The President’s office of the United States – the White House as is known has issued a new Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS 22).
IPS 22 builds on the prevailing markers of US commitment to the Indo Pacific which has been nurtured over many decades and over four President’s now including the present incumbent Joe Biden. President Biden was for eight years as the Vice President in the Obama Administration was very much a part of the core group that formulated Asia Pacific rebalancing undertaken in 2011 and beyond.
The bipartisan support to the rebalancing is evident with former President Donald Trump having effectively engaged the Asia Pacific particularly in attempting to bring together a solution to denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula which could not be concluded due to overall stiffness of the American security establishment which went for an all or nothing approach.
President Biden’s IPS 22 outlines a leading role for the United States as a, “Balance of Influence” in the Indo Pacific/
The Ends, Ways and Means outlined in IPS 22 summarises the overall intent and the manner in which the same is to be attained and is reproduced as below.
STRATEGIC ENDS: Advance a free and open Indo-Pacific that is more connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient.
STRATEGIC WAYS: Strengthen the U.S. role and build collective capacity with allies and partners and with regional institutions.
STRATEGIC MEANS: Modernized alliances; flexible partnerships, including an empowered
ASEAN, a leading India, a strong and reliable Quad, and an engaged Europe; economic partnership; new U.S. defense, diplomatic, development, and foreign-assistance resources; sustained focus on and commitment to the region at all levels of the U.S. government.
An overview of the above will indicate that while the Ends are in order, the Ways outline a leading role for the United States to build collective capacity of allies and partners with regional institutions.
The Means seeks to empower ASEAN, provide India a leading role, building new US defence, diplomatic development resources and so on.
Clearly the objective is to build an American led Indo Pacific Order in which India and the ASEAN apart from the US core allies in the region as Japan, South Korea and Australia are expected to follow the American lead.
How far the ASEAN and India are willing to be followers of the US led Indo Pacific order where the underlying objective is also to contain China which as the IPS 22 puts it as, “intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC” (People’s Republic of China).
IPS 22 states that the PRC coercion and aggression which spans the globe is “Most acute in the Indo Pacific”.
Indeed the PRC with a combination of wolf warrior diplomacy and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) including the Navy’s aggressive tactics on land and sea is posing a challenge to the nations in the Indo Pacific.
However, will these nations willingly follow the American lead remains to be seen?
ASEAN in particular is divided which has been attenuated now with the crisis in Myanmar. Moreover, the block has followed a more nuanced approach in balancing the US and China.
On India, IPS 22 states, “We will continue to build a strategic partnership in which the United States and India work together and through regional groupings to promote stability in South Asia; collaborate in new domains, such as health, space, and cyber space; deepen our economic and technology cooperation; and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific. We recognize that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad and other regional fora, and an engine for regional growth and development”.
Here again there would be a conflict with Reformed Multilateralism which the Indian Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishanker has talked about many times and which was also evident during the recent QUAD foreign minister’s meet in Australia where India had differences with the other members on Ukraine as well as Myanmar.
While these are not partnership breaking issues nonetheless raise some questions on how far India will be comfortable with a US led Indo Pacific order, when it sees itself as a shaping power rather than being shaped by others.