When the U.S. and Pentagon detailed their intention to rebalance their forces back to the Asia-Pacific, many leading analysts in the region worried that it would be a “rhetorical pivot,” anchored more by words than warriors.
The U.S. Navy has done its best to bolster the confidence of American allies and partners in the region, pointing out that its most advanced ships and aircraft – the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and P-8A Poseidons – are slated for, or already operating in Pacific waters.
But now even U.S. lawmakers are starting to wonder aloud whether the U.S. commitment is underpinning or undermining the Pacific pivot.
Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, recently released details of the bipartisan Asia-Pacific Region Priority Act introduced in April.
“This legislation seeks to make the United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific more than merely a slogan,” Forbes says. “By providing for specific actions to buttress U.S. military capabilities in the region and encouraging our allies to enhance their own capabilities, this bipartisan legislation aims to positively shape the military-balance in the Asia-Pacific in the decades to come.”
The United States has an enduring interest in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, Forbes says, and addressing the security shifts, including China's rise and growing North Korean missile threats, is a critical component of U.S. policy and continued regional stability.
“The U.S. stands by its regional allies and partners in remaining committed to peaceful settlement of disputes and continued freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific,” Forbes says.
The U.S. partnership with Japan has been a cornerstone of Asia-Pacific peace and prosperity for more than half a century, Forbes notes, adding the U.S. welcomes recent changes to Japan's defense institutions, as well as Japan's determination to play a more proactive role in contributing to global peace and security. The U.S. opposes any unilateral attempt to undermine Japanese administration of the Senkaku Islands, he says.
The U.S. and Republic of Korea have enjoyed more than 60 years of strong partnership in security, political, and economic matters, Forbes points out. The bill requires a report on how this enduring partnership can be further strengthened in the decades ahead.
Sustaining training facilities in the Pacific Command (Pacom) area of responsibility is essential to not only the continued preparedness of the U.S. military, but also to developing the partner capacity and interoperability necessary for effective security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, Forbes says.
The bill does the following:
- Requires the secretary of defense to solicit outside evaluation of the anti-access/area denial capabilities of potential competitors and the ability of the United States to maintain its security commitments in the region;
- Directs the Office of Net Assessment to conduct a study of the maritime balance of forces in the Asia-Pacific;
- Directs the Office of Net Assessment to conduct a study of the threat and possible solutions to address the growth of Chinese and Russian counter-space capabilities posing significant threats to both the U.S. military and global business and telecommunications;
- Directs the Department of Defense to submit a report on the cross-strait balance of maritime forces between China and Taiwan;
- Modifies the annual report by the Department of Defense to Congress regarding China's military activities to also include activities by the State Oceanic Administration;
- Establishes a senior office to oversee a coordinated unmanned systems strategy for the Department of Defense, covering everything from research and development to deployment and the unmanned role within new and existing operational concepts;
- Authorizes $10 million, beyond the President's request, for research and development of greater space situational awareness capabilities;
- Requires the services to examine their munition capabilities and the health of the associated industrial base, and report to Congress on a PACOM munitions strategy;
- Identifies opportunities for increasing missile defense cooperation among the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.