‘Defend’, ‘dominate’, ‘deny’: declassified US strategy shows vision for Indo-Pacific

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The United States declassified a national security document on Tuesday that reveals details of the Trump administration’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan’s role as well as a plan to ‘deny’, ‘defend’ and “dominate” China in the Western Pacific.

Observers said the document’s release, just days before Donald Trump handed over the keys to the White House to President-elect Joe Biden and his team, may have been intended to tie the new president to the vision. which he exposed for the region while reassuring the allies of a continued American presence.

The rare decision to publish and declassify the strategy, which provided the “overarching strategic directions” for US actions in the region, “demonstrates, with transparency, the strategic commitments of the United States to the Indo-Pacific and our allies. and partners, ”National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said in an accompanying statement.

As a rule, these documents remain classified for 30 years.

The declaration and the document itself also seemed to highlight the considerable role that Japan played in its formation and beyond, touting the “strategic resonance” of Tokyo’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept and noting that “the Nowhere is the growing alignment of strategic approaches in the region more remarkable than in the growth of the US-Japan alliance over the past four years.

Experts said the words made it clear that the allies, including Tokyo, had played a crucial role in shaping the strategy.

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“This confirms that US strategic policy in the Indo-Pacific has been largely informed and driven by allies and partners, particularly Japan, Australia and India,” wrote Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College, Australian National University, in an analysis for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Think Tank.

A People’s Liberation Army H-6 bomber conducts a mission near the center line over the Taiwan Strait, which serves as an unofficial buffer between China and Taiwan, in September. | TAIWAN MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEFENSE / VIA REUTERS

Written throughout 2017 and officially endorsed by Trump early the following year, the 10 partially-drafted pages outline U.S. strategic priorities in the Indo-Pacific, much of which focuses on China.

This included what was listed as the main national security challenge: “How to maintain the strategic primacy of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region and promote a liberal economic order while preventing China from establishing new spheres of influence.” non-liberal. ”

According to the document, part of the strategy commits to “designing and implementing a defense strategy capable of, but not limited to: (1) denying China sustained air and maritime dominance at home. of the “first chain of islands” in conflict; (2) defend the first nations of the island chain, including Taiwan; and (3) dominating all areas outside of the first island chain. “

The so-called first island chain refers to the islands stretching from the Kurils, the main Japanese islands, and the Ryukyus to Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Experts say the chain of Pacific islands that surround China is seen by some in Beijing as a natural barrier that contains the country and its armed forces.

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In a worrying trend for Tokyo, China has effectively regularized military operations that cross the First Island Chain, including activities that send fighter jets and warships near Taiwan and Japanese territory.

Last year alone, Chinese fighter jets crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait a record number of times, while Chinese ships also approached the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands more than 300 times, another record. The small islets in the East China Sea are also claimed by Beijing, which calls them the Diaoyu.

Regarding the US-Japanese alliance, the document also mentioned the dual purpose of empowering Tokyo “to become a regionally integrated and technologically advanced pillar of the Indo-Pacific security architecture” and to assist in modernization. self-defense forces.

The document also spoke of the need to align the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy with those of Australia, India and Japan, as well as the need to deepen trilateral cooperation with Japan and the United States. ‘Australia and a quadrilateral, or “Quad”, security relationship with India – all steps taken since the strategy was drafted.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Teruzuki (center) and the destroyer USS Mustin sail in formation in the Philippine Sea last July.  |  AMERICAN NAVY / VIA REUTERS
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Teruzuki (center) and the destroyer USS Mustin sail in formation in the Philippine Sea last July. | AMERICAN NAVY / VIA REUTERS

Medcalf of the Australian National University said that although the strategy does not mention it explicitly, the document “seems to recognize that effective US regional policy is as much about following as it is leading.

“It means constant support to allies and partners, rather than the pursuit of some shaky American primacy,” he said.

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Some, however, said they saw little new in the document or how it would reassure U.S. allies. Skeptics have said the decision to declassify now is an obvious push for policy continuity amid fears that a Biden administration has yet to be determined to challenge China’s attempt to dominate as strongly as Trump.

“It would be one thing if there was a secret unified field theory that explained Trump’s Asian policy quirk, but it’s just a bunch of mundane, bureaucratic buzzwords,” Van Jackson said. , Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. “The generous interpretation is that the administration is trying to tie Biden’s hands by releasing this now, but that seems like a bad strategy because there is nothing in it that would compel Biden.”

But Medcalf said the declassified framework would have lasting value as the start of a whole-of-government plan to manage the United States’ strategic rivalry with China.

“It is certainly not a bad thing to salvage the few accomplishments of an otherwise dark era in US foreign policy, while laying the groundwork for the new administration,” he said.

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