What Is the US Up to in the Asia-Pacific?

Edited by Emily France

In a 2013 speech, then U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon declared the overarching motivations for America’s “return to Asia” strategy. He stated that, firstly, economic strength would be fundamental in returning the U.S. to its leadership position in the world, and that the Asia-Pacific represented a key component in developing such economic strength.

Secondly, he said that not only did the U.S. want to keep an eye on present threats within the region, but that it was also willing to expend energy and resources in any area that could influence the world order over the coming decades — and that the Asia-Pacific was precisely such an area.

Thirdly, he explained that leaders in the Asia-Pacific were calling for the U.S. to maintain its leadership position in the region and to help develop and safeguard international standards for defense in the Asia-Pacific area. In a nutshell, U.S. interests are the key motivating factors: For the U.S. to rule the world, it must rule the Asia-Pacific — is this the reasoning here?

Well then, who was it that scared the U.S. into “returning to Asia?” In the Worldwide Threat Assessment report released by the United States, the second point in its list of five major threats was that the ever-expanding power of large nations could possibly pose a threat to America’s supremacy in the world. In the Department of Defense’s defense strategy guide, it was made clear that China’s rising had upset the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese military’s “blockading and obstruction” capabilities now pose a significant challenge for the United States, and the objectives of China’s “combined naval and air strategies” were decidedly obvious.

In laying out its designs for a “return to Asia” and meeting these “combined naval and air strategies,” the United States is stepping up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. is planning to shift 60 percent of its military power into the area by 2020. In 2013, the number of military personnel stationed in the Asia-Pacific region numbered 150,410. The U.S. wants to increase this number by 8,700 by 2020.

In terms of military unit displacement, the U.S. is undertaking to expand its presence across East and Southeast Asia. It is deploying its troops and its most advanced nuclear submarines in Guam and Japan. It is also sending amphibious assault ships and missile cruisers into the area. In Guam, it is stationing a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, and it is also planning to deploy nuclear submarines in Guam over the 2014 financial year. In the 2017 financial year, the U.S. will be stationing F-35 advanced fighters in Japan.

In Southeast Asia, the United States has reclaimed its right to use the Subic Bay and the Clark Air Base in the Philippines. It has also gained the right to station four littoral combat ships in Singapore. In the Oceania region, the U.S. has gained the right to station Marines in Australia on rotation, as well as a C-band radar and space surveillance telescope. The U.S. is also in consultation with Australia over other military issues, such as the stationing of a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle in the Cocos islands, as well as rights to use the Stirling and West Australian Naval bases for its fleet.

In the 2014 financial year, the U.S. military defense budget for training, exercises and other operations involving the Southeast Asian alliance topped $90 million. In July of 2013, Vietnam and the United States released a U.S.-Vietnam joint statement, declaring their intent to establish an allied relations network to protect regional security. By the end of 2014, the U.S. expects to release a newly revised U.S.-Japan joint defense guideline and promote joint U.S-Japanese military operations.

In 2013, the U.S. and its Southeast Asian allies executed over 80 extensive joint military training operations, and the sizes of these simulated combat exercises increased continuously. One specific training exercise of note was the 2013 dawn assault, which involved Japanese allied forces in a full-scale, coordinated “capture the islands” simulated combat scenario. This demonstrates a shift in military roles between Japan and the U.S., a change from the original “U.S. occupies while Japan hosts” policy of the past to the new “U.S. attacks while Japan supports” strategy of the present.

How can the U.S. give guarantees to “not oppose or create conflict with China,” while simultaneously engaging in large-scale military buildups, coordinated war games and this fervent catering to the desires of Asia-Pacific leaders? There is a huge discrepancy in military power between the U.S. and China. Even if only 10 percent of the U.S. is preparing itself against China, we need to be 100 percent ready to meet them.

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