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Study: US Pacific Strategy 'Insufficient' for Regional Goals

January 19, 2016 (Photo Credit: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is putting “insufficient” resources towards its lofty goal for a “rebalance” to the Pacific, according to a congressionally mandated report on the region conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The 270 page report, released Tuesday, warned that “at the current rate of U.S. capability development, the balance of military power in the region is shifting against the United States” and called for “robust funding” to maintain the US strategic dominance of the Pacific.

The study was ordered under the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, and is a follow-up to a 2012 congressionally mandated report studying the same issues. That study, also conducted by CSIS, made a series of recommendations; however, the authors write, the “international security environment has become significantly more complicated” in the region since then.

Unsurprisingly, the authors identified China as the primary threat to American power in the region, warning: “If China’s economic, military, and geopolitical influence continues to rise at even a modest pace during this period, the world will witness the largest shift in the global distribution of power since the rise of the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Whether that growth pattern continues is up in the air, the authors noted, with the report highlighting how internal challenges may distract China going forward, and also that its aggressive posture over the last two years towards its neighbors has driven many of those nations to align more strongly with the US.

The authors also identified North Korea and Russia as state actors who can destabilize the US goals for the Pacific.

To address concerns about the region, the authors of the study laid out four general necessities.

First, they called on the Obama administration to find a cohesive message about the Pacific, noting that while the “administration has issued a series of speeches and documents on the rebalance, there remains no central statement of the US government’s rebalance strategy” and warned that during interviews for the report, leaders from across the government were unclear on what the “rebalance” actually meant.

To meet that challenge, the authors recommended “preparing an Asia-Pacific strategic report; increasing administration outreach to Congress; ensuring alignment between strategy and resources; better coordinating U.S. strategy with allies and partners; and expanding confidence building and crisis management with China.”

Secondly, the authors recommended building up “security capability, capacity, resilience, and interoperability” among partners in the region. That has been a focus for the Department of Defense in recent years, including a trip in May when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited Singapore, Vietnam and India to encourage ties with those nations, both militarily and industrially.

In addition to general suggestions about supporting partner nations, the authors of the study encourage “forming a standing U.S. joint task force for maritime security” and “encouraging Japan to establish a joint operations command.” In  2015, Japan changed its national security rules in a move US officials hope will allow them to take a greater role in regional security.

The third recommendation involved beefing up the US presence in the region, and in particular not allowing China’s growing anti-access/area-denial capabilities to limit what American forces are stationed nearby.

“We recommend continuing to implement and resource key posture initiatives; increasing surface fleet presence; improving undersea capacity; deploying within the theater additional amphibious lift to allow enhanced theater-wide engagement and crisis response; continuing to diversify air operating locations; bolstering regional missile defenses; advancing and adapting the U.S. Army’s Regionally Aligned Forces concept; addressing logistical challenges; stockpiling critical precision munitions; and enhancing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance cooperation with allies within the region,” the authors wrote.

Finally, the authors concluded the Pentagon must “pursue innovative capabilities and concepts to address the most challenging military risks” in the region. In particular, the authors encourage the growth of two handfuls of technologies — those needed to protect US forces in the region from the growing ballistic missile threat, and those that are capable of giving the US “an asymmetric, cost-imposing counter to potential regional competitors.”

Although the term appears sparingly in the report, that conclusion mirrors those of top Pentagon officials, such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, who have been pushing the “Third Offset” for new technologies that will allow the US to maintain an edge over any near-peer nation.

The CSIS report specifically calls out the need for developing high-end guided munitions as key in the Pacific, something Work has identified in the past.

In addition to the broad recommendations, CSIS broke down the capabilities of each partner nation in the Pacific region and the importance it plays for US strategy. The study was led by Mike Green, Kath Hicks and Mark Cancian. 

The full report can be read at the CSIS website.

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

 

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