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Friday, November 19, 2021, 08:38 (GMT+7)
Shifts in US defence and security strategies in Asia-Pacific region

Some great powers’ policy shifts and non-traditional security issues in Asia-Pacific region have made a great impact on security and core interests of many nations, including the US recently. Therefore, Washington has had some shifts in its defence and security strategies in order to maintain its global leadership role.

Challenges facing the US

Over the past time, in addition to challenges in Asia-Pacific region pointed out by American top policymakers and military experts, the US has been confronted with some difficulties in implementing its policies due to its globally widespread distribution of resources and focus on responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and on economic recovery. These are some notable issues as follows.

1. According to the US, China is the only country that is fully capable of combining economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power, creating a far-reaching influence on the international stability, as stated by the US interim national Security Strategic Guidance released in March, 2021. Pursuant to the US Department of Defence statement in 2020 Annual China Military Power Report, in the past two decades, China has ceaselessly intensified its military clout and modernisation with its number of navy ships topping that of the US (China possesses some 350 naval ships, including nearly 70 submarines whilst the US has 280 naval ships, including 68 submarines). Also, China has built its nuclear submarines with new guided missiles, expanded its missile arsenal, and planned to put its second aircraft carrier into service by 2023. According to US military experts, even though the modernity of military materials and equipment of China is inferior to that of the US, the progress China has made in supersonic and cyber security technology, together with its current naval capabilities and increased regional influence, will pose a big challenge to the US in the upcoming time.

2. Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, Russia has found a way to restore its status and intensify its involvement and sphere of influence in Asia. According to military experts, whilst joining China and India in large-scale exercises in Pacific Ocean and deploying military vehicles, including S-300V4 missile system to the Far East, Russia has had a tendency to foster a closer relationship with China. Although this kind of relationship could barely turn into a close alliance one, the bond between the two countries also creates a considerable counterbalance to the US.

3. Tensions in Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Strait, East Sea, and East China Sea continue to create challenges for the US. After the unexpected outcome of the 2020 United States - North Korea Summit, North Korea has ceaselessly conducted missile tests. In particular, in September, 2021, this country claimed to successfully test hypersonic missiles, which raised concerns amongst nations. Tensions in Taiwan Strait resulting from policy realignments by nations involved also pose challenges to the US. Territorial disputes in East Sea and East China Sea with the involvement of major powers have seen complicated and unpredictable developments, threatening regional security and stability and impacting directly on the US interests.

4. Strong impacts of non-traditional security issues recently, especially climate change, COVID-19 pandemic, global economic downturn, etc. require the US to continue promoting its leadership role in addressing those challenges in its capacity as a superpower.

5. In Asia-Pacific region, since some nations are sceptical of the US political intentions, they still hesitate to bolster their defence and security cooperation with Washington. Due to different views and interests, even “the Quad” (including the US, India, Japan, and Australia) have not agreed on directions on building their relations with great powers.

In spite of facing multiple challenges in Asia-Pacific region, the Biden Administration has secured the US domestic support and enlisted some of its allies and partners’ cooperation in formulating defence and security strategic guidelines.

Several strategic shifts

The goal of the US in Asia-Pacific region is to continue to maintain the US leadership role in the coming years so that the 21st Century is still “the American Century”. Accordingly, the US has had shifts in defence and security strategies in this region, namely strengthening its military’s combat readiness capability, consolidating its ties with its allies and partners, and focusing on dealing with non-traditional security challenges.

In an effort to promote the US military combat readiness capability in Asia- Pacific region, the Biden Administration proposed a staggering $768 billion for 2022 defence budget, including an additional $700 million allocated for “Pacific Deterrence Initiative”, $75 million for upgrading the Navy’s attack weapons system, and $200 million for investing in the Air Force’s supersonic technology. The US Indo-Pacific Command also proposed an additional increase of $20 billion in its budget for the period of 2021-2026. The Biden Administration also confirmed increased resource distribution to Asia-Pacific region, particularly after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In addition, the US priority is to equip its Military with modern technology, namely supersonic technology, submarines, unmanned vehicles, etc. with a view to maintaining the US overwhelming maritime military superiority over its rivals.

Besides, the US prioritises tightening its relations with its allies and partners in Asia-Pacific region. The American “hub-and-spokes” system of alliances has been given the US “asymmetric” edges over its rivals. The Biden Administration’s consolidated and expanded system of allies and partners is aimed at (1) encouraging and promoting intra- and inter-regional allies’ greater participation in the maintenance of international laws-based regional security and order, (2) enhancing defence capabilities, especially maritime ones for American allies and partners in Southeast Asia. Accordingly, the US strengthens the role played by “the Quad” and the trilateral alliance aka AUKUS. Under the Trump Administration, “the Quad” only served as a dialogue forum for nations to express their concerns. On the contrary, under the Biden Administration, “the Quad” has arrived at broader consensus on the scope and frequency of conferences with two summits having been held since 2021. Member countries have also enhanced bilateral and trilateral defence cooperation and taken part in Sea Dragon and Malabar exercises. In addition to “the Quad”, the newly-formed AUKUS aims not only to realise the American goal of connecting European allies with Asian ones in a bid to expand the US and Western presence, but to promote their coordination in addressing regional issues. Additionally, the US decided to transfer nuclear submarine technology to Australia and will very likely transfer this kind of technology to its other allies, such as Japan and India.

As far as Southeast Asia region is concerned, the US takes the role of its traditional allies and partners in ASEAN seriously, as exemplified by visits to some Southeast Asian countries by Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris in July and August, respectively. The US has made great strides in restoring Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines, which forms a legal foundation for the former to maintain its military presence in the latter and to conduct joint military activities, such as annual joint exercises and military training, etc. The Biden Administration also attaches great importance to enhancing military clout for some regional nations via exchange programmes, military training, and exercises. In particular, thanks to the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme, the US has helped Asia-Pacific nations to get access to modern military materials, such as fighter aircraft, bombers, helicopters, missiles, etc.

The US has taken multiple measures to respond to non-traditional security challenges, putting climate change issues at the forefront of its national security and foreign policies, concentrating its entire resources on dealing with the global pandemic, etc. In terms of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US has opened 4 representative offices and centres for disease control and prevention in some regions of the world, including one office in Hanoi. The Biden Administration has actively donated vaccines against COVID-19 pandemic and medical supplies to countries through COVAX programme and the Quad vaccine partnership. “The Quad” has committed to globally delivering 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, with Southeast Asia region high on the list of recipients. With those efforts, the US hopes to help Asia-Pacific countries to early contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as early discover and respond to future diseases.

Shifts in the US defence and security and foreign policies in Asia-Pacific still take a lot of time to be evaluated, but they will have considerable impacts on Asia-Pacific region. On the positive side, strategic balance will barely be disrupted, and international laws, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will be respected and widely applied. Regional nations can better take advantage of external resources for the sake of their development targets and security maintenance. Yet, those shifts are likely to lead to a new arms race, increased strategic competition amongst great powers, uncontrollable instability in some hot spots and threatened regional peace and stability. Besides, the emergence of multilateral groups, such as “the Quad” or AUKUS necessitates ASEAN realigning its policies so that it continues to be part of central multilateral mechanisms in Asia-Pacific region.


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