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Deterrence in the Indo Pacific: The US Advantage

Integrating allies and partners strengthens deterrence in the Indo Pacific vis a vis China claim US military commanders even though war is not imminent, a sobering statement which should provide some relief amidst brinkmanship in the region.

The United States has strategic and integrated deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region with a network of allies and partners which is a key advantage vis a vis China commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Navy Adm. John C. Aquilino outlined in a testimony at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 18.

The US has five treaty allies in the region — Japan, Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand and multiple partners.

"We are like-minded nations with common values. We have people-to-people ties, and that's beyond just the treaty allies," he said. US DOD participates in around 120 exercises a year with allies and partners in the region, he said. "That strategy and approach is competition, not containment," Aquilino said, referencing China. "War is not inevitable, and it's not imminent. However, this decade presents a period of increased risk," he said.

This is an important assertion by the top military commander of the US in the Indo Pacific given that in recent months some of the American military commanders had openly predicated war with China coming sooner than later.

Jedidiah P. Royal, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, supported Aquilino/ "Deterrence in the Indo-Pacific is real and strong today because the U.S. military remains the world's most capable, incredible fighting force," Royal said. Amongst the measures outlined by the allies and partners was Japan’s increasing defense budget and introducing new capabilities including counterstrike.

Japan’s military budget is in line with these trends. ‘Japan is undergoing a profound shift in its military policy,’ said Xiao Liang, Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme in a release that was outlined in the most recent report on Military Expenditure. The post-war restraints Japan imposed on its military spending and military capabilities seem to be loosening,’ he said.

The U.S. is taking meaningful steps to modernize and strengthen its alliances with South Korea, working with the Philippines to accelerate its capabilities, and DOD is also making major investments in defense ties with India, he said.

The AUKUS security pact among the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia was another factor.

"We continue to fulfill our commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, which has formed a bedrock of peace, stability and deterrence in the Taiwan Strait over the last four decades," he said. "Over the past decade, our five regional treaty allies have increased their military expenditures by double digits. That is what delivering on our shared vision looks like," Royal said.

On April 24, Australia released the National Defence Strategic Review report which listed threats from China’s military expansion and went on say relationships and practical cooperation with key powers, including Japan and India, would be expanded.

Investing in Indo-Pacific regional defence partnerships is critical and must be focused on Australia’s primary area of military interest, it stated.

Thus further strengthening the US led alliance in the region.

Bangladesh became the latest country to outline peacekeeping, peace building and counter-terrorism initiatives as a part of the Indo-Pacific Policy. The Policy was unveiled ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Japan, U.S. and the U.K. in a document titled “Bangladesher Indo-Pacific Ruprekha” (Indo-Pacific outlook) on April 24. On the same day,

Army Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commander of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and the U.S. Forces Korea, said U.S. allies are crucial. "The Korean War taught us that we must always be ready and forward postured with our allies," he said as he is focused on strengthening the United States-South Korea alliance. "We must never take the alliance for granted. "Our network of allies and partners with common interests on the Korean Peninsula represents our greatest asymmetric advantage," he added.

US Freedom of Navigation Operations

The United States Department of Defense (DoD) released its annual Freedom of Navigation (FON) Report for Fiscal Year 2022 covering period from October 1, 2021, through September 30, 2022, U.S. forces operationally challenged 22 different excessive maritime claims made by 15 different claimants throughout the world.

Excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention which ironically the United States has not ratified.

They include a variety of restrictions on the exercise of navigation and overflight rights and other freedoms. Unlawful maritime claims – or incoherent theories of maritime entitlements – pose a threat to the legal foundation of the rules-based international order.

If left unchallenged, excessive maritime claims could limit the rights and freedoms enjoyed by every nation says the Press release on the occasion.

Upholding freedom of navigation as a principle supports unimpeded lawful commerce and the global mobility of U.S. forces. DoD's freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

DoD's regular and routine operational challenges complements diplomatic engagements by the U.S. State Department and supports the longstanding U.S. national interest in freedom of the seas worldwide.

The United States will uphold the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea for the benefit of all nations—and will stand with like-minded partners doing the same says the report.


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