Navy Contends With Growing Tensions in Asia-Pacific

By Kristen Torres
The USS George Washington steams in formation with a Japanese guided missile destroyer during a joint field training exercise.

As maritime activity continues to increase at a record-setting pace, the United States will have to kick its naval efforts into high gear if the nation wants to keep up with other world powers, according to Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations. That is particularly true in the Asia-Pacific region, he added.

“We’ve been at sea for a millennia but maritime traffic has nearly quadrupled in the last 25 years alone,” said Richardson at a Center for a New American Security conference June 20. “The growing importance of the maritime arena puts increased demands on not just the Navy, but also the Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines.”

The rise of technology has caused a boom in military activity on the world's seas, threatening the United States’ claim to maritime dominance for the first time in two decades, according to Richardson.

“The amount of information made available by IT advances the means that the Navy will have to move faster to meet" its goals, Richardson said. “We have the challenge of keeping up with our competitors with our flat — if not declining — stream of resources, and that challenge is consuming our leadership right now.”

Many U.S. missions in the Asia-Pacific region rely on the nation's allies. For example, while there may be political problems with Japan, the two nations' navies put those conversations aside and work together on problems they encounter, according to Richardson.

“Everyone is getting bigger and more capable,” said Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security program director at CNAS. “The burden sharing is good, but the fact that other powers are now building up their defensive maritime plans means that our area partnerships are becoming increasingly important.”
“We realize that innovation is not driven just by us, but increasingly by other state actors” said Cronin. “There is no doubt that we may not always have the lead in these new technologies, and that will rekindle the ability to allow power projection around the world.”

A trilateral effort between the United States, Japan and South Korea is easing a growing fear of a nuclear North Korea and strengthening the alliance in the region to prevent conflict, according to Richardson.

“North Korea remains a threat, especially if they begin to deploy intermediate range nuclear missiles,” said Cronin. China is not yet a threat as much as it is a competitor and a challenge for cooperation in the region, he added.

“One thing we need to worry about is our own credibility as China chips away at the relevance of the rule of law by making their own” rules, Cronin said. “We have to realize that we’re putting everything we have into a rules-based system and China isn’t.”

U.S. relations with Taiwan are strengthening, which will be a growing source of tension with China, as will engagements with the Philippines, Cronin said.

“Taiwan will have to make a decision in terms of what best suits them and their long-term interests,” Richardson said. “We maintain a very professional routine type of interaction with all ships in the South China Sea…and we aim to coexist in productive ways.”

Photo: Navy

Topics: International

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