Austin Emphasizes Partnership as Path for Peace in Indo-Pacific

Jun 13, 2022 | DTJ Online

The U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific is at the heart of American national security strategies, and the power of the partnerships that regional nations have built with the United States forms the core for a peaceful and prosperous world for all, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said recently in prepared remarks during a major speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

American strategists no longer talk about the “U.S. pivot to Asia.” That has happened. On the military side, Austin noted that the Indo-Pacific is DOD’s “priority theater” with more than 300,000 American service members in the region working with allies and partners to ensure the rules-based international order is maintained.

Time and again in the speech, Austin emphasized partnerships. He has noted that U.S. partnerships with Indo-Pacific nations have grown and matured. “We’ve moved together toward our shared vision for the region,” he said. “The journey that we’ve made together in the past year only underscores a basic truth: In today’s interwoven world, we’re stronger when we find ways to come together.”   

The United States works with treaty allies Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the Philippines. America also works closely with the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue group alongside India, Japan, and Australia.

“We know that most countries across the Indo-Pacific share a common vision, and our people share common dreams,” Austin said. 

Underpinning this is the belief in a free and open order based on the rule of law. “That means a shared belief in transparency,” Austin said. “It means a dedication to openness and accountability. It means a commitment to freedom of the seas, skies, and space. And it means an insistence that disputes be resolved peacefully.” 

The idea is a region free from bullying and of countries seeking spheres of influence. Ultimately, the idea is a region that respects human rights and dignity “and a world in which all countries — large and small — are free to thrive and to lawfully pursue their interests, free from coercion and intimidation,” the secretary said. 

The Indo-Pacific is at the heart of this interconnected world and events halfway around the world resonate throughout the region. Austin specifically pointed to the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia as one of those events. The secretary said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “reckless war of choice has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an international order rooted in rules and respect.”

The reverberations of the war in Ukraine carry to the Indo-Pacific. “The Ukraine crisis poses some urgent questions for us all: Do rules matter? Does sovereignty matter? Does the system that we have built together matter?” he said. “I am here because I believe that it does. And I am here because the rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe.” 

Others in the region share that sentiment, and Pacific nations like Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have rushed security assistance to Ukraine. “It’s why countries across this region have sped humanitarian aid to the suffering Ukrainian people, including vital contributions from Singapore, Thailand, India, and Vietnam,” he said. 

“So let’s be clear: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all,” the secretary continued. “It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors. And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”

Russia’s war is a graphic demonstration of what happens when a nation tramples on the rules-based order, Austin said. “Let’s use this moment to come together in common purpose. Let’s use this moment to strengthen the rules-based international order,” he said. “And let’s use this moment to think about the future that we all want.” 

The Indo-Pacific comprises more than 50 percent of the globe. Defending the area requires investment, and the United States is doing just that. Austin noted the fiscal year 2023 budget request makes one of the largest investments in history to preserve this region’s security. 

This includes $6.1 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to strengthen multilateral information-sharing and support training and experimentation with partners. The budget also looks to encourage innovation across all domains, including space and cyberspace. 

“We’re working hard to develop new capabilities that will allow us to deter aggression even more surely, including stealth aircraft, unmanned platforms, and long-range precision fires,” the secretary said. “And we’re on the cusp of delivering prototypes for high-energy lasers that can counter missiles. And we’re developing integrated sensors that operate at the intersection of cyber, electronic warfare, and radar communications. All this helps us do even more to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends.” 

These new capabilities combined with U.S. presence and partnerships mean integrated deterrence for the region. This benefits treaty allies and partners. In this, Austin specifically mentioned India. “We believe that [India’s] growing military capability and technological prowess can be a stabilizing force in the region,” he said. 

Expanding the network is important, and the U.S. is working to bring its partnership with Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam to the next level. “In the past year, my belief in the strategic power of partnerships has only deepened,” he said. “And that’s at the heart of the President’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. Our work together helps ensure that all countries in the region — large and small — have a say in its future. It helps ensure that the status quo can’t be disrupted in ways that harm all of our security. And it helps strengthen our ability to find common solutions to common challenges.” 

And this is truly a dialogue with allies and partners, he said. “First, we’re working with our partners and allies to ensure that they have the right capabilities to defend their interests, to deter aggression, and to thrive on their own terms,” he said. “Now, as we invest in innovation in America, we’re committed to bringing our allies and partners along with us.” There is an unprecedented move to link the defense industrial bases on the nations and quickly get promising capabilities developed. 

Expanding exercises and training is also important. The exercises in the area have become more complex and include more countries. These range from maritime exercises to long-established exercises like Cobra Gold in Thailand and Balikatan in the Philippines. 

“We’re also finding new ways for our friends to operate together—and looking for new constellations of partners, including good friends from Europe and beyond,” he said.  

“Later this month, we will host the 28th iteration of [Rim of the Pacific],” he said. “Forces from 26 countries — with 38 ships and nearly 25,000 personnel — will gather along U.S. shores for the world’s largest naval exercise.” 

These moves are aimed at developing new tactics to combat new threats. “That includes tackling the gray-zone actions that chip away at international laws and norms,” he said. “We’re bringing to bear the full resources of the U.S. government to do so. And that includes unprecedented Coast Guard investments in the Indo-Pacific.” 

“Next year, our Coast Guard will also deploy a cutter to Southeast Asia and Oceania,” he continued. “That will open up new opportunities for multinational crewing, training, and cooperation across the region, and it will be the first major U.S. Coast Guard cutter permanently stationed in the region.” 

Partnership in the region needs flexibility to work, he said. “More and more, we’re working in new, flexible and custom-made ways with our friends, and our partners are doing the same thing with one another — even as we strengthen our commitment to ASEAN’s centrality and its leading place in the regional architecture,” he said. 

That has the rise of nimble, flexible security networks that add stability to the region. An example of this is the new Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, which President Biden announced in Tokyo last month. “This important initiative aims to provide better access to space-based, maritime domain awareness to countries across the region — including here in Southeast Asia,” Austin said. “This new partnership will harness together regional information centers. That’ll help us build a common operating picture and work together to tackle illegal fishing and other gray-zone activities.” 

But diplomacy is the first choice, he said. “We remain open to future diplomacy — and fully prepared to deter and defeat future aggression,” the secretary said. “We’ll also continue to stand by our friends as they uphold their rights. That’s especially important as the [Peoples Republic of China] adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims.” 

He noted that China is pushing limits in the East China Sea and South China Sea. “Further to the west, we’re seeing Beijing continue to harden its position along the border that it shares with India,” Austin said. “Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion or harassment by maritime militias.” 

DOD will maintain its active presence across the Indo-Pacific. “We will continue to support the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling, and we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said. “And we’ll do so right alongside our partners. And we’ll continue to be candid about the challenges that we all face.” 

He said the U.S. policy is unchanged and unwavering and has been consistent across administrations. “We’re determined to uphold the status quo that has served this region so well for so long,” he said. “So let me be clear: We remain firmly committed to our longstanding one-China policy — guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. We categorically oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side. We do not support Taiwan independence. And we stand firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means.” 

The U.S. will continue to fulfill commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, including assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability. “And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan,” he said. 

China needs to act accordingly. “We’re seeing growing coercion from Beijing,” he said. “We’ve witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the [People’s Republic of China’s] moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. That’s crucial for this region, and it’s crucial for the wider world. Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn’t just a U.S. interest. It’s a matter of international concern.” 

The United States does not want conflict or confrontation, he said. The U.S. does not want a new Cold War or a region split into hostile blocs. “We’ll defend our interests without flinching,” Austin said. “But we’ll also work toward our vision for this region: one of expanding security, not one of growing division. I continue to believe that big powers carry big responsibilities. And so, we’ll do our part to manage these tensions responsibly — to prevent conflict, and to pursue peace and prosperity.” 

 

By Jim Garamone, DOD News

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