea would be perhaps more worldly, perhaps more willing to reach out to others but it’s gotten more bizarre,” he said. “I worry a lot about North Korea, a nuclear-capable North Korea. If that’s not the top [U.S.] challenge in my book, it should be.”
Kim Jong-un became supreme leader of North Korea in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il.