Big powers jockey in the Pacific
Published: 3rd Jun 2012 08:54:16
The US has been, is, and will continue to be a Pacific power. That was the fundamental message the US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta brought to this year's Asian security summit in Singapore.
Mr Panetta then headed off to Vietnam and India - two stops that highlight, in their different ways, two aspects of Washington's new security relationships in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Obama Administration having announced the so-called "pivot" back to Asia at the start of the year, it was left to Mr Panetta to fill in some of the blanks and to try to convince Washington's friends and allies that at a time of severe financial austerity the US has the means to fund its Asia-Pacific ambitions.
The rhetoric was flowing. "The US", said Mr Panetta, was "at a strategic turning point after a decade of war".
And he went on to detail some of the "re-balancing" in America's defence posture - the new term now preferred to "pivot" - that the new strategy requires.
He said that by 2020 some 60% of the US Navy would be deployed in the Pacific as opposed to about 50% today. This will include six aircraft carriers and the majority of the US Navy's cruisers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships and submarines.
He spoke of energising alliances and partnerships, noting the rotational deployment of US Marines and aircraft to Australia.
A host of bilateral meetings in the margins of the summit also produced results. Singapore, for example, agreed to the forward-basing of four of the US Navy's new Littoral Combat Ships - small, high-tech vessels suited to maintaining a presence in the region.
But among many participants there were still concerns about the US administration's ability to fund its resurgent Asia-Pacific ambitions. Words like agile, leaner, and so on essentially translate to fewer but more capable warships.
The veteran Republican Senator John McCain, while welcoming Mr Panetta's comments, told me he was seriously worried by the spectre of draconian cuts in the US defence budget.
Ship numbers matter, he said, and the decline in the size of the US fleet, he argued, might mean that it was not able to carry out all of the missions set out by the defence secretary.
For all the talk of maritime free passage, the importance of vital sea lanes for prosperity and so on, the ghost at the feast was China.
While Mr Panetta and many other speakers stressed that the US presence and the modernisation of local defence capabilities should not be seen as directed against or intended to constrain China, it is far from clear that this is the way things are viewed in Beijing.
China was at the summit - a small clutch of uniformed officers listened intently to Mr Panetta's speech. Chinese attendance at the Shangri-La Dialogue, as the annual summit is also called, has developed to the point that last year Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie represented his country.
Improved military capabilities can be a two-edged sword, a threat as much as a defence”
This year, though, it was a lower-ranking officer who headed the Chinese delegation.
China-watchers here say that political uncertainties in Beijing and the ramifications of a scandal involving former top leader Bo Xilai have constrained key individuals from travelling. I understand from the conference organisers that the Chinese have assured them that next year it will be business as usual, and that no snub was intended.
China's future remains the central strategic question. Mr Panetta urged Beijing to back a rules-based system to decide competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.
But how far is Beijing prepared to go down this path, given the expansive scope of its claims and its clear determination to develop the naval muscle to back them up?
The Asia-Pacific region is clearly big enough for two major strategic players - the US and China. But as each appears to develop forces to counter the other, at what point does this strategic competition turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy of open competition?
Unease at China's military rise, as well as local problems like piracy and terrorism, are fuelling an arms race of sorts in the region which again, potentially could have its dangers. One of the most interesting sessions at the conference dealt with the proliferation of submarines.
As Christian Le Miere of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies told me, Singapore and Malaysia have taken delivery of new submarines in recent years, and Vietnam and Indonesia have new boats on order. One senior officer said that there would be up to 170 submarines in the Pacific region by 2025.
Submarines are attractive given their stealthy characteristics, their ability to operate unseen and unsupported, at least in uncontested areas. They can be used for a variety of missions including maritime patrols, reconnaissance gathering, the landing of special forces and so on.
The spread of submarines inevitably prompts the purchase of more; another submarine is the best anti-submarine weapon. But more capable anti-submarine surface vessels and maritime patrol aircraft are also being bought.
It is perhaps too early to speak of an arms race in the region but this competitive modernisation raises some concerns.
Many conference participants called for greater transparency in the use and operation of submarines (something of a contradiction, surely, given their stealthy characteristics.) This would help to reduce the chances of submarines becoming a destabilising force.
On a visit to the main Singapore Navy command centre at Changi, I saw one small first step in this process - a multinational submarine rescue course was underway. But clearly this is an issue that will require a lot more attention in the future.
Prosperity, a rising China, the importance of trade routes and maritime tensions are all driving the process of modernisation. But improved military capabilities can be a two-edged sword, a threat as much as a defence.
This is a region where the security architecture is beginning to develop to try to meet these threats both through informal events like the Shangri-La Dialogue - one of the key drivers of multilateral defence contacts - and increasingly through more formal mechanisms like Asean Plus, that brings together the defence ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations along with key partner countries.
At 04:58:15 in WorldSouth Korea's forensic agency says it cannot determine the cause of death for the fugitive tycoon blamed for the recent ferry disaster.
At 02:36:18 in BusinessFast food chain McDonald's has suspended sale of chicken nuggets and some other products in Hong Kong.
At 02:30:32 in HeadlinesAt least two Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank during protests against Israel's military campaign in Gaza, officials say.
At 02:20:04 in HeadlinesSub-Saharan Africa's agricultural sector needs to harvest the fruits of biotechnology in order to establish sustainable development, says a report.
At 02:19:11 in HeadlinesAll dinosaurs were covered with feathers or had the potential to grow feathers, a study suggests.
At 02:17:53 in HeadlinesNew research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.
At 02:15:20 in HeadlinesA federal judge in Mexico has charged six employees of a children's home raided by police last week.
At 02:14:42 in HealthFree schools for children with autism are gradually being setup in the UK by community groups, with another one due to open in Easter 2015. But in the 1970s, parents in Sunderland clubbed together to create what they saw as a real need back in a time when autism wasn't such a well-known disability.
At 02:05:16 in EntertainmentProtest movements, from the Suffragettes to Occupy, have produced their own unique items designed to challenge the status quo. And for the first time these "disobedient objects" have been brought together in an exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert museum.
At 02:02:13 in HeadlinesAn American reporter for the Washington Post and his wife appear to have been detained in Tehran, the newspaper said.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Big powers jockey in the Pacific [Online] (Updated 3rd Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1432555/Big-powers-jockey-in-the-Pacific [Accessed 25th Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
A decision not to publish a document on the conclusions of a consultation on the planned M4 relief road has been criticised.
Dozens of schools across Scotland are delaying the introduction of new Highers in popular school subjects, according to BBC Scotland research.
Free schools for children with autism are gradually being setup in the UK by community groups, with another one due to open in Easter 2015. But in the 1970s, parents in Sunderland clubbed together to create what they saw as a real need back in a time when autism wasn't such a well-known disability.
The giant marionettes of French street theatre company Royal de Luxe are heading back to the streets of Liverpool to help mark the World War One centenary. But why does its eccentric director favour this UK city over others?
A council has said any business which feels it has a "legitimate claim" can seek compensation over delayed upgrade works in Dumfries town centre.