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US Pivot to Asia Pacific: Implications for Indian Ocean Region. Chapter in IDSA publication - Asian Strategic Review 2014

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US Pivot to Asia Pacific: Implications for Indian Ocean Region. Chapter in IDSA publication - Asian Strategic Review 2014
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  9 US Pivot to Asia-Pacific:Implications for the Indian Ocean Region Sarabjeet Singh Parmar  In November 2011, Hillary Clinton, the then Secretary of State, in her ForeignPolicy   article “America’s Pacific Century” defined the Asia-Pacific as “stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the regionspans two oceans—the Pacific and the Indian—that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy.” 1  The CRS Report for the US Congress in 2012 2  statedthat “additionally, underlying the ‘pivot’ is a broader geographic vision of the Asia-Pacific region that includes the Indian Ocean and many of its coastal states.”In his November 17, 2011 address to the Australian Parliament, President Obama said that the future being sought in the Asia-Pacific was “security, prosperity and dignity for all.” 3  During his speech he covered the imperatives that not only drove the US relations with the region but also those that impinge on the futuresought. Some salient points covered were as follows: 4 •The region’s importance—home to half the world’s economies that created jobs and opportunities for Americans.•Contribution by emerging powers towards regional security.•Security based on an international order that would uphold the rights andresponsibilities of all nations and people.•Freedom of navigation and commerce.•Maintenance of credible US military presence with flexible posturing despitereduction in defence spending.•Commitment to treaty obligations, involvement with and engagement of regional organisations and strategic partners.•Continuation of building a cooperative relationship with China.Further, the Strategic Guidance Document published by the US Departmentof Defence in 2012 stated that “US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean Region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities”. 5   Asian Strategic Review 2014  132 However, the US interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) could beconsidered low-key; therefore, the US places the region in the periphery of itsvision. Although there is a fair amount of US commitment in terms of military presence and political engagement, the requisite degree of “coherency” in the USpolicy is missing. The geographical dimensions by both Clinton and the CRSreport factor in only parts of the IOR. Clinton refers to the start point as theIndian Subcontinent, and the CRS report refers to many of the coastal states.In addition, being geographically positioned between the Persian Gulf andthe South China Sea, areas which have been the main focus of the US, dilutesthe US interest in the IOR. Therefore, the “pivot point” to the Asia-Pacific couldbe considered as grounded east of the Malacca Straits. A “point” from which theUS could, if the need arose, turn and focus on the IOR. This in a way could beviewed as the IOR being considered a secondary area and an extended part of the“offshore balancing” concept leaving the stability of the area to the “logic of great-power balancing to reassert itself, relieving Washington of the burden of maintaining equilibrium far from American shores”. 6  Therefore, the US is looking at applying a “modified” mix of the “Neo-Nixon” doctrine 7  and “offshorebalancing” concept so that the IOR as a secondary area would look after itself  while the US pivot concentrated on the areas east of the Malacca Straits that areconsidered primary. This article examines these issues and the possible implicationsin the IOR. The Dilemma of Geographical Definition “Geography is too important to be left to geographers. But it is far too importantto be left to generals, politicians and corporate chiefs. Notions of ‘applied’ and‘relevant’ geography pose questions of objectives and interests served.” 8  This aspectbecomes clearer when one revisits the US definition of the Asia-Pacific and theinclusion of the IOR. A part of the IOR is now included in the US definitionof the Asia-Pacific, as was enunciated by Hillary Clinton 9  and the Obama  Administration. 10  The inclusion has clearly been due to the “strategic importanceof the energy resources and trade that pass through the Indian Ocean and theStraits of Malacca before reaching the manufacturing centers [sic] of East Asia”. 11 It is evident from recent writings that the US has been looking at the IOR as anemerging area of Strategic Interest. 12  As per Michael Green and Andrew Shearer: 13 “The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) set the tone by calling for a more ‘integrated approach to the region across military and civilianorganisations [ sic  ]’ and asking the rest of the US government for an assessmentof ‘US national interests, objectives and force posture implications’, which theNational Security Council is now undertaking in preparation for the next NationalSecurity Strategy report, expected in 2012.”However, for the year 2012, no such report was made. 14  This aspect furtherquestions the standing of the IOR in the pivot strategy and whether the US  US Pivot to Asia-Pacific  133 looks on the IOR as a secondary area with an emphasis only on the protectionof maritime trade and freedom of navigation.The generally accepted geographical definition of the Asia-Pacific, prior tothe inclusion of the IOR by the US in various statements, was limited to the area east of the Malacca Straits and included the western Pacific. However, a commonlinkage was the maritime element, and the stress on maritime is apt as “theoverriding geopolitical characteristic of Asia-Pacifica is its Maritimity”. 15 The emphasis to include the IOR in the discourse, essentially maritime, hasled to the growing usage of the wider term “Indo-Pacific”. The term broadly “refers to the maritime space comprising the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.Littoral to it are the states of Asia (including West Asia/Middle East) and eastern Africa”. 16  The foundation of the term “Indo-Pacific” could be traced back to thespeech by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Indian Parliament in August2007. Abe spoke about the “confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “thedynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in “broader Asia”. 17  Theterm has also been articulated in Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper: “A new Indo-Pacific strategic arc is beginning to emerge, connecting the Indian and PacificOceans through Southeast Asia.” 18  Although usage of the term is expanding, itremains majorly restricted to the strategic community and in government circlesof the US, India, Japan and Australia. This could be attributable to the fact thatother nations are restricted in their outlook to the immediate neighbourhoodbecause of, firstly, the issues that they face, secondly, their limited capacity andcapability in dealing with these issues only and, thirdly, issues beyond theimmediate neighbourhood being either peripheral or not impinging on theirinterests.Thus, the rationale of the term Indo-Pacific could stem from, firstly, bringing India into the US Pivot equation and, secondly, connecting the four major players(US, India, Japan and Australia) on issues of convergence to aid the US pivotpolicy towards the Asia-Pacific. However, till the time the term Indo-Pacific doesnot gain acceptability and ascendency in the strategic lexicon, the term Asia-Pacific and its general definition would prevail in most dialogues and discussions:“This implies that the US clearly articulate what such a region would resemble, whether it would encompass the Indian Ocean region and the Asia-Pacific as a  whole, simply refer to the region stretching from the North-Eastern Indian Oceanto the south western Pacific Ocean, or just represent an attempt to integrateIndia further in an Asian architecture conducive to US interests.” 19 Till such time the US idea of Indo-Pacific is articulated, the definition of  Asia-Pacific as perceived by the US could be divided into two broad spectrums:based on economic-diplomatic and a military-diplomatic combine, both with aninescapable interlock. The economic-diplomatic combine is of utmost importanceto the US as “in 2010, 61 percent [sic] of US goods exports and 72 percent [sic]of US agricultural exports worldwide went to the Asia-Pacific. By 2015, East Asian countries are expected to surpass NAFTA and the Euro zone to become   Asian Strategic Review 2014  134 the world’s largest trading bloc. Market opportunities will only increase as theregion swells by an additional 175 million people by 2030”. 20  In order to protectthe economic-diplomatic combine, the military-diplomatic combine has alsogained ascendancy “to defend against threats to those interests (economic).” 21 However, the main thrusts of the combines are concentrated east of Malacca.This could be attributed to the fact that “US alliance structure, such as it is inthe Indian Ocean Region, is far less coherent than what it has engineered ineither Europe or East Asia” 22  and, therefore, the US interest in the IOR is low-key. The key question is: Does the US view the IOR as an area for a “modified”“Offshore Balancing” and a mix of a “Neo-Nixon” doctrine approach? Anapproach that could be adopted till such time it is comfortable with the situationsin the Gulf and east of Malacca or till the time it may have to contend with a similar complex situation in the IOR. Modified Offshore Balancing and the Neo-Nixon Doctrine in theIOR   Modified Offshore Balancing  The concept of offshore balancing in the South Asia region is not new and isattributed to the “geo-strategic ideas of Sir Olaf Caroe, the last foreign secretary for the British raj in India (1939-45).” 23  As the British hold was diminishing,“Caroe began to worry about what he came to call, in a prescient phrase, ‘the wells of power’, the oil resources of the Middle East in general and of the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula in particular.” 24  The British realising their diminishing power and, therefore, reducing influence in the region apparently induced theUS to enter in the region when the US had no significant interests. 25  During the late 1940s, a committee was formed to look into the planning requirementsof the Indian Armed Forces. 26  The committee based its report on threeassumptions: one of which clearly spells out the foundations of “offshorebalancing”—China and India would maintain sufficient forces to overcome a minor power and would be able to hold out against a major power until ImperialForces could arrive. However, the report also mentioned the apprehensions of India coming under Russia’s influence and spoke of China as a long-term threat.China is still viewed as a threat, and although the threat from Russia subsidedafter the end of the cold war, its re-entry in to the IOR is a possibility given therising debate on its growing proximity with China and pivot to Asia  27  and plansto increase its Pacific Fleet. 28  Although offshore balancing calls for the retirement of the US from “stressfulengagements on the Eurasian continent, notably Iraq and Afghanistan”, 29  thesame would not be applicable for the IOR as “the mounting importance of South Asia—a region far less hospitable for US power projection—renders offshorebalancing too costly and too hazardous to supply the basis for an Indian Oceanstrategy.” 30  Therefore, a modified offshore balancing approach would be in order.  US Pivot to Asia-Pacific  135 This modified approach would permit the US to reposition combat power in theIOR on an as required basis. A task made easier as the US has assets stationedin Diego Garcia and Australia, which could be diverted to the main expanse of the IOR. Should the need arise, these assets could be strengthened by positioning of additional combat power allocated to the three commands that oversee theregion. This would meet the outlook seen in the US approach to the IOR. While the US defence document prepared by the US Navy, Marine Corpsand Coastguard “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” of October2007 called for continuously posturing credible combat power in the WesternPacific and Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean and selective and rapid repositioning of the combat power to meet contingencies arising elsewhere, 31  the Strategic GuidanceDocument 2012 looks at “networks of cooperation with emerging partners” 32 and specifically at “investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India tosupport its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region.” 33  Therefore, although a great deal of interestis being evinced, and the IOR does appear to be in vogue in US strategic thinking,this approach appears to be in a state of flux. Some of the major factors attributing to this are as follows:•Reduction of US commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.•Situation with Iran and Syria.•Situation in the South China Sea and East China Sea.•Rising Chinese presence in the IOR.•Ability of the US to project power in the IOR due to sequestration that would result in reduction in number of assets.•The division of the IOR between three US commands—Pacific Command(PACOM), Central Command (CENTCOM) and Africa Command(AFRICOM).The US may find it difficult to appropriate assets from the Gulf, even after withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan due to the ongoing situation with Iranand Syria. Appropriation of assets from east of Malacca would also be a difficulttask as it could dilute the support it has promised to its allies in the region. Thecreation of AFRICOM from the three US commands (EUCOM, PACOM andCENTCOM) was part of the strategic necessity to “move Africa into the centreof US strategic interests, after years of attempting to implement Africa policy onthe geopolitical edges of three separate commands.” 34  The creation of AFRICOMhas now, in a way, placed the IOR in lieu of Africa—divided between threecommands as against two earlier (CENTCOM and PACOM). The IOR now stands divided as follows (see Map 1):•CENTCOM: Middle East nations up to Pakistan, Arabian Sea and theGulf of Aden.•AFRICOM: East Coast of Africa, waters along the east coast from Southof Somalia.•PACOM: Main Area of IOR including littoral nations west of India.
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