The Pentagon recently published a report on “The Indo-Pacific Region. The Indo-Pacific Region report accuses China of being a so-called “revisionist power” that is ostensibly opposed to the U.S. vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The strategic report on the Indo-Pacific Region also mentions the significance of India and how the US is wooing Delhi on its side.
Former President Barack Obama began to turn the United States towards the Indo-Pacific Region. Under President Trump, the same course continues. The report argues that the continuity of the American common strategic vision is not interrupted, despite the increasingly complex security situation in the region.
The geography of the American Indo-Pacific is defined quite simply – it is the zone of responsibility of the 7th and 3rd fleets of the US Navy.
The Indo-Pacific region provides two-thirds of world gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 60% of world’s GDP. The Indo-Pacific Region comprises of the world largest economies – the United States, China and Japan – and the six fastest growing economies of the world – India, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Nepal and the Philippines.
A quarter of US exports goes to countries in the Indo-Pacific region and at the same time, American exports over the past decade to China and India have more than doubled. Nine out of the ten busiest seaports in the world are in this region. 60% of global maritime trade goes through Asia, and about a third of global shipping crosses the South China Sea.
Throughout its history, the United States has defended a key national interest in preserving the “freedom of the seas” and often relied on military forces to protect these interests. Americans have been trading in the Indo-Pacific region since the end of the 18th century, and now the US annual bilateral trade with it is $ 2.3 trillion. US foreign direct investment in the region is $ 1.3 trillion which is more than that of China, Japan and South Korea combined.
The Indo-Pacific Region is the most densely populated place on the planet with more than half the world’s population. Among the ten largest standing armies in the world, seven are in the Indo-Pacific region and many of them possess nuclear weapons.
In the Pentagon report, the Indo-Pacific region is a priority for US defence forces. In this regard, the United States is declared a “Pacific nation”, “associated with neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region through the indissoluble bonds of common history, culture, trade and values.”
The United States has five Pacific states – Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as Pacific territories: Guam, American Samoa, Wake Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In 1817, the US Congress approved the deployment of the first American warship in the Pacific. US Navy “discovered” Japan for world trade in the 1850s. From the end of the 19th century, American diplomacy began to promote an “open door policy” towards China. In the twentieth century, the United States radically expanded its position in the region at the end of the Second World War.
Since the 1970s, the United States has supported the regional organizations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the APEC Forum, and the Asian Development Bank. In 1979, the United States established official diplomatic relations with the PRC. At the turn of the 21st century, the United States supported China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, believing that this would lead to the economic liberalization of China.
The report in the most sublime tones speaks of maintaining the US regime of free and open trade in the region. But an interesting point: the report does not say that the current president, Donald Trump led the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) prepared under Obama, which threatened its existence.
The report does not mention the tariff wars launched by Trump against China. In the Pentagon report on trade, the notion of “fair” is also used in the series of descriptive definitions with the word “free”. That is, the United States advocates “free” trade, but only if it is “fair”, in their understanding. The US has “our vision” of the “free and open Indo-Pacific region”.
The Pentagon report states that the region is experiencing a negative shift in the regional balance of power. The report identifies three US opponents in the Indo-Pacific region – these are the People’s Republic of China, Russia and the DPRK (North Korea).
In addition, each of the opponents of the United States in the report received from the US military strategists individual epithet. The PRC is a “revisionist power”. Russia is a “revived evil actor.” North Korea is a failed (rogue) state.
China seeks regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region in the short term, and ultimately, global superiority in the long term. “The People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is undermining the international system from the inside, taking advantage of it, while also destroying the values and principles of a rule-based order.”
“China is forcibly using non-military tools, including economic ones, during periods of political tension with countries that China accuses of damaging its national interests.” Some Chinese investments lead to negative economic consequences or influences on the sovereignty of the host country.
The United States has serious concerns about China’s ability to turn the unbearable debt burden of recipient countries or subnational groups into strategic and military access, including by seizing sovereign assets as security.
China invests in a wide range of military programs and weapons, including nuclear ones. The modernization of the PLA also strengthens its ability to work further from the borders of China.
China continues the militarization of the South China Sea and “send signals” to Taiwan. China has never refused to use military force and continues to develop and deploy the advanced military capabilities necessary for a potential military campaign against Taiwan. Lack of transparency overshadows China’s operations in the Arctic and Antarctic.
The final section states that one of the most far-reaching goals of the US National Defense Strategy is to put military relations between the United States and China on a long-term path of transparency and non-aggression.
Russia, by advancing its strategic interests, undermines US leadership and “rule-based international order.” Russia uses economic, diplomatic and military means to achieve influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Russia is conducting military modernization of its conventional and strategic armed forces. Russia is regaining its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Russia seeks to capitalize on tensions between the United States and China.
China and Russia cooperate in the diplomatic arena and in the field of security. China increases investment in the Russian economy, and Russia is one of the main sources of energy imports to China.
China buys modern weapons from Russia. Both countries participate in bilateral and multilateral military exercises. Often, Russia and China jointly oppose US-sponsored measures in the UN Security Council.
Russia and China prefer a multipolar world order in which the United States is weak and less influential.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) will remain a security issue for the Pentagon, the global system, American allies, partners and competitors until the United States has reached a final and fully verifiable agreement on the denuclearization of the DPRK.
North Korea developed an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to destroy the continental United States with a nuclear or conventional warhead. North Korea requires constant vigilance. It distributes conventional weapons, nuclear technology, ballistic missiles and chemicals to countries such as Iran and Syria.
North Korea is a common military threat to US allies, such as the Republic of Korea and Japan. North Korea opposes the regime of sanctions against it. North Korea is also involved in cross-border smuggling and theft operations using cyber technologies. DPRK continues to violate human rights and “mock their own people.”
Further, the national defence strategy indirectly recognizes that “the most intense potential scenarios” will occur on the periphery of the “competitors” of the United States. If the “competitors” decide to defend their interests with the help of military force, then they are likely to get local advantages at the beginning of the conflict. Competitors will seek to use their capabilities quickly to achieve limited goals and prevent the reaction of the United States, its allies and partners.
To counter such “competitor scenarios,” the Pentagon is promoting the concept of “multi-domain operations of the US Army.” The US military is conducting tests under the Pacific Pathways “multi-domain task forces” program designed to create time windows of superiority between several domains, which allows the United States-led forces to capture, save and use the initiative.
In addition to the three listed opponents (competitors) of the United States, the report determined that the United States continues to face many security problems in the Indo-Pacific region on a number of transnational threats, including terrorism; illegal trade in weapons, drugs, people and wild animals; piracy; and the spread of dangerous pathogens and natural disasters.
There are numerous terrorist organizations in the countries of the region, including ISILS In addition, the United States is concerned about weak and illiberal governance in the countries of the region, whose governments “do not respond to the will of their people and are more susceptible to harmful external influence.” These include Cambodia, Burma, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The national interests of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region includes:
Preserving peace with the help of force, based on American forces and on the assumption that “allies and partners will take a fair share of the responsibility to protect against common threats”
The development of American influence in multilateral organizations to protect American interests and principles. The national security strategy and national defence strategy determine the American vision of competition in the region, deterrence and victory.
The 2018 US National Defense Strategy defines the following general goals:
1. US protection;
2. remain the most outstanding military force in the world;
3. ensure that the alignment of forces in key regions remains in favour of the United States;
4. promote the international order, which is most conducive to the security and prosperity of the United States.
As we see, in the Pentagon report, this supposedly “updated” strategy is just another four-point variation of the “great strategy” of the US world championship, formulated in the 1950s.
To solve the problem of a “negative” shift in the regional balance of forces, the Pentagon creates the Combined Forces, as well as expands military cooperation with the “powerful” group of allies and partners of the United States who are “ready to win any conflict from its very beginning.”
That is, the US military-strategic response is the creation of a regional military organization with joint forces under the leadership of the Americans – a kind of counterpart to NATO.
The national defence strategy prescribes the Pentagon to use the allocated resources in such a way which increase the lethality, stability, manoeuvrability and readiness of these combined forces.
To create a united force, the US Department of Defense “is strengthening its commitment to the alliances and partnerships that have been created, as well as expanding and deepening relations with new partners.”
The US Department of Defense is strengthening and developing military alliances (alliances) and US partnerships in a security network architecture to maintain rules-based international order.
Implementing this approach in the Indo-Pacific region requires a comprehensive effort recognizing the critical links between economics, management, and security. That is, the economic factor will be used to raise the level of the military alliance.
Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to strategy, providing a long-term, asymmetrical strategic advantage that no competitor or opponent can match. The United States offers its allies in the region to finance and sell their advanced defence equipment.
Allies. The US military allies in the region include the following states: Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
At the same time, the US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of “peace and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific region. It creates US asymmetric benefits. In the Indo-Pacific region, the United States also has relations with its key NATO allies, Britain, France and Canada.
In addition to bilateral relations, the United States develops tripartite relations with its allies in the region according to the following formulas: USA — Republic of Korea — Japan; USA – Japan – Australia.
Partners. The United States has partnerships that intend to expand, with Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and Mongolia. Partnerships are determined by:
1) participation in US missions around the world;
2) actively maintaining “free and open international order”;
3) are democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.
(1) It is noteworthy that the United States declared Mongolia its “third neighbour” and key security partner. It is obvious that the development of partnerships leads to allied relations with the United States.
Promising partners. In South Asia, the United States is working on establishing a “Basic Defense Partnership” with India and is developing partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal. The security relationship is promoted by the United States in Southeast Asia in relations with Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Links are maintained with Brunei, Laos and Cambodia. Here, a promising key ally of the United States is India.
“The United States and India have a broad strategic partnership based on common interests, democratic values and strong ties between people. The strategic partnership between the United States and India has significantly strengthened over the past two decades thanks to a merger of strategic interests. ”
In June 2016, the United States declared India “the main defence partner.” This is a unique status in the practice of US foreign security policy. Since 2008, the United States sold India defence goods worth $ 16 billion.
The United States is developing a trilateral partnership with India along with Japan. The annual Malabar naval exercises, which began as the naval exercises of the United States and India, included Japan as a third participant.
Islands in the Pacific. The United States is intensifying its presence in the Pacific Islands. The Pacific Islands are a different region from other Indo-Pacific regions due to the relatively small size of countries, unique geography and problems. The United States considers the Pacific Islands to be critical to US strategy. Through shipping and US Coast Guard agreements, they have access to eleven Pacific Island countries. Of the Pacific Islands, three are important military for the Pentagon – Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.
Let’s summarize. To achieve security, deterrence and victory in the Indo-Pacific, Washington requires a military-political alliance led by the United States with a set of allies and partners. The increase in US investment supports American influence in the region to ensure a favourable balance of power and “protect a free and open international order.”