2015-08-14 By Robbin Laird
The Pacific area is certainly not Europe or the Middle East from the standpoint of shaping a deterrence strategy.
It is about the US providing a core set of capabilities to protect its national interests and working with core allies and a wide range of partners to shape a more effective defense of the region.
It is not about building a coherent and permanent alliance structure aimed against either Russia or China.
It is about shaping capabilities, which solves problems, builds trust and shapes capabilities, which can provide for deterrence in depth.
As one Aussie strategist put it: “We all work bilaterally and multilaterally to focus on issues and solve problems.
The US provides the hub within which our working relationships can be effective.
And of course, our own special relationship with the US goes beyond this to sharing core values and core working relationships among our militaries.”
Exercises among allies and partners are a coin of the realm in the Pacific in shaping the trust and habits of cooperation necessary to succeed when operations are necessary throughout the range of military operations.
Habitual partnerships are a key element of shaping an effective deterrence in depth strategy in the Pacific.
The Russians and Chinese focus on bilateralism in the region and working client states.
The role of the Chinese Coast Guard is indicative in the region: the Chinese have asserted that their Coast Guard Cutters are capable of sinking any ship their size or smaller, not exactly the focus of attention of other Coast Guards world wide.
The head of the Chinese Navy has similarly, asserted that no smaller nation should be able to stand up to a great power like China.
One PACOM official has characterized the Chinese as the “thugs of the sea.”
The focus of US attention in the Pacific will necessarily have to focus on dealing with China, but the Chinese want to make this about China versus the US; the US in contrast understands that the Pacific is about shaping effective multilateral relationships to solve problems and provide for collective security which in turn provides the venue within which deterrence in depth is possible.
A country like India as it comes out into the Indian Ocean understands the challenge of China but has not fully embraced working partnerships with the Untied States, Japan or Australia for fear of being committed to a classic alliance strategy.
The government certainly needs to strengthen its working relationships with those countries, including legal agreements to share data and technologies,but it really is not about being part of a permanent alliance against China.
It is about shaping a 21st century effort to provide for collective security, effective partnerships which shape a deterrence in depth strategy against any country which wishes to use military force to change the rules of the game by force, or seize territory illegally.
During my visit to Hawaii at the end of July 2015, I had a chance to discuss the evolving partnership efforts of PACFLEET with William J. Wesley, Director, Plans and Policy, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Wesley has a wealth of experience in the Pacific, including combat experience in Vietnam as a Marine.
His job is described as follows:
“As the N5, he is the chief architect for the coordination and preparation of the Pacific Fleet input into U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Campaign Plan, which supports the Secretary of Defense’s priorities for creating new partnerships, coalitions and building the capacity of existing international friends, allies and partners to support confidence building measures throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific rim.”
Understanding the Character of Working Relationships in the Pacific
We started by Wesley simply underscoring how different the Western Pacific was from Europe and that the significant differences created problems in understanding inside the policy elite of how to shape alliance and partnership strategies in the region.
“The sensitivity on sovereignty issues is a core reality in the region, regardless of size of the state.
And working partnerships is the norm in a multi-lateral setting without permanent alliances being forged. It is an ongoing set of working relationships to solve problems.
The Chinese operate differently.
Xi Jinping and Wu Shengli, who’s the head of their navy, have all said the same thing at different times.
They said it’s not good for little countries to argue with big countries, or little navies argue with big navies.
So they do everything bilaterally.
That’s a given.”
He illustrated the working approach with regard to ASEAN..
“The key approach is to shape partnerships through confidence building measures and shaping trust and reliability.
“In 2013, ASEAN did a HA/DR exercise in 2013.
Then the next step was doing a maritime security exercise in Australia. It is a step by step process we see in the region.”
The Case of the Indian Navy
We then discussed at some length the case of India, and notably working with the Indian Navy.
“I think what people have to realize about the government of India, it’s very bureaucratic.
The Indian Navy is about 55,000 strong.
The air force is about 120,000 strong.
The army is a million.
They’re more of a continental army, centric organization.
They worry about China through their gap there. They’re worried about Pakistan.
I’ve been working with the Indian Navy for 21 years.
I also sponsor our Center for Naval Analyses and National Maritime Foundation talks.
The Indian Navy wants to work more closely with us.
They’re opening up to Japan very well, so you have a better relationship now with the Indian Navy and Japan, the JMSDF, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
We have a very close relationship with the Indian Navy.
And the prime example is our Malabar exercise, which is an Indian exercise that the navy does normally in the Bay of Bengal.
Sometimes they’ll come out towards the Philippine Sea and beyond to do it with Japan and the US.
This year, we’re going to do it in Malabar. India, Japan, and the U.S. are involved in the exercise.
And they have opened the aperture to work Japan, Australia, Singapore and us.
And the relationship between OPNAV and the Indian Navy is very good as well.”
Question: The P-8 sale must provide an opening as well and the new agreements to work with India on helping on carriers must as well?
“They do. We have established a relationship with our carrier admiral that’s going to have a relationship with one of their vice admirals to talk CVNs and CVs.
Now they can advance their carrier capabilities.
They want to do better.
I think that’s an ongoing relationship.
We have worked really hard to help them from a maintenance perspective to understand the maintenance of their ships because we’ve sent our N43 there a number of years ago to help them.
I think we’re going to reinvigorate that aspect of it.
We also have opportunities for a number of the returning carriers to do fast exits and CV ops with them.
We’re doing that as well.
And another thing we are doing with the Indian Navy is submarine safety.
That’s another huge thing that we’re working with them on.
I see is there are a lot of opportunities there.”
Question: There is obvious concern with the emergence of the Chinese Navy.
Do you see this as a motivating factor in working with the USN and other allied navies?
There is a sense of urgency, noticing how PLAN with their submarine ops and with their transiting counter-piracy groups going to the Indian Ocean are moving more westward.
This has caused concern with the Indian government obviously.
That’s why you saw Prime Minister Modi go to Sri Lanka, and reestablish a relationship with Sri Lanka.
He’s the first prime minister to do that in 28 years.”
Question: The P-8 provides an opportunity for sharing as well, but the sale was limited because of the continued refusal of the Indians to sign what we consider normal, namely an agreement to protect the communications side of share equipment.
Is there progress in this area?
The Indians have not signed the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement or CISMA and this limits what we can do with India or how we can work the P-8 issues.
Until they sign the CISMOA, you can’t have the real open discourse with them on the classified side.”
Wesley added that they were going to host a seminar with the Indian Navy at Camp Smith in early September 2015.
He then illustrated the challenges and the nature of evolving partnerships in the region by discussing the Regional Maritime Security Initiative or RMSI.
“A dozen years ago, it didn’t have a lot of traction.
Nobody wanted to do it.
But today there’s more effort to work together, to try to have some type of structure without the U.S. in the lead, supporting the effort.
For us, the goal is enhanced maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and information sharing in the region that we can be part of as well.”
He then cited steps, which have indeed done that.
There are new maritime security centers now in Singapore and Malaysia.
“And now Indonesia wants to step forward. They want to do more maritime security issues because of Natuna Island and the Chinese behavior. And then Malaysia is allowing us every other month basically to fly P-8 flights or P-3 flights out of Malaysia. And we have a Malaysian military officer on board when we do that going through the Straits of Malacca. Things that are happening that 12-15 years ago would never occur.”
Question: Could we talk about Vietnam? How do you see Vietnam reaching out into the region?
“I was in Vietnam as a young kid, ’66, ’67. So a few years ago, we had a number of admirals come over here for a meeting.
We sat down.
I sat next to a guy who spoke a little bit of English, an admiral from the People’s Republic of Vietnam’s navy.
He looked at me and asked me if I’ve ever been to Vietnam.
I said, “Oh, yeah, I was there 1966, ’67.”
And then as he’s eating his soup, he kind of put the soup spoon out at me, “Were you?” I went, “Oh, yeah.”
But now have a working relationship.
I started our Vietnam navy-Navy talks five years ago.
They were a little bit curt, a little bit difficult, not a lot was achieved.
We just finished our fifth iteration and that went very well.
What we’re doing is undersea medicine, military medicine, our medical diplomacy efforts working in this theater, maritime security issues, and submarine rescue.
Of course we have a defense attaché in Vietnam but we have also a medical attaché and for two years a Naval attaché in Vietnam.
What I see is the slow movement with various countries and determine how they want to move forward.
But glacial steps are huge.
We’re taking huge steps with Vietnam. SecNav has been there a couple of times.
SecDef has been there.
In fact, we’ve had our PACFLT commander there.”
We then discussed the importance of the CARAT exercises in building habitual relationships, which enable enhanced collective security.
The Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Exercise CARAT) is a series of annual military exercises conducted by United States Pacific Fleet with several member nations of ASEAN in Southeast Asia.
“We started out with six countries.
Today, we now have 10 countries involved in the exercises and it’s evolving from bilateral.
We want to go multilateral, trilateral with it. Vietnam calls it naval engagement activities because they don’t want to say they’re exercising with us, so instead they’re doing naval engagement activities.
Singapore looks at CARAT as a high-end exercise.
With Vietnam, it’s a low-end event.
They finally went out to sea for a few hours, which is a big step forward.”
The Australian Working Relationship
Question: I am going next to Australia, and how do you view Australia in this evolution of Pacific defense from a maritime perspective?
“I think what’s happening is obviously they’re looking at a way to get their next generation submarine. That’s going to be huge for them.
They’re looking at amphibiosity – if you want to use that word, how to use amphibs.
We’re working very closely with them.
We’re looking at the relationship that we have with New Zealand, Australia, France, and us to shape more effective maritime security policies, not only in Oceania but also elsewhere as well.”
The interview with Wesley provides an understanding both of the challenges in shaping effective policies in the region as well building out an effective deterrence in depth strategy.
As Lt. General Robling, then MARFORPAC Commander put it in an interview in Hawaii last year:
It’s not about just building relationships in the region. It is about collective security in the region.
Building collective security requires, in part, a process of building partner capacity, and working convergent capacities to shape effective and mutually beneficial relationships which underlie the evolution of collective security.
Editor’s Note: In a discussion with the RAAF during the Australian visit, the P-3 community which is now training for transition to the P-8 in Jacksonville, Florida, the failure of India to sign the CISMOA agreement with the United States also reduced the ability of Australia to work with India on the platform and shape common concepts of operations,
This is less about US hegemony than having agreements in place which allow sharing of the communications and intelligence sharing which a platform like the P-8 delivers.
But here is a view of the CISMOA by some in India as well as a look at other issues mentioned in the article concerning India:
Also, see our pieces on the P-8, for both the US Navy and the Indian Navy:
For our look at the shaping of a deterrence in depth strategy see,
Rebuilding American Military Power in the Pacific: A 21st Century Strategy