The Asia-Pacific region accounts for half of the world's population, more than half of global GDP and about half of its trade. It is home to growing economic opportunities and higher living standards. In the XXI century the Asia-Pacific will not only be the world’s largest producer of goods and services, but also the world’s largest consumer of them. Obama has called himself «America's first Pacific president». No matter obvious gains, there are serious challenges, like regional tensions, arms race and proliferation, piracy, trafficking, smuggling and natural disasters. Territorial and maritime disputes have flared up recently to make rising tensions a hallmark of situation in Each Asia. Regional multilateral cooperation has experienced serious setbacks. It is facing a spiraling arms race making the regional states scramble for more sophisticated weapons and equipment. In 2011 the Obama administration announced the new policy of a “strategic pivot” (then rephrased as a “rebalancing”). It means that while downsizing the presence in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Europe and elsewhere, the US is to invest more and pay greater attention to the Asia-Pacific, particularly Southeast Asia. In January the Pentagon published its new “strategic guidance” paper, which named the Asia-Pacific region and the Persian Gulf as the nation’s two geostrategic priorities. Right after winning the election President Obama announced his first international trip would be to South East Asia on November 17-20, including Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Thailand and taking part in the East Asian Summit in Cambodia held under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In November Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – together and separately – visited Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia involved in extremely vigorous diplomatic activities in the region.
The US military buildup in the Asia Pacific is clearly emerging along with strengthening alliances and expanding military exercises. The United States has 320,000 troops in the Pacific region and the Department of Defense has promised there will be no reductions as troops are drawn down in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. This summer about 250 US Marines, the first of 2,500 to be deployed to Australia, trained with the Australian Army near the port city of Darwin and with other militaries in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Under an agreement with Australia, the number will grow to 1,000 next year. By 2016, the marines are expected to number 2,500. In an amphibious warfare drill on Guam in September, which did not go unnoticed in Beijing, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and US Marines “retook” a remote island from an unnamed enemy.
According to the DOD strategic guidance of January 2012 the Pentagon is shifting weapons like the B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers, MV-22 Ospreys and Global Hawk drones to the Pacific from the Middle East and Southwest Asia as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Next spring the first of four US littoral combat ships, fast new vessels meant to keep a watch on the Chinese navy, is to begin a 10-month deployment to Singapore. According to stated plans, the US will have 60 percent of its ships in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic by 2020, compared with the current 50-50 split. The Pentagon has not specified what kinds of ships or how many would make up the 60 percent, although Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said they would include six aircraft carriers and a majority of the US Navy’s cruisers, destroyers, submarines and littoral combat ships. The US Navy currently has about 285 ships about evenly divided among the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The total number will decline in coming years as some vessels are retired without being replaced by new ones. The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers; six of them are already assigned to the Pacific. On November 14, 2012 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) released his Sea Change. The Navy Pivots to Asia published by Foreign Policy. The document says “the Navy will build on its longstanding Asia-Pacific focus in four main ways; deploying more forces to Asia-Pacific; basing more ships and aircraft in the region; fielding new capabilities focused on Asia-Pacific challenges; and developing partnerships and intellectual capital across the region” (1). According to the document the day-by-day presence in the region is to be increased by 20 %. The first naval aviation F-35C squadron will be assigned to the Japan air wing. Along with the increase in forces, the Navy plans to establish a headquarters in Singapore.
The rebalancing includes ballistic missile defense ring around China. On August 24, 2012 the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the Obama Administration will expand its missile-defense shield in the Asia-Pacific region as part of its newly-announced policy of China Pivot (2). The WSJ adds “Some analysts warn that the U.S. plan may further destabilize a region that faces volatile territorial disputes, competition for resources and growing nationalism.” In September 2012, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the United States and Japan had reached a major agreement to deploy second major advanced ballistic missile defense (BMD) radar on Japanese territory, the decision immediately criticized by China. The official reason given by the Pentagon for its new missile defense deployment to the Asian theater is to protect Japan, South Korea and other US allied countries in the region against a North Korean nuclear missile attack. This is an iffy argument. China is the only power in the region possessing a potential nuclear threat with serious long-range delivery capabilities. Chinese missile sites are installed across the Korean border, well in range of the US-Japan new BMD installation. Somehow the announced missile defense plans coincide with the rise of China-Japan tensions over the islands. The Japanese government issued the cabinet decision “On Introduction of Ballistic Missile Defense System and Other Measures” back in 2003. Establishing a missile defense system has been a national security priority since then. And it’s not Japan only. Washington has invited South Korea and Australia to join the Asian missile defense program.
Since the past year, the Obama administration has stepped up talks with the Philippines about expanding the US military presence there, including more frequent visits by US warships. As of October, 70 U.S. Navy ships had passed through Subic, more than the 55 in 2011 and the 51 in 2010. The Pentagon says more than 100 U.S. planes stop over each month at Clark-field, another former U.S. base located between Manila and Subic. The US also has its eye on Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay, an important deep water port. In June, Panetta became the first US Defense Secretary to visit Cam Ranh since the end of the Vietnam War. He said access for U.S. ships was «a key component» of relations with Hanoi.
The U.S. military, through positive engagement, is quietly expanding its strategic influence in places that might not always have been so open to American input. Cambodia and Bangladesh are politically close to China. In October the U.S. Navy has conducted exercises with the Cambodian Navy as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Exercise CARAT) series of regional drills, having held another CARAT exercise with Bangladesh only in September. The U.S. military’s Pacific Commander held talks with the Bangladeshi prime minister soon afterwards. The U.S.’s decision to invite Burma to send military observers to the upcoming Cobra Gold 2013 exercise in Thailand was quite unexpected while the Burmese military continues to wage war in Kachin State with continuing losses of civilian life. But that’s the way Washington is using this softer application of its hard power to good effect.
Closer ties with Japan
Strengthening the US alliance with Japan is central to Obama’s strategy of containing China. Japan is the third largest economy in the world and more technologically advanced than the Chinese Republic. Its defense budget last year was $59.3 billion-the sixth largest in the world and the second largest in Asia (after China). Despite its defensive posture, Japan’s military has always been equipped with hi-tech hardware and is organized so it can be rapidly expanded. On November 10 Satoshi Morimoto, Japan’s defense minister, announced that he wanted to revise the guidelines governing military cooperation with the US to counter China's growing military might. The agreement was reached on November 9 between Japanese deputy defense minister Akihisa Nagashima and U.S. deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter. The discussions are expected to start this December. Japan’s latest annual defense report specifically identifies China and its naval capacities as a threat. The Obama administration has encouraged Japan to take a stronger stance over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. While claiming to be neutral on the issue, US Secretary of State Clinton and other top officials have declared that the US would come to the military aid of Japan in any clash with China over the disputed territories. Some Japanese lawmakers and officials are increasingly pushing to abolish the effective ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense. That would allow Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to use force to help allied troops if they came under enemy attack. Japan is heavily investing in helicopters and airplanes that can transport SDF members to a maritime crisis. It plans to deploy troops on southwestern Yonaguni Island, in the East China Sea by 2015. “Japan is in the midst of a gradual but significant shift to the right,” said the Washington Post in its September 21 article called With China’s rise, Japan shifts to the Right (3). The newspaper stresses, “Japan’s shift can be seen in an increasingly muscular role for the nation’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF), in a push among mainstream politicians to revise key portions of the pacifist constitution and in a new willingness to clash with China, particularly in the East China Sea.” Japan has introduced the «dynamic defensive» military strategy and upgraded the Defense Agency to Defense Ministry. By the end of April the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee announced the possible establishment of joint training facilities on Guam and the North Mariana Islands. If these plans proceed, it would mark the first ever permanent Japanese military presence on US territory. In October six Osprey tilting rotor aircraft flew to their new home base Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa. The US and Japan held a large 11-day military exercise in November 4 to last 11 days against the backdrop of the Chinese Communist Party preparing to open a landmark 18th congress on November 8. Dubbed Keen Sword, it involved 34,100 troops from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and more than 10,000 American land, air and naval forces simulating the re-taking of an island from an enemy force. The exercise was preceded by Orient Shield annual premier tactical level bilateral 15-day long exercise co-hosted by U.S. Army Japan and the Japan Ground Self Defense Force held in October-November.
Evidently there are factors that negatively influence the new policy. The US cannot neglect its global commitments, taking into consideration the economic woes it faces, overstretching is a possible reality. The country’s s capability may fall short of its ambitions. Inflaming territorial disputes in the region Asia-Pacific means running a risk to be dragged into and bogged down in a conflict nobody wants. The policy of containment doesn’t match the fact that China is indispensable to the US economic prosperity; no sustained security in the region is possible without it. Speaking at the 21st ASEAN Summit and 7th East Asia Summit held on November 16 – 20, 2012 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that the security situation in the region does not meet the demands of the time and there is a lack of international legal instruments. According to him ‘the time is ripe for the region to develop a new architecture – equal, non-aligned and transparent based on the principles of undivided security, adherence to the international law and the principles of collective security and transparency. Without this we will be unable to tap a strong potential of regional integration” (4). He stressed, “The East Asia summits for us are a core element of an interstate interaction system that is being formed in the Asia-Pacific Region. Today it is the only mechanism of its kind for high level dialogue on strategic issues of the region’s development.” Despite the tensions among the East Asian states, they have a common goal of economic achievement. The Asia Pacific needs international legal instruments to overcome the disputes and enhance regional security.
1 CNO, Foreign Policy “Sea Change”: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/11/14/sea_change
2 The Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2012, U.S. Missile Shield Plan Seen Stoking China Fears: ttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444082904577609054116070694.html
3 The Washington Post, September 21, With China’s rise, Japan shifts to the Right: www.google.ru/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washingtonpost.com%;
4 Itar-Tass, 20/11/2012, Asia-Pacific Region ready to create new security architecture, Sergei Lavrov said: http://www.itar-tass.com/en/c154/576843.htm