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United States Should not be Strategically Diverted from Asia Pacific 2016

Paper No. 6183                                   Dated 12-Oct-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

The United States stood strategically distracted from Asia Pacific in the last decade resulting in China’s unimpeded militarisation of the South China Sea and the emergence of China as a maritime power—both impinging on stability and credibility of US security architecture.

The United States seems to be once again strategically distracted from the Asia Pacific by Middle East turbulence and now locked in a geopolitical tussle with Russia in Syria and also in Ukraine and Crimea. The United States in doing so seems to be oblivious to the fact that in doing so it is repeating the creation of a security vacuum in the Asia Pacific which China is hopping mad to fill in.

In the21st Century, Asia Pacific security should be the foremost geopolitical and strategic concern of the United States. Simply, because China as a revisionist power amassing exponential military power seems intent to prompt the United States exit from the Western Pacific to begin with so as to limit any possible military intervention by against China by the application of overwhelming massive American naval and air power for close-in offensives on China's Pacific littoral

China’s military rise still is not in a position to challenge United States status as the global strategically predominant power though China is engaged in reducing the asymmetric differentials of United States military power in the Asia Pacific. As a global power unquestionably, the United States has to shoulder global responsibilities in maintaining security and stability.

However, even the United States has to face the daunting challenge of strategic choices so that US application of force and military resources are best focussed at that global point where United States supremacy is more challenged and not dissipated in penny packets all over the world.

Even if one harks back to an earlier debate of the last decade, the United States is faced with the dilemma of “Strategy of Choice” or the “Strategy of Necessity” (substituting the word “War” by the term “Strategy”).

United States strategic and military focus in controlling military turbulence in the Middle East is no longer a “Strategy of Necessity” as the United States dependency on Middle East energy resources has more than halved from earlier decades. More significantly, United States strong postures in Asia Pacific are not dependent on strong US postures in the Middle East.

Comparatively, United States commitment to security and stability of the Asia Pacific is indivisible as its traditional allies of more than half a century in the region and who provide the Outer Perimeter of US Homeland Security have increasingly come under China’s coercive pressures. Therefore it is the “Strategy of Necessity” that should form the bedrock of United States unambiguous and strong security postures in the Asia Pacific.

Strong United States military postures in the Asia Pacific would automatically enable strong US postures and control in the Middle East. Also, it would enable China to be tied down in East Asia and not venture into the Middle East in tandem with Russia and its power-play in the Middle East.

Objectively, the United States should be permissive of Russia’s power games in the Middle East for a number of reasons. Russia geographically is in close proximity of the Northern Tier of the Middle East and therefore better placed than the United States. In the Southern Segment of the Middle East, the United States is better placed strategically and militarily because of its security links with the Gulf monarchies. Further, the United States as the globally predominant naval power can bring to bear its massive naval power including US Marines Expeditionary Force at short notice. Comparatively, Russia and China put together are no match for US military superiorities in the Southern Segment of the Middle East.

The above factor should release US policy planners and military strategists in Washington from any worries on the security of US national interests in the region.

So released, the US policy establishment should give focussed attention to enhancing the credibility of its security profile, presence and reinforcing the capabilities of its militany allies in the region. Lately, in traditional allies like Japan and South Korea there have been muted concerns on the thrust of US policies in the Asia Pacific with a new President due to take office in January 2017. Presumably such concerns arose from the likelihood of further US defence budget cuts and thereby affecting the United States Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific announced in 2012 in response to China’s menacing postures both in the East China Sea against Japan and in the South China Sea against Vietnam and the Philippines.

Consequently, there were call made by some premier Washington think-tanks that the United States must reaffirm its commitments to the security of Japan and South Korea. United States presidential candidates from both the Republican and the Democrats Parties should say so in their campaign speeches. Surely, no political divisions exist in the United States polity when it comes to the security of the United States and the anticipation of threats in the offing which could jeopardise US security.

China has adopted the ‘no cost, low cost’ strategy of driving wedges between the United States and its traditional allies in the Asia Pacific. This was a point consistently laboured upon in my writings of the past. It has vividly come to the fore now in the case of the Philippines. The Philippines which recently won its case before The Hague Arbitration Tribunal on China’s claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea is now backtracking in face of Chinese overtures. This led one analyst to compare the Philippines s change of stance to a person filing a criminal case against a person and on winning the case in court then backtracks and says it withdraws its case.

The United States is fortunate that in the second decade of the 21st Century it should stand heartened that Asia’s two major powers, that is, Japan and India, have strategic convergences when it comes to Asia Pacific security. The balance of power in the Asia Pacific is decidedly in favour of the United States. If that be so then there exists no scope for misgivings in the US policy establishment in terms that the region is opposed to United States military presence in the Asia Pacific.

On the contrary, the entire region welcomes US military presence in the Asia Pacific as a force contributing to stability.  Surprisingly, even China on occasions have welcomed it though on different grounds stating that it would check rise of Japanese militarism.

In conclusion, one would again like to re-emphasise that United States strategic stakes in Asia Pacific are much higher in scale and magnitude than the Middle East and as many American leaders have asserted that the future of America and American power logically resides in the Asia Pacific. That should be the cynosure United States strategic attention in the decades that follow.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)