Why the US is not ready for a fight in the Indo-Pacific

“We have a rhetorical commitment to a repositioning of forces in the Indo-Pacific, but that is contradicted by the reality of what is actually happening,” the representative said. mike gallagher (R-Wisconsin), who will become president of the new House Select Committee on China in the next Congress. He called Ratner’s claims the military planning equivalent of “whistling past the graveyard.”

Those familiar with the US military force in the region agree.

Confronting the military threat from China “will require a larger naval force structure than we have for the foreseeable future,” said Alexander Gray, a former National Security Council chief of staff in the Trump administration.

That is fueling fears that Beijing could exploit its growing naval power advantage to launch an invasion of Taiwan before the US military can reach it, sparking a devastating regional conflict that would force the US to leave. States to intervene or abandon their promise to protect the autonomous island.

The The Pentagon has spent billions from 2021 in Asia-focused initiativesincluding base maintenance and relocation of some US forces within the region, to maintain a “competitive advantage” over China’s military. And the US military presence in the region will become “more lethal, more mobile and more resilient” over the next 12 months, Ratner said, hinting that new partnerships are in the works. Details about what that will mean in practice, he said, will come in early 2023.

But critics argue that the US may be so far behind as to make that goal impossible. The Pentagon plans to temporarily reduce its number of warships and is reducing its aircraft in the region as it prepares to replace them with more modern versions. And we Shipbuilding constraints could make it difficult to comply with a plan to help Australia build nuclear submarines, part of a joint strategy to deter China.

“Personally, I don’t think we are moving fast enough to change the balance of forces in the Pacific in our favor,” said Rep. Mr. Bacon (R-Neb.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

As for Taiwan, while the Biden administration has increased the pace of arms sales approvals for the self-governing island, about $19 billion of those weapons, including Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Stinger surface-to-air missiles, have not been delivered yet due to supply chain issues.

“Until he gets all this happy talk about arming Taiwan to fruition, he’s going to be in a precarious position with regard to short-term deterrence on Taiwan,” Gallagher said.

There are also barricades on Capitol Hill. The defense policy bill, which President Biden signed into law Friday, includes a provision that allows up to $10 billion in the US grants for security assistance to Taiwan for the next five years, but appropriators limited that funding in a general government spending bill by stipulating that assistance must come in the form of loans, not grants, at least for this fiscal year.

Despite the challenges, the Pentagon maintains that it is committed to prioritizing the Indo-Pacific.

Pentagon spokesman John Supple said he is looking for opportunities that “will add more flexibility and strengthen the ability of the US military to operate with our allies and partners.”

“We hope that this commitment and continued hard work will bring tangible results in 2023,” he said.

Meanwhile, China is becoming more aggressive in the waters around Taiwan. beijing is build more warshipssending nuclear-capable bomber plane in the airspace of Taiwan and threatening to use force to control the autonomous island.

from China Armada of 340 warships It is currently the largest in the world, and the pentagon last month called that “an increasingly modern and flexible force”. The The US Navy has 292 vessels..

“After a while, the quantity issue becomes a quality issue, and the Chinese are building such a big lead on quantity that it’s becoming the main deterrent issue,” Gray said.

Beijing insists there is nothing threatening about its military development. “China develops the necessary military capabilities to defend its legitimate national security interests, which is entirely legitimate and reasonable,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Wang Wenbin said in September.

But few in the region are buying it. And some regional powers are trying to prepare for more Chinese aggression on the assumption that US support will not be strong.

Japan and South Korea released security strategy papers this month with the implicit goal of addressing the growing threat from China.

Japan, for example, approved more than $2 billion in defense spending friday for purchases that include hundreds of long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. And not to mention China, South Korea’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, released on Tuesday.Commits Seoul to expand regional security cooperation in an effort to fend off threats to democracy and protect Indo-Pacific shipping lanes.

The Pentagon, for its part, applauded Japan’s new strategy. In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cited “important alignment” between Japan’s strategy and the vision outlined in the US National Defense Strategy.

But neither japan nor south korea have military cybersecurity standards that allow a secure transfer of real-time tactical military data from the United States, say some experts. That makes it difficult for the US to quickly and safely coordinate joint military response measures with Tokyo and Seoul in the event of hostilities with China.

The United States has enlisted some allies to help it counter Beijing’s increasingly lopsided regional military advantages. In an area comprised primarily of water, the US military relies on logistical support from regional partners, such as base and port access. The administration has spent the last two years building on the work of the Obama administration to engage partners to increase that support, Ratner said.

Defense officials have pointed to the trilateral “AUKUS” deal, under which the US and UK will help Australia acquire those nuclear-powered submarines along with other technology, as an example. There is even the possibility that Japan will join the dealas security ties between Canberra and Tokyo grow.

Meanwhile, the Philippines, which has had to defend against ongoing raids by Chinese ships in its waters, it is working on the construction of current joint projects with the US and scouting locations for new sites. That may allow the US Navy to return to its former base at Subic Bay more than three decades later US forces withdrew at the request of the Philippine government.

And the Marine Corps is working on opening a new baseCamp Blaz, Guam, the first new Marine Corps installation in 70 years.

At the same time, the State Department is rushing to renew strategic partnership agreements with the Pacific island nations of Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. Those agreements provide the US with reliable port access from which it can deploy sea and air power.

But that could be too little, too late.

“To have a perfect reinforcement defense ratio… the infrastructure has to be in place, like naval bases, air bases, depots, radars. We don’t have these things in the Philippines,” said Delfin Lorenzana, a former Philippine defense secretary. That means the US “cannot sustain a long supply chain from Guam and Japan/Korea to project its power in the South China Sea,wrote in an email.

And most other Southeast Asian countries are likely to be reluctant to provide military or logistical support in the event of a conflict with China for fear of retaliation from Beijing.

Regional governments like Indonesia and Malaysia “are confident that China will retaliate against them if they are seen as siding with the United States,” said Drew Thompson, former director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Ratner stressed in his December speech that deterring China from invading Taiwan is a long-term priority for the Pentagon. “It is a problem today. It’s tomorrow’s problem. It is a 2027 problem. It is a 2035 problem. It is a 2040 problem,” he said.

But in the short term, Beijing’s interpretation of these limitations on the US force posture in the Indo-Pacific could encourage it to act.

There is a growing danger that “the Chinese will have a misperception of our own weakness, think we are weaker than we are, and launch an invasion based on misperceptions,” said Gray, a former NSC chief of staff.

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