Indo-Pacific declared America’s priority theatre

US interests in the Indian Ocean Region:


The past few weeks have seen a heated debate taking place in Sri Lanka on signing military related agreements with the United States of America. The 10-year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), signed between the US and Sri Lanka, in 2007, allowing US forces to utilise various facilities in Sri Lanka such as ports, airports, communication facilities, etc. and its renewal, in 2017, and the proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US have come in for much discussion with the Ven. Mahanayakes and His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith issuing a joint statement, last Thursday, on the need to exercise caution when entering into agreements with foreign powers. Against this backdrop, the US Defence Department issued its Indo-Pacific Strategy Report with the title, ‘Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region’ last Saturday (01 June). We publish below, some excerpts of the report, which will be of interest to Sri Lankan readers"

The message from Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan in that report stated the following:

The Indo-Pacific is the Department of Defense’s priority theater. The United States is a Pacific nation; we are linked to our Indo-Pacific neighbors through unbreakable bonds of shared history, culture, commerce, and values. We have an enduring commitment to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition. The continuity of our shared strategic vision is uninterrupted despite an increasingly complex security environment. Inter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions, is the primary concern for U.S. national security. In particular, the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.

In contrast, the Department of Defense supports choices that promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in the Indo-Pacific. We will not accept policies or actions that threaten or undermine the rules-based international order – an order that benefits all nations. We are committed to defending and enhancing these shared values. The National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy articulate our vision to compete, deter, and win in this environment. Achieving this vision requires combining a more lethal Joint Force with a more robust constellation of Allies and partners. Increased investments in these imperatives will sustain American influence in the region to ensure favorable balances of power and safeguard the free and open international order.

Achieving peace through strength and employing effective deterrence requires a Joint Force that is prepared to win any conflict from its onset. The Department, alongside our Allies and partners, will ensure our combat-credible forces are forward-postured in the region. Furthermore, the Joint Force will prioritize investments that ensure lethality against high-end adversaries. Our unique network of Allies and partners is a force multiplier to achieve peace, deterrence, and interoperable warfighting capability. The Department is reinforcing its commitment to established Alliances and Partnerships, while also expanding and deepening relationships with new partners who share our respect for sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law. The Department is strengthening and evolving U.S. Alliances and Partnerships into a networked security architecture to uphold the international rules-based order. The Department also continues to cultivate intra-Asian security relationships capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains. Advancing this Indo-Pacific vision requires an integrated effort that recognizes the critical linkages between economics, governance, and security – all fundamental components that shape the region’s competitive landscape.

The body of the report states as follows: The Indo-Pacific is the single most consequential region for America’s future. Spanning a vast stretch of the globe from the west coast of the United States to the western shores of India, (note the geographic inclusion of Sri Lanka) the region is home to the world’s most populous state, most populous democracy, and largest Muslim-majority state, and includes over half of the earth’s population. Among the 10 largest standing armies in the world, 7 reside in the Indo-Pacific; and 6 countries in the region possess nuclear weapons. Nine of the world’s 10 busiest seaports are in the region, and 60 percent of global maritime trade transits through Asia, with roughly one-third of global shipping passing through the South China Sea alone.

America’s annual two-way trade with the region is $2.3 trillion, with U.S. foreign direct investment of $1.3 trillion in the region – more than China’s, Japan’s, and South Korea’s combined. The Indo-Pacific contributes two-thirds of global growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 60 percent of global GDP. This region includes the world’s largest economies – the United States, China, and Japan – and six of the world’s fastest growing economies – India, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and the Philippines. A quarter of U.S. exports go to the Indo-Pacific, and exports to China and India have more than doubled over the past decade. This is made possible by free and open trade routes through the air, sea, land, space, and cyber commons that form the current global system.

Our ties to the Indo-Pacific are forged by history, and our future is inextricably linked. We have contributed both blood and treasure to sustain the freedoms, openness, and opportunity of this region. Our presence secures the vital sea lanes of the Indo-Pacific that underpin global commerce and prosperity. Our leaders, diplomats, military forces, and businesses helped frame and strengthen the international system of clear and transparent rules; peaceful resolution of disputes; and the rule of law that has been vital to the region’s relative security and growing prosperity.

As history has demonstrated and the future necessitates, the United States will continue to play a key role as a force for regional stability in the Indo-Pacific in support of U.S. diplomatic and economic aspirations. To do so, the United States must be prepared by sustaining a credible combat-forward posture; strengthening alliances and building new partnerships; and promoting an increasingly networked region. These actions will enable the United States to preserve a free and open Indo Pacific where sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity are safeguarded.

In 2017, President Trump announced our nation’s vision for a free and open Indo - Pacific at the APEC Summit in Vietnam, and our commitment to a safe, secure, prosperous, and free region that benefits all nations. This vision flows from common principles that underpin the current international order, which has benefited all countries in the region – principles we have a shared responsibility to uphold:

Our vision for a free Indo-Pacific is one in which all nations, regardless of size, are able to exercise their sovereignty free from coercion by other countries. At the national-level, this means good governance and the assurance that citizens can enjoy their fundamental rights and liberties. Our

vision for an open Indo-Pacific is one that promotes sustainable growth and connectivity in the region. This means all nations enjoy access to international waters, airways, and cyber and space domains, and are able to pursue peaceful resolution of territorial and maritime disputes. On an economic level, this means fair and reciprocal trade, open investment environments, and transparent agreements between nations.

Our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific recognizes the linkages between economics, governance, and security that are part of the competitive landscape throughout the region, and that economic security is national security. In order to achieve this vision, we will uphold the rule of law, encourage resilience in civil society, and promote transparent governance – all of which expose malign influences that threaten economic development everywhere. Our vision aspires to a regional order in which independent nations can both defend their interests and compete fairly in the international marketplace. It is a vision which recognizes that no one nation can or should dominate the Indo Pacific. In recognition of the region’s need for greater investment, including infrastructure investment, the United States seeks to invigorate our development and finance institutions to enable us to become better, more responsive partners.

While we unapologetically represent U.S. values and beliefs, we do not seek to impose our way of life on others. As the region grows in population and economic weight, U.S. strategy will adapt to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity – and not one of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics. Embedding these free and open principles will require efforts across the spectrum of our agencies and capabilities: diplomatic initiatives, governance capacity building, economic cooperation and commercial advocacy, and military cooperation.

(To be continued tomorrow)

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