Geopolitical analysts continue to question the U.S. commitment to rebalancing its forces in the Asia-Pacific region to reinvigorate the nation’s presence there.
The recent skepticism echoes similar concerns raised by Asia-based analysts about just how strong a military player the U.S. intends to be in the Asia-Pacific region. The doubts are surfacing amid reports of major military buildups by American partners in the region.
Indeed, while all the attention seems focused on China’s intentions and impacts in the region, the Asian giant will not be the biggest variable in geopolitical security in that part of the world, argues Randal Shriver, president and CEO of the Project 2049 Institute think tank. Shriver is also founding partner of Armitage International and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It is not China,” Shriver said Aug. 22 during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “It is the United States. And if the U.S. is not up to the task, that throws uncertainty into that region.”
The problem is that, despite President Barack Obama’s touted Asia-Pacific rebalancing, there continues to be no “go-to” person in the administration for Asia — nor does the administration seem to still have passion for the effort, he says. There seems to be little concrete to back up the plans.
“The question now is there any ‘there’ there,” says Shriver, who served from 2003-2005 as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
In May, William Choong, the Shangri-La Dialogue senior fellow at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia (IISS), raised similar concerns about the U.S. commitment because of a lack of perceived military force to back up the rebalancing plans.
“They’re putting across this ‘small footprint,’” he says, noting there is no “major” show of power.
Now, he says, “Other countries might feel tempted to go against China, knowing the U.S. has their backs.”
With or without movement of major U.S. military forces to the Asia-Pacific, U.S. partners and allies are certainly looking to bolster their own militaries.
As a group, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand are slated to spend about $1.4 trillion on military programs and between 2013-2018, an estimated 55% increase over the $919.5 billion the countries spent between 2008-2012, according to an Aviation Week Intelligence Work (AWIN) analysis of data provided by Avascent050, an online market analysis toolkit for global defense programs.
In terms of percentages, the largest known increase for all of the Asian countries analyzed in the coming half-decade is for research and development. The analysis shows it is slated to increase by about 66% to about $61.4 billion from between 2013-2018, from about $36.9 billion spent the previous years.
Procurement in the coming five years will increase by about 61% to about $379.6 billion, compared to the $235.9 billion invested between 2008 and 2012, the analysis shows.