Academic journal article Arena Journal

Rebooting Asia: Conflicting Agendas

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Rebooting Asia: Conflicting Agendas

Article excerpt


The Obama administration 'pivots' to Asia, reinforcing its regional alliances, shoring up its hegemony and putting pressure on its allies to shoulder more of the costs.1 By 2020 it will have 60 per cent of its navy - six aircraft carriers plus 'a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines' in the Pacific, that is, primarily with China in its sights.2 A stepped-up Indian Ocean role is also currently on the drawing board.

Despite the fact of US defence spending being over 41 per cent of the world total (and at least eight times that of China),3 US defence planners insist they are responding to a threat posed by a Chinese build up. They say China has adopted a strategy of 'A2/ AD' (AntiAccess/ Area Denial), drawing a First Island Defence Line from the Korean peninsula through Jeju island, the Okinawan islands, Taiwan and the Philippines (the Yellow, East and East China Seas: China's 'near seas'). They believe China is concentrating on developing the capacity, in the event of hostilities, to deny hostile access within those seas while also building significant capacity within the seas bounded by a second line - through Ogasawara, the Marianas, Palau to Indonesia - with the long-term aim (by 2050 or thereabouts) of extending naval operational capacity to the 'far seas'.4 In other words, China by then would approximate the United States in strategic and military terms, although surpassing it economically by 2018 (according to The Economist).5

To counter China's presumed A2/AD designs, and to maintain its own strategic and tactical superiority, the United States has developed what it refers to as its 'Air Sea Battle' concept and a 'Pacific Tilt' doctrine. Under the former it works to develop the capacity to coordinate military actions across air, land, sea, space and cyber space to maintain global pre-eminence and crush any challenge, and under the latter it shifts its global focus from the Middle East and Africa to East Asia. The word 'pivot' is too delicate to convey the grandeur of the design.6

Australia is well-known for its support of US wars, no matter how remote from its own interests or how fragile the legal basis. It hosts major US bases (especially intelligence, spying and missile target-related), has just opened its Darwin door to a US Marine contingent, and is considering substantial US naval expansion in Western Australia (an 'Eighth' or Indian Ocean carrier fleet).7 But fiscal pressures in 2012 led to a cut in defence spending from 1.8 per cent of GDP to 1.56 per cent,8 and just days after the Obama reelection the US government signalled to Australia that such a cut was unacceptable; if anything, military spending should be expanded.9

Japan too has done much but likewise is expected to do more. In 2012 the United States cautioned Japan to think carefully as to whether or not it wanted to remain a 'tier-one' nation.10 To hold such a position would entail taking necessary steps to 'stand shoulder-to-shoulder' with the United States: sending naval groups to the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea; relaxing its restrictions on arms exports; increasing its defence budget and military personnel numbers; resuming its commitment to civil nuclear power; pressing ahead with construction of new base facilities in Okinawa, Guam and the Mariana Islands; and revising either its constitution or the way it is interpreted so as to facilitate 'collective security', that is, merging its forces with those of the United States without inhibition in regional and global battlefields. Under the overarching principle of the Air Sea Battle doctrine, there would be much more 'interoperability - sharing training and base facilities - of Japanese and US forces (in Okinawa, Guam, the Marianas and Darwin). Prominent Washington figures urge Japan to buy new weapon and missile systems, including F-35 stealth fighters and Aegis destroyers.11 Any thought of possibly reducing the huge financial subsidy it paid the Pentagon (around US$8 billion per year) by way of 'host nation support' (the omoiyari or 'sympathy' budget), such as briefly entertained in the early days of the Democratic Party government in 2009, should be set aside. …

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