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States to Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. These
are forces well known to those living in the region.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to seven of the
ten largest standing militaries (China, the United
States, Russia, India, North Korea, South Korea, and
Vietnam). Over 50% of the world’s population (3.4
billion people) live in the Asia-Pacific. The region
includes the most populous nation (China), the
largest democracy (India) and the largest Muslim-
majority nation (Indonesia).
The “Asia-Pacific Century” is all about economics
and the dynamism of the Asia-Pacific region. The
region is home to the three largest economies (China,
Japan and the United States), the economically
dynamic ASEAN nations, and growing economic
powerhouses such as Australia and Canada, and is
marked by stunning economic growth, breathtaking
innovation, and economic dynamism unknown
anywhere else in the world.
From the United States perspective, the
economic realities could not be clearer. Since
2000, Asia has become the United States’ largest
source of imports and second-largest export
market after the North America region. As the
world’s fastest growing economic zone, Asia is
expected to become even more vital for the U.S .
economy in the future. Greater trade flows through
the Asia-Pacific have also reinforced greater U.S .
security interests in the region.
Like the force acting on an airplane, drag represents
those national and international factors external to
the United States that are competing with the U.S .
Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and which may hinder
or slow the rebalance. Chief among these is the
fact that the United States is a global power and
simply can’t walk away from its commitments in other
regions, from Europe, to Africa, to South and Central
America, to the Middle East and South Asia.
All these regions are important to the United
States and the U.S . commitment must include military
assets. For example, the United States is committed
to NATO and especially to the defense of Europe
from the threat of ballistic missile attack—witness
the substantial commitment of U.S . military assets to
the European Phased Adaptive Approach for missile
defense, including the permanent stationing of four
modern U.S . Navy destroyers in Rota Spain. Add
to this the recent Russian threats to NATO, such
as the annexation of Crimea and its interference in
Ukraine, and one can conclude that the U.S . military
commitment to NATO will likely increase, not diminish.
However, it is the Middle East and South Asia where
the United States is having a particularly difficult time
extricating itself from its responsibilities—including a
substantial military presence. While the war in Iraq
has essentially ended and U.S . military presence
in Afghanistan has diminished, as long as ISIS, the
Taliban, the IMU, and other terrorist organizations
remain a threat, this region will likely demand the
continuing involvement of Washington.
While the economic factors causing the United
States to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific are
important in their own right, what is driving or “lifting”
the United States to accelerate this rebalance are
the growing security concerns in the region. Without
putting too fine a point on it, China’s increasing
military power, coupled with its growing willingness
to use that power in disputes with its neighbors, is
causing the United States to take a more visible and
proactive military stance in the region.
The Chinese actions over the past several
years that either explicitly or implicitly threaten her
neighbors are well known to those in the region. And
what is significant is the fact that these assertive
moves have occurred only recently. Ten years ago,
no oracle could have predicted the aggressive
Chinese territorial claims over the Diaoyu/Senkaku
Islands in the East China Sea and the totality of its
claims over an area the size of India - namely the
South China Sea. Perhaps most troubling, China
has made it increasingly clear that it does not
intend to compromise with its neighbors in order
to settle these disputes. If anything, the Chinese
position continues to harden over time—witness for
example, China’s reaction to the decision made by
the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration
regarding the disputed territories in the South
Undergirding China’s moves in the region has
been the dramatic increase in its military spending.
China alone accounts for 30 percent of Asian
defense spending. Most observers predict China’s
defense budget will double over the next five years,
outstripping the combined spending of all other
nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Beyond the international considerations causing
“drag” on the U.S . Pivot to the Pacific, there is a
substantial “weight” that is impeding this rebalance.
In the wake of the most severe economic downturn in
the United States in over three-quarters of a century,
the U.S . DoD budget has been under increasing
stress. And most predict this budgetary strain will
have repercussions for decades to come. The
numbers speak for themselves. Total U.S . defense
spending, including both base funding and war
costs, has dropped by about 22% from its peak in
2010 to its new steady-state this year.
The U.S . Budget Control Act mandated a reduction
in Defense Department future expenditures. As one
Pentagon spokesman put it, “The budget constraints
of sequestration may require a change in the pace
and scope of some of the Department of Defense’s
activities in the Asia Pacific.” Most observers agree
this understates the impact of current and future
DoD budget cuts. As Ian Storey, a senior fellow
at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in
Singapore put it, “There were always concerns that
America’s daunting financial problems would derail
the whole ‘project’ of rebalancing to Asia, and latest
cuts only add to those fears.”
We will all pay attention to these signposts over
the next several years, but from where I sit, it appears
that the U.S . Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific Region
has, to borrow a racing term, a good pole position.
The author anticipates that there will be informed
commentary emanating from multiple sources
especially think tanks in the United States and other
nations in the region. In subsequent reporting we’ll
look closely at their analysis.
PACIFIC OCEAN (May 10, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class
guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102)
launches two SM-2 missiles during a missile launch
exercise while conducting a group sail training unit
exercise. Group sail is a pre-deployment underway which
allows the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group to
conduct exercises together in a maritime environment.
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist
2nd Class Ignacio D. Perez/Released.
29/05/2017 3:21 PM
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