The United States Influence And Competitors In The Indo-Pacific – Report

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In December 2019, the Hudson Institute published a comprehensive report on the views of United States towards the Indo-Pacific region, entitled: “Strategies for the Indo-Pacific: Perceptions of the U.S. and Like-Minded Countries.” This volume is edited by Dr. Satoru Nagao, Hudson Institute Visiting Fellow. 

In this publication Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute emphasizes: “Critics may fixate on the isolationist-sounding “America first” focus of the NSS, but that strategy signals the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States returned to a focus on major-power competition. The 2017 strategy report also shifts attention away from global terrorism, which has dominated security strategy since 2001.  Although the strategy was seen as overdue in the United States, leading voices in the region fear the tilt toward confronting China could create conflict.

As Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remarked in his opening address at the 2019 ShangriLa Dialogue, “There is a growing bipartisan consensus in the U.S.: that China has taken advantage of the U.S. for far too long; that China has overtaken, or will soon overtake the U.S. in areas of advanced technology…through underhanded means; that instead of opening up and becoming more like the U.S., China has regressed in terms of political openness, and hence represents a challenge to American values and leadership.” 

In other words, one of America’s key partners in Southeast Asia is admonishing the United States not to force regional actors to choose between neighbors and friends, between major economic and security partners, and, really, between China and the United States. However, the United States is telling the region that it either needs to step up to the challenge of competition with China, preferably with the United States, or risk losing independence and even sovereignty. This message has been clear since the first year of the Trump administration, which continues to work on implementing policies in response to this shift back to great-power competition.”

Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, a former senior vice president and director of research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes: “On the heels of a substantial strategic pivot from post-9/11 terrorism to resurgent major- power rivalry, the January 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) under then-Secretary James Mattis translated the strategy into a Department of Defense (DoD) plan of action. The defense strategy remains mostly classified, but the unclassified explanation makes clear that China’s bid is now the pacing threat against which to work on deterrence and defense: “China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to its advantage.  As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.” More recently, in June 2019, under the supervision of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver, the Pentagon produced the first-ever Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR). 

This report, released during the annual assembly of regional defense secretaries at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, is an outstanding statement of U.S. strategic objectives, organized around three pillars of preparedness, partnerships, and networked security architecture. Before distilling key points from that strategy, however, some background on earlier precedents is warranted.” Furthermore, Dr. Cronin continues to elaborate on the crucial tradition set forth by the administration of President George H. W. Bush, who led the strategic initiative of drafting and “publishing two East Asia Strategy Initiative (EASI) reports for Congress at the end of the Cold War…”  Overall, Dr. Cronin provides an accurate summary of the U. S. Strategy in South East Asia and how it has evolved over time. 

Another key component of the Hudson Institute is the essay written by Bryan McGrath, Assistant Director of the Hudson Center for American Sea power, in his publication is tackled the American Sea Power in the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. McGrath notes: “The United States is a Pacific power, and as such, relies heavily on Seapower to protect and sustain its interests in the region.  American Seapower — for the purposes of this essay — consisting of the Navy and Marine Corps operating as an integrated whole, is essential to assuring regional friends and allies of continuing American commitment to the region.  Additionally, forward deployed naval power acts as a deterrent to would-be disturbers of the peace. In the foreseeable future, China is the focus of this deterrence. While American Seapower is critical to the U.S. approach to the region, it is only one part of a more comprehensive approach that emphasizes trade and diplomacy at least as much as military alliances. 

A recent essay entitled “Assessing America’s Indo-Pacific Budget Shortfall” by Eric Sayers provides an excellent summary of the degree to which this important region is under-resourced at both the State Department and the Pentagon, in addition to the multiplicity of programs that exist outside the bounds of hard power.  Geography is not destiny, but it is important, and when considering China’s place in the Western Pacific, it is useful to think of the way Japan, Australia, and India create natural perimeter.  One can also think of this arrangement as a baseball diamond, with Australia as “home plate”, Japan as “first base” and India as “third base”.  Growing references to “the Quad” nations — the U.S., India, Australia, and Japan — recognize the natural utility of this geographic arrangement of like-minded maritime powers. 

Deterring and if necessary, winning a conflict in the Western Pacific demands a strong U.S. naval presence in the region and active and powerful navies from the Quad nations. There should be no mistake what “winning” means in a potential conflict with China, as it is a powerful, nuclear nation of the first order. In the event of conflict, a return to status quo ante should be considered winning.” 

Some of Dr. McGrath’s assessments encompass the following recommendations: “Third, the United States must make clear and unambiguous statements about what the consequences of aggression will be. There is in the national security community, a great debate as to whether the U.S. would attack the Chinese mainland in the event of conflict. This debate should end. There should be no doubt in China’s leader’s minds that mainland targets are on the list, and that furthermore, the islands and features that they have militarized were never part of this debate in the first place. 

Fourth — the U.S. should move the Third Fleet — currently based in San Diego, forward. The Seventh Fleet based in Japan is simply too far out of the fight — and more importantly — too busy with fights of its own — to provide operational level direction in the broader Indo-Asia Pacific. A base in Northern Australia or Guam would be preferred, but where exactly it could land remains to be seen. The “Third Fleet Forward” initiative of a few years ago was an interesting idea, but it appeared somewhat insufficient and gimmicky.”

Such a publication encompasses the pressing challenges and accomplishments of United States Administration in relation to the Asia Pacific region and South East Asia domain.  It is critical to all scholars of International Affairs to conduct an in-depth analysis of the aforementioned Hudson Institute report, a premier research material that may never become irrelevant.

To read the entire Hudson Institute report click here: Strategies for the Indo-Pacific: Perceptions of the U.S. and Like-Minded Countries

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