By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, September 18, 2015 — The Defense Department’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is a strategy that safeguards U.S. interests and military access, builds partner capabilities and preserves stability in that part of the world, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs told a Senate panel yesterday.
David Shear and Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command, outlined to Senate Armed Forces Committee members how the U.S. Maritime Security Strategy for the Asia-Pacific will uphold maritime security in the region.
The strategy reflects U.S. interests and the importance of maritime peace and security in a critical part of the world, Shear said. It is also one part of a larger strategy to protect American interests in “international law, freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes,” he added.
The U.S. military has been indispensable in the region for 70 years to ensure peace, stability and security, Shear told panel members. But today, he said, regional military modernization “has increased significantly the potential for dangerous miscalculations or conflict in the maritime domain.” Shear pointed to the risks of China’s large-scale efforts to reclaim land and construct artificial islands in the region.
“As we've stated clear to [the] Chinese, ‘These actions are not only unilaterally altering the status quo; they're also complicating the lowering of tensions and the peaceful resolutions of disputes.’” Shear said.
Strategy Uses 4 Lines of Effort
DoD’s strategy employs four lines of effort to counter such challenges, he said, which would:
-- Strengthen military capacity to deter conflict and coercion, and respond decisively;
-- Build U.S. allies’ and partners’ maritime capacity for greater interoperability and more integrated operations. And DoD’s new Southeast Maritime Security Initiative, he added, will increase training, exercises, personnel support and maritime domain awareness;
-- Leverage defense diplomacy to reduce miscalculations and conflict risk, and promote shared maritime rules of the road; and,
-- Strengthen regional security institutions and encourage open regional security architecture. As an example, Shear cited Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent announcement to deploy a technical adviser to support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' maritime security.
“We've seen positive momentum in promoting shared rules of the road,” Shear said, adding thanks to committee members for their support of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Our efforts would be greatly strengthened by Senate ratification of UNCLOS,” he added.
Asia-Pacific is Vital to Nation
Harris said the Asia-Pacific region’s importance to U.S. security and prosperity cannot be overstated, and he noted that nearly 30 percent of the world's maritime trade, or more than $5 trillion, transits the South China Sea each year. “This includes $1.2 trillion in shipborne trade bound for the United States,” he said
And while the region has remained free of conflict for decades, “the security environment is changing, potentially placing … stability at risk,” Harris said.
“Rapid economic and military modernization and a growing demand for resources have increased the potential for conflict," he said. "Peacetime freedom of navigation is under pressure. If not handled properly, territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas can disrupt stability throughout the region.”
DOD's maritime strategy “capitalizes on the momentum” of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, Harris told the panel.