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After a Rebalance to Asia

About a Author

Walter Lohman
Director, Asian Studies Center
Asian Studies Center

After a Rebalance to Asia

U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission

March 31, 2016

My name is Walter Lohman. we am Director of a Asian Studies Center during The Heritage Foundation. The views we demonstrate in this testimony are my possess and should not be construed as representing any executive position of The Heritage Foundation.

For 5 years now, Washington has been debating a value of a Obama Administration’s rebalance to Asia. Questions have arisen over how it was formulated and rolled out, how good it is resourced, either it too heavily weighted toward infantry matters, and either a new courtesy is amply distributed via a region. Experts and stakeholders in a routine have attempted to arrange out and explain China’s role, Taiwan’s role, a purpose of a Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other informal organizations. Washington has spent an lavish volume of time on a implications of a vernacular itself, “pivot” or “rebalance.” In short, a “rebalance” has been really delicately deliberate from probably any angle. Now, in a midst of a domestic deteriorate in that Americans are debating their nation’s purpose in a world, it is time to take batch and start looking over a rebalance to a time when a new Administration will take tenure of Asia policy.

It has been pronounced before, mostly by veterans of a Bush Administration, that there was zero new about a rebalance. This is radically true. For many decades now, American routine has revolved around dual sets of interests: (1) informal assent and confidence and (2) giveaway trade and a unobstructed upsurge of commerce. The threats to these interests have altered over time. Priority threats have enclosed Soviet aggression, aroused extremism, and choice models to free-market liberalism. The inlet of these threats is what has finished a United States’ infantry viewpoint in a region, a executive mercantile engagement, and diplomacy. Today, a priority threats to American interests in a Western Pacific are organisation adult in a hurdles presented by China’s fast arise as a major, complicated informal power. And devise has grown accordingly.

Seen this way, a rebalance is not vital innovation, though tactical adjustment. The President himself, in his 2011 launch of a rebalance, finished pithy a tie between fast interests and strategy, on a one hand, and tactics, on a other. Speaking to a Australian Parliament, President Obama summarized a devise that could have simply been oral by his predecessor. It endangered progressing a “strong infantry presence” in a region, preserving a “unique ability to devise appetite and deter threats to peace,” and gripping covenant commitments to allies. On a tactical side, he cited a modernization and broadening of America’s invulnerability viewpoint conflicting a Asia–Pacific, to embody an extended appearance in Southeast Asia. He also highlighted a need for a some-more stretchable infantry posture, one finished some-more tolerable “by assisting allies and partners build their capacity, with some-more training and exercises.” On economics, he cited vital seductiveness in “open and transparent” economies, an “open general mercantile system,” and “trade that is giveaway and fair.” Tactically, President Obama referenced giveaway trade agreements with Australia and South Korea and a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

With courtesy to diplomacy, a beginning endless countenance of Administration devise came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a lead adult to President Obama’s revisit to Australia. In a square entitled “America’s Pacific Century” in Foreign Policy, she used a tenure “pivot” that would so nag Washington routine analysts. She also called for a “forward deployed diplomacy” that among other things would “deepen…our operative family with rising powers” and “engage with multilateral institutions.” As with a infantry and mercantile elements, Secretary of State Clinton offering no vital breakthroughs. The before Administration had finished identical things. But Secretary Clinton did indicate to what would spin a Administration’s many poignant tactical shift—intensified rendezvous of ASEAN.

The Military Side of a Rebalance

The many manifest partial of a rebalance has been on a infantry side. There have been several vicious Obama-era initiatives on this account. Among them, a agreement with Australia to stagger Marines and Air Force by Northern Australia and a Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with a Philippines, according to that a dual sides have usually staid on 5 bases that will be prioritized for upgrades and American rotations. There are other efforts that were instituted before to President Obama’s time in office, a continuation of that can sincerely be attributed to his call for a viewpoint that is flexible, sustainable, and modernized. These include, in fact, a biggest relocating tools of a rebalance: a Guam/Okinawa force realignment and a realignment of American army on a Korean Peninsula.

Much smaller moves, like a revolution of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and anti-submarine aircraft by Singapore and a deployment of additional Aegis destroyers to Japan and submarines to Guam are significant, though some-more a matter of slight force management—conceivable though a rebalance.

With broader honour to a infantry presence, a U.S. is really tighten to a idea of carrying 60 percent of a naval resources in a Pacific as initial annunciated by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012. It already has 60 percent of Air Force resources and two-thirds of a Marine Corps there. These resources minister to a far-reaching operation of exercises and training activities in a region, pier calls, reconnaissance, and leisure of navigation exercises underway in a segment during any given time. In 2011, PACOM put a array of multilateral and shared exercises during 172. For 2015, this array is approaching lower. If so, it is value a elect examining a stress of a decline. Whatever a number, it contingency be deliberate in a broader context of U.S. operations in a region. The U.S. usually finished annual Cobra Gold exercises. RIMPAC 2016 is on aim this year, as are a annual Malabar exercises among a U.S., Japan, and India this year in a Philippines Sea. There are many others besides, including a CARAT series, Balikatan with a Philippines, and Talisman Saber with a Australians. We have mixed and expanding exercises with Japan. And given a tighten formation of U.S. and South Korean army and immediacy of a hazard they face, probably any day is a dilemma practice for a 28,500 Americans stationed there. Specific efforts like a large Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises accept some-more than their common share of courtesy when there is tragedy on a Peninsula. But they are ongoing and routine.

The U.S. appearance in a Asia–Pacific is unfit though a many allies and partners. U.S.–ROK and U.S.–Japan team-work is roughly a given. These alliances are so large and able that changes in them have exponential impact. Japan’s reinterpretation of a right to common self-defense and new U.S.–Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines are good examples. Japan’s 2014 decrease of trade restrictions is another. The latter might outcome in state-of-art Japanese submarines being built in Australia for use in a Australian navy—a growth with vital vital significance. Even smaller adjustments to existent exercises, like new stretched Japanese appearance in dilemma amphibious exercises, accept an outsized grade of open attention. The unusual record of U.S.–Japan infantry team-work means that when planners demeanour to enlarge a U.S. appearance in a region, deliberating a awaiting of basing a second American aircraft conduit in a Pacific, for instance, where is a many judicious place for it to go? Japan. U.S.–Korea vital team-work has identical potential, though due to Korea’s existential engrossment with North Korea, it stays entirely unfulfilled.

The some-more elemental tactical change of American confidence routine lies in what has been called a “rebalance inside a rebalance”—that is, a change of American courtesy and resources south. Here a U.S. has also found pacific partners, many distinguished among them Singapore, a Philippines, and Australia. As with Japan, in any case, there are vicious long-term authorised and operational contexts that have finished a expansions possible. In fact, nonetheless good tact mostly requires anxiety to team-work with other partners in contention of this pierce south, team-work with Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and others is not scarcely as extensive. This is not usually for domestic or vital reasons, though given a U.S. lacks authorised and operational frameworks in these places compulsory for fast ramp adult in activity.

Singapore is a ideal instance of an enabling partner environment. The many vicious creation in U.S.–Singapore family is not new boat and aircraft deployments attributed to a rebalance. The U.S. Air Force and Navy have prolonged operated out of Singaporean bases. The many vicious growth is signing of a U.S.–Singapore Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) during a finish of final year to concede for stretched confidence cooperation. In turn, a 2015 agreement builds on a 2005 Strategic Framework Agreement and a 1990 chit of bargain on U.S. use of infantry comforts in Singapore. So when a U.S. is looking to Southeast Asia to accommodate a vital needs in a future, where is it approaching to spin first? Singapore.

A identical box can be finished concerning a Philippines. Although there are good vital reasons for a tightening of U.S.–Philippines family over a final 5 years—it is physically and legally right in a core of a brawl over a South China Sea—there are also really good operational reasons since it would emerge be an American partner of choice. The U.S. and a Philippines have a grave covenant attribute going behind to 1951 that has facilitated an huge volume of infantry activity over a years, conflicting a operation of changeable threats to their mutual interests. The attribute has a clever fondness bureaucracy led by a Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) in a Philippines and a authorised horizon of a 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Since 1999, a U.S. has also been deeply endangered in a remodel of a Philippines Armed Forces (PAF). In fact, given 2002 it has had hundreds of infantry in a Southern Philippines ancillary and training PAF counterinsurgency forces. And a contemporary connectors go good over a characterization of a Philippines as a second front in a fight on terror. The U.S. has prolonged flown and sailed out of a Philippines’ infantry comforts during Subic Bay, Clark, and elsewhere, even after a pullout in 1992. So final year, when a U.S. Department of Defense incited to exercise a Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) authored by a Senate Armed Services Committee, it is usually judicious that it would dedicate a bulk of a initial bid to a Philippines. Similarly, with courtesy to EDCA. Where else in Southeast Asia could a U.S. benefit entrance to 5 infantry bases, and maybe more, over 10 years?

When a U.S. sought out new deployments of a Marines, it incited to Australia—a awaiting prolonged deliberate during a Pentagon and brought to delight by a Obama Administration. Again, there is an endless authorised and operational horizon that finished a Marine Rotational Force-Darwin possible: The 1951 ANZUS covenant and a turn of formation though comparison outward NATO. As with Singapore and a Philippines, there is also a lane record. In a box of Australia, it is an unusual one of strategizing and handling together over a full century. This team-work includes American entrance to a operation of infantry comforts in Australia and Australian officers in a American sequence of authority during PACOM. In 2007, a U.S. and Australia sealed and a Senate after validated a Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty with Australia that streamlines a trade of invulnerability articles and services. Only a U.K. enjoys a identical arrangement with a U.S.

Standing during a finish of a Obama Administration’s second term, a U.S. is in a good place in a confidence family with all these countries: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, a Philippines, and Australia. Thailand is a special case. The U.S. also has really valuable, tighten fondness family with Thailand. Complications in both vital opinion and differences over Thailand domestic politics, however, have hamstrung a attribute in new years. Its focus to America’s principal vital courtesy vis-a-vis China is, therefore, limited. Its value now lies in unsentimental team-work conflicting a operation of issues from counterterrorism to charitable assistance and disaster relief. That and a awaiting of destiny vital fixing foreordain refuge of a alliance. American infantry family elsewhere in a segment are in good and improving condition. The Administration can count new defense-related initiatives in any of Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. These relationships, however, sojourn qualitatively a same as when a President took office, lacking a estimable authorised and official frameworks that will establish a destiny figure of America’s infantry joining to a region.

The Rebalance: Diplomatic and Economic

On a tactful side of a routine equation, a many vicious facet of a rebalance has been a Administration’s support for ASEAN as a core of an elaborating informal tactful architecture. By proceed of discerning recap, underneath a stream Administration a U.S. sealed ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation; became a initial non-ASEAN nation with a proprietor Ambassador to ASEAN; assimilated a East Asian Summit annual assembly of informal leaders; instituted a annual U.S.–ASEAN Leaders Meeting; assimilated a ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus process; and hosted a ASEAN Defense Ministers in Hawaii in 2014 and a leaders in California progressing this year. These tactical adjustments follow on a customary engagements that predate a Obama Administration like a Secretary of State’s assemblage during a annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and Post-Ministerial meetings.

This is an considerable list of new American engagements. Their petrify value, however, is debatable. They have proven insufficient so distant in addressing a estimable issues endangered in a South China Sea, for instance. After a brief uncover of tactful strength during a ARF in 2010, a Administration has refrained from pulling a emanate as strongly as required. Nevertheless, if apportion has a peculiarity all a possess when it comes to ships and planes, usually display adult has a peculiarity all a possess in ASEAN. Vigorous appearance in ASEAN forums positions a U.S. as a grave stakeholder in a destiny of a region. This is important, given whatever we might consider about a efficiency of ASEAN, it occupies a executive place in a unfamiliar policies of a countries that contain it. President Obama has set a list for his successor’s proceed to informal architecture. The stream turn of American communication with ASEAN can usually be discontinued during a cost of demonstrating American ambivalence about a joining to a broader region.

The Administration has also stretched trilateral cooperation. President Bush instituted a many prolific of these, a U.S.–Japan–Australia Trilateral Strategic Dialogue. The Obama Administration has confirmed it and also inaugurated a U.S.–Japan–India trilateral. With a further of a Japan–India–Australia trilateral progressing final year, a proof of these mechanisms seems to be holding hold. The 4 countries are now coordinating on a operation of confidence issues in any pattern solely all 4 assembly together. Such a form discourse was reason once in 2007 and afterwards abandoned. Such venues do not in any poignant proceed consecrate a pierce divided from America’s hubs-and-spokes complement of alliances as infrequently asserted by a Administration. The genuine bulk of work, both security-related and diplomatic, will continue to upsurge by American alliances and partnerships. They are, however, vicious coordination mechanisms.

Regarding economics, my purpose now is to simply note a vital context. we have spent a good understanding of my testimony articulate about a military. And this is important. There are a array of flashpoints in a segment and large geopolitical dynamics that need a clever and active U.S. infantry appearance to safely manage. But a Asia–Pacific is mostly about trade and economics, and opportunity. Economic initiatives like a US-Korea, U.S.–Australian, U.S.–Singapore FTAs are about gripping a U.S. as applicable as probable to a life of a region. The U.S. contingency continue in a purpose of accord motorist on a manners and norms ruling mercantile activity. It is a self-reinforcing proposition. The U.S. has a appetite to lead in manners environment given of a mercantile contributions, and we can make larger mercantile contributions given a open manners we preference promote larger American mercantile activity. If a United States opts out of this usually cycle, all of a activity on a political/security side will over time come to be seen as that of an interloper.

Going forward, a principal hurdles on any of these accounts—military, diplomatic, and economic—are some-more domestic than foreign. The plea of progressing able brazen deployed forces, for instance, is not entrance to new “places” in a Pacific; it is budgets. The Heritage Foundation in a annual Index of U.S. Military Strength has put a ideal stretch of a Navy during 346 ships. Today it has 271–272 and according to stream plans, it will have 308 by 2022.[1] Heritage assesses that this is not adequate to accommodate final in a Pacific though new levels of risk, both vital and tactical. Similarly, a new investigate by Rand has put a time support of China’s effective plea to American prevalence on China’s nautical periphery, in sold a South China Sea and Taiwan, during 5 to 15 years.[2] Readiness has also grown into a vital problem over a past several years, as attested to by a use chiefs usually this month.[3] On diplomacy, a biggest plea will be creation a box to a subsequent President that his appearance and that of his Cabinet is frequently compulsory on other side of a Pacific. And on economy, a plea is a loath Washington accord on a value of giveaway trade and intensity deficiencies in a TPP.

Regional Response to a Rebalance

The informal response to U.S. routine is vicious feedback. U.S. interests are permanent and a broadest strokes of devise usually somewhat reduction permanent. Regional responses to a U.S. policy, however, are keys to adjusting devise and moulding new approaches going forward. Responses to a Obama Administration’s rebalance can be characterized in dual ways: support/facilitation and hedging.

The supporters/facilitators are many prominently Japan, Australia, Singapore, and a Philippines. After all, they are indeed facilitating vital tools of a rebalance. Each from a somewhat conflicting vital angle, their governments have prioritized response to a China challenge. (South Korea is also a vital supporter/facilitator of a U.S. presence, though a strenuous seductiveness is in team-work vis-à-vis a hazard from North Korea.) This does not meant they will buy indiscriminate U.S. routine prescriptions. It means they all wish and design some-more U.S. appearance in a Asia–Pacific over a prolonged term.

The Japanese are on a many endangered finish of a supporter/facilitator spectrum. With Chinese incursions stability frequently around a Senkakus, a plea is present and immediate. As a result, a Japanese are prepared to be fuller partners in a alliance, as illustrated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s invulnerability reforms. It is compelled usually by a recognition of constraints imposed by memories of a Pacific War. Japanese policymakers know to be nuanced in applications of Japanese resources to difficulty spots like a South China Sea. They also know that a context of a U.S.–Japan fondness is vicious to a proceed a increasing appetite is viewed in a region. Defense of a interests are, therefore, contingent on a healthy U.S.–Japan fondness and continued U.S. joining to a region. This also means Japan is simply spooked by signals of American disinterest.

Australia is usually a nick or dual private from a many endangered finish of a spectrum. There is no closer American fan in a world. It enjoys a oppulance of stretch from China, however, and can, therefore, means to be some-more brazen looking and strategic. The new 2016 Australian Defense White Paper is a ideal illustration. It categorically attributes a past 70 years of assent and confidence in a segment to American power. And it goes on to couple Australia’s predestine with a stability presence:

A clever and low fondness is during a core of Australia’s confidence and counterclaim planning. The United States will sojourn a earlier tellurian infantry appetite and will continue to be Australia’s many vicious vital partner…. Australia will find to enlarge and lower a fondness with a United States, including by ancillary a vicious purpose in underpinning confidence in a segment by a continued rebalance of United States infantry forces.

Singapore has a prolonged and plainly voiced seductiveness in a U.S. presence. Like many others, however, it also prioritizes a attribute with China. Singapore is a small, eventually really exposed city state. Its unfamiliar routine investiture is, therefore, always looking around a subsequent vital corner. It sees a arise of China as a geopolitical fact that contingency be concurred in sequence to say a assent and confidence of a region. By Singaporean calculations, a U.S. appearance is essential to this. So too, however, are prolific U.S.–China family and complete rendezvous of China by ASEAN and other informal institutions. It can be approaching to continue balancing these things into a new American administration.

Manila has been really welcoming of a U.S. rebalance. This is for apparent reasons—it is now on a receiving finish of China’s new aggressiveness in a South China Sea. Its stakes as a petitioner are not matched by a infantry wherewithal and so it has depressed behind on faith on a U.S. Removed from near-hostilities with China, a Philippines would be many some-more of a hedger on a China routine spectrum.

This brings me to countries in a segment we would impersonate predominantly as hedgers. Among claimants in a South China Sea, there is a flourishing clarity of courtesy with China. Vietnam and Malaysia are solemnly embracing a rebalance and flourishing closer diplomatically and militarily with a U.S. Not incidentally, both are also partial of a TPP. These family have been building sensitively for a really prolonged time. Neither Malaysia, nor Vietnam, however, is pacific to place their bets on a U.S. to a limit Singapore or a Philippines have. In a box of Vietnam, this might be given of endless party-to-party family and a hesitation of a invulnerability establishment. It positively has something to do with a land limit with China. In a box of Malaysia, it might have to do many with domestic irregularity during home and economics. There is also a worry in Kuala Lumpur that they could gaunt heavily on a U.S. usually to be deserted by this or a subsequent American Administration. For a part, notwithstanding a new dustup with a Chinese, Indonesia will approaching continue to sidestep on a U.S. appearance in a region.

This spectrum of response from a many pacific of facilitators to a many shaken of hedgers is really understanding to signals from Washington. Strong signals—for example, heathy invulnerability budgets, statements for support for alliances, Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS), and well-conceived pull behind on Chinese aggressiveness encourage them to pull behind in preference of a U.S.-led informal order. U.S. support for Taiwan is another vicious signal. Not given many of a segment shares America’s courtesy for Taiwan, though given a segment knows that a alleviation of American joining can usually be attributable to courtesy for Chinese interests. ASEAN members in sold also perspective a personal impasse of a President and U.S. appearance in informal tact as signs of strength.

Signs of weakness, a luckless understanding that a U.S. finished with China over Scarborough Shoal in 2012, for instance, have a conflicting impact. Hedgers like Malaysia, when faced with dilemmas over their possess nautical claims, will be some-more shy in response for fear of inspiring recoil from China. Presently, all are examination really closely indications that a Chinese might retrieve and build on Scarborough Shoal in a conform identical to what they have finished in a Spratlys. If it happens with no some-more than a tactful reprove from a U.S., do not design hedgers to step out in support of U.S. commitments. This is identical with courtesy to FONOPS. The segment expects a U.S. to continue dire a seductiveness in leisure of a seas. A ratcheting behind of this effort, another drawn out open handwringing or hedging on a partial of a U.S. will moderate support for a presence. Finally, a segment is looking for a tools of a rebalance that have been announced, arrangements with Australia and a Philippines, for instance, to be finished good on and extended.


The preceding critique of a rebalance offers several recommendations for how a U.S. joining to a Asia–Pacific can be postulated going forward.

  • Build some-more ships. A 308-ship Navy is simply not adequate to for a U.S. to say a compulsory brazen deployed appearance in a Pacific, and a rest of a tellurian commitments, in a proceed that effectively deters Chinese aggressiveness.
  • Follow by on all a stream pieces of a rebalance. This involves bill allocations on a U.S. side and continued financial commitments on a partial of a partners.
  • Maintain and enhance appearance in informal tactful initiatives, including ASEAN-centric forums as good as other multilateral engagements like a Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation, trilateral dialogues, and vital summits like a U.S.–ASEAN Sunnylands summit. Revive a form confidence dialogue.
  • Maintain a constructive attribute with China. The segment knows that American and Chinese interests mostly clash, and they design a U.S. to mount adult for a interests. They also, however, design them to be addressed as peacefully and constructively as possible.
  • Be transparent and unchanging about American support for Taiwan. The subsequent few years might be really moving in cross-straits relations. The U.S. can't means to be seen as reduction than entirely supportive, to embody compulsory defensive arms sales, of a obliged supervision in Taipei.
  • Keep a doorway open to a lapse to a normal attribute with Thailand. There is a good understanding of carrying ability in a U.S.–Thai alliance. It is unknowable what a subsequent U.S.–Thai vital fixing will encompass. But usually as a U.S.–Philippines fondness eventually came into glorious use years after a slight in a mid-1990s, it would be good to have a U.S.–Thai fondness for a time when we share another vital vital priority.
  • Prod a South Koreans to consider and devise some-more strategically over a Korean Peninsula.


The Commission is really correct to reason this conference on a rebalance. we am carefree that a American joining to a Asia–Pacific will to continue prolonged into a future. In sequence for that to occur in a many pacific and secure manner, and in a proceed that extends a conspicuous mercantile story of a region, it is vicious to take batch and make tactical adjustments. The Obama Administration did this with a Bush Administration’s strategy. It finished routine improvements. In a process, it also finished a possess mistakes. Congress and a subsequent Administration would do good to learn from both in sequence to put a American joining to Asia on organisation balance going forward.


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About a Author

Walter Lohman
Director, Asian Studies Center
Asian Studies Center

Show references in this reportHide References

[1] The Heritage Foundation, 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength, http://index.heritage.org/military/2016/.

[2] Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.–China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and a Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017, The Rand Corporation, 2015, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf (accessed Mar 28, 2016).

[3] John Sullivan and Justin Johnson, “America’s Military Is in Much Worse Shape Than You’d Think,” Heritage Foundation Commentary, Mar 25, 2016, http://dailysignal.com/2016/03/25/americas-military-is-in-much-worse-shape-than-youd-think/.

Article source: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/03/after-the-rebalance-to-asia