Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that by the year 2020 the U.S. Navy will redeploy its ships so that about 60 percent will be in the Pacific with about 40 percent in the Atlantic. Currently it’s split about half and half. There will be six aircraft carriers in the Pacific, along with the majority of cruisers, destroyers, combat ships and submarines, Panetta said.
In the meantime, Japan wants to expand its role in Asian-Pacific maritime security, however, multilateral security frameworks cannot completely guarantee regional security and the United States is, and will continue, playing a key role.
In the South Pacific, Australia is shifting its policy in the Pacific. The latest gestures by Australia to the Melanesian Island nations, a sub-region of Oceania normally defined by its ethnicity and geography, indicates Canberra may be rethinking its strategy in the Pacific amid rising Chinese influence.
In 2007, the Chinese donated a new secretariat building for the group in Vanuatu. China has also expanded its economic and political ties throughout the Melanesian chain in recent years, in part to manage an Australia/Japan/U.S. strategic triangle. One of the strategic imperatives is to ensure that no outside power is able exploit this region and thus pose a potential threat to the Australian continent. The shift in Canberra’s approach reflects the growing recognition of the growing challenges to Australia’s strategic interests in the region, including its long-term relationship with the United States.
The United States “pivot” to the Pacific might appear like a reassertion of American imperialism, but it was almost inevitable.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, security experts talked about a shift in energy to the Pacific. But Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to a decade-long preoccupation with the Middle East, with Navy and Air Force operating no-fly zones for years thereafter. After 9/11, The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars added yet more distraction from interests in the Pacific. Now, the United States, rather than return to quasi-isolationism as it has done after other ground wars in its history, is attempting to pivot its focus to the geographical heart of the global economy: the Indian and Pacific oceans.
To be continued