Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Maritime Strategy of the United States: Implications for Indo-Pacific Sea Lanes

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The Maritime Strategy of the United States: Implications for Indo-Pacific Sea Lanes

Article excerpt

It has become cliche to refer to the twenty-first century as the Asian Century. Indeed, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said in Kuala Lumpur, "We know that much of the history of the twenty-first century will be written in this region, because it is the center of so many of the world's greatest opportunities and biggest challenges", she was merely restating what most US strategic planners have taken for granted for some time. (1) A more controversial idea related to her statement is whether the rise of Asia means the relative decline of the United States. In this regard, US strategy appears to be focused on the concept that America can continue to rise with Asia. During his first trip to Asia as president, Barrack Obama observed that "the fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before", and pointed out that Asia and the United States are not separated by an ocean, but bound by it. (2) Indeed, the United States is a maritime nation, and its prosperity is intrinsically connected to and sustained by active commerce with its partners. The sea lanes to, from, and within Asia carry the bulk of that commerce, and therefore US maritime strategy is focused on sustaining free communication over those waters.

During an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2010, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates provided an overview of how the United States sees strategic priorities in Asia within the context of broader US defence priorities. Gates underscored that the United States is a Pacific nation and that it will remain a power in the Asia Pacific. He explained that with sovereign territory and longstanding economic and cultural ties to this region, US security interests and economic well-being are integrally tied to those of Asia. Specifically, he highlighted United States commitment to: free and open commerce; a just international order that emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; open access by all to the global commons of sea, air, space, cyberspace; and the principle of resolving conflict without the use of force. (3)

These priorities, which he reiterated in his address to the 2011 Shangri-La Dialogue, clearly reflect that maintaining safe, secure sea lanes and upholding the principle of freedom of navigation is at the very core of US interests in Asia. (4) These critical sea lanes are not just those of the Pacific, but extend into the Indian Ocean and carry trade between East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Therefore, Indo-Pacific sea lanes are not only vital to those states at their termini, but to all nations with economic and security interests in Asia.

In October 2007 the United States issued a new maritime strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, referred to by the shorthand, CS21. Some critics have asserted that this document is too broad-based, is more a collection of public affairs-friendly abstract statements than a hard strategy and lacks the concrete substance necessary to drive action or guide decisions. (5) Many of those skeptics should have been answered by the 2010 publication of the Naval Operations Concept (NOC10), a document which "describes the ways with which the sea services will achieve the ends articulated in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21)". (6) That said, CS21 was being implemented in real and practical ways well before the publication of NOC10. From its inception, CS21 has provided the common principles guiding maritime strategic decisions and served as a vital reference for leaders at all levels in the US sea services. Comprehensive by necessity, the language in CS21 was carefully and intentionally developed. Every word was deliberately selected and thoroughly vetted. (7) At first read the strategy does indeed appear expansive and general, but a closer review reveals the specific details needed to guide decision making. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.