The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, says that the major portion of US naval power will shift to the Pacific by 2020, as part of the Pentagon’s new “pivot to Asia” strategy. Though not totally unexpected, this news has caused quite a stir across Asia and raised tempers in China. However, there is rather less to this redeployment of naval forces than meets the eye. The US Navy has long kept half of its warships, aircraft, and logistics vessels in the Pacific. The new plan will see a modest increase in US naval forces in Asian waters; the ratio of Pacific to Atlantic naval units will increase to 60/40 or slightly more.
More of America’s 11 attack carriers will sail the Pacific. The Marine Corps, with its own air wings (“the navy’s army” as wags call it), will increase its presence in the Pacific theatre.
A 2,500-man US marine expeditionary force is being stationed in remote northern Australia. It is far enough from China to be of little military use, but close enough to raise tensions with Beijing and Jakarta. Its mission, besides bracing Aussie spirits, is uncertain. But the US grand strategy is clear. Just as the US sought to contain the Soviet Union during the cold war by surrounding it with American allies and bases, so Washington plans to do with China.
America is creating a sweeping arc of allies and bases that begins in Singapore, and moves northeast to the Philippines, then Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea, neatly bottling up China’s expanding naval forces. India is being encouraged to build powerful naval forces that can threaten China’s oil routes to the Mideast and keep its navy out of the Indian Ocean. Other US navel forces – the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, and units patrolling the Indian Ocean – will support the USA’s 7th Fleet that has ruled the Western Pacific since 1944.
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