Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Indo-Pacific Strategy Quicklook

If you didn't already read Bryan's more cerebral challenge and reply review of The Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States yesterday, please read it now.

I've decided to take a slightly different take on the reading. Though there are some good points made and to reference in follow-on documents, my primary thought is one of frustration. Yes, this is not a military strategy document, but - as is correct - an all of government strategy where rightfully the military is in a supporting role. I went in hoping and expecting such an approach ... but I should be careful what I asked for. Too many good idea fairies had a role in promoting their petty agenda vice the nation's larger agenda.

There is my TL;DR summary, but if you're still with me, let's dive in.

On page two;

"The future of each of our nations - and indeed the world - depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead."

- President Joe Biden, Quad Leaders Summit, September 24, 2021

Free and open. Yes. That begs the question based on this observation: the Indo-Pacific is defined by its name - the two great Pacific and Indian Oceans. Throughout human history there is only one way you can keep oceans "free and open" and that is through a large and capable navy that enforces this state on the global commons that is the high seas.

Words mean things. 

The word "navy" is only mentioned once, and that was for the Royal Australian Navy. "Naval" not once. We do have a few different variations on "maritime" however; "maritime domain"(4); "maritime security"(3); "maritime space" (1); "maritime capacity" (1); and "maritime challenges" (1).

At least the U.S. Coast Guard got mentioned twice, which is good for them ... but this isn't the U.S. Coastal Waters strategy. Their inclusion does fit a pattern of the USCG being pulled away from its primary responsibilities.  Additionally, it is more politically acceptable to some in the present administration. If everyone has not realized it quite yet, the US Navy is not in possession of many advocates in the Executive Branch, and it shows. 

There are other priorities in play.

"Climate" was mentioned 16 times. The nations of the Pacific? 

- India=12

- Japan=10

- Taiwan=8

- Australia=7

- China=5

- Korea (any)=4

- Philippines=3

- Vietnam, France, United Kingdom=1 each

- Russia, Canada, Mexico, any Central or South American nation or region=0 (NB: as an all-of-government document, this is a mistake. The Western Hemispheric nations are in NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM as you can see in the pic above ... but that only a military concern. The rest of the government should not be so constrained).

Besides "Climate" getting 16 mentions;

- Democratic/Democracy=8

- Human Rights=2

- Gender equity=1

If you were looking for any new thinking, you're going to be sadly disappointed. If you were hoping to see domestic politics kept out, you will be even more disappointed.

It does start out strong;

The United States is an Indo-Pacific power. The region, stretching from our Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean, is home to more than half of the world’s people, nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy, and seven of the world’s largest militaries. More members of the U.S. military are based in the region than in any other outside the United States. It supports more than three million American jobs and is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the United States. In the years ahead, as the region drives as much as two-thirds of global economic growth, its influence will only grow—as will its importance to the United States.

It outlines our allies and close friends;

...ironclad treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the Philippines, and Thailand, laying the foundation of security that allowed regional democracies to flourish. Those ties expanded as the United States supported the region’s premier organizations, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN);

Though the post-Cold War efforts of the Bush 41 and Clinton Administration get snubbed, they do make the point that in broad terms this is a national, bi-partisan effort...as is proper;

The George W. Bush Administration understood Asia’s growing importance and engaged closely with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and India. The Obama Administration significantly accelerated American prioritization of Asia, investing new diplomatic, economic, and military resources there. And the Trump Administration also recognized the Indo-Pacific as the world’s center of gravity.

Credit is due for clearly identifying the central player in this story;

This intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior. In the process, the PRC is also undermining human rights and international law, including freedom of navigation, as well as other principles that have brought stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific. 
This opening was clearly where the adults were in charge. Things start to wobble a bit when the people from the cheap seats start to get a say. 

This one paragraph is just strange, as was the almost spoof-worthy constant bringing in of the neo-pagan climate change agenda ... but really, DPRK deserves a bit more than being clumped in to the weather;

The Indo-Pacific faces other major challenges. Climate change is growing ever-more severe as South Asia’s glaciers melt and the Pacific Islands battle existential rises in sea levels. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to inflict a painful human and economic toll across the region. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to expand its illicit nuclear weapons and missile programs. Indo-Pacific governments grapple with natural disasters, resource scarcity, internal conflict, and governance challenges. Left unchecked, these forces threaten to destabilize the region. 

At this point, we discover - besides proper fealty to the Cult of Gaia - what appears to be a Biden Administration buzzword that needs to in the middle square of all our BINGO cards; "resilience." They mention is a whopping 14 times. Here's just a sample of the context;

Our strategy, therefore, begins with building resilience within countries, as we have done in the United States. 

There's a whiff of "White Man's Burden" here (along with other neo-imperialist patronizing sprinkled throughout), but let's look at the definition of "resilience;" 




1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

"the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

"nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience"

Huh. They keep using that word, but I don't think they know what it means. The United States cannot do that across a swath of the planet with multitudes more population than we have. We are overselling here. Sure, sounds all Kennedy School of Government and McKinsey Consultingesque to make The Smartest People in the Room™ nod their heads, but no. Stop. Not here.  

Mixed in the growing clouds of chaff, there remain some good things. Nothing new, but that's OK. The fundamentals need repeating;

The United States will pursue five objectives in the Indo-Pacific—each in concert with our allies and partners, as well as with regional institutions. We will:






This paragraph from the second bullet and all the "wills" to generate action and name dropping The Quad is solid. If we work on just this, everyone's security would strengthen;

Those efforts begin with our closest alliances and partnerships, which we are renewing in innovative ways. We are deepening our five regional treaty alliances—with Australia, Japan, the ROK, the Philippines, and Thailand—and strengthening relationships with leading regional partners, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands. We will also encourage our allies and partners to strengthen their ties with one another, particularly Japan and the ROK. We will support and empower allies and partners as they take on regional leadership roles themselves, and we will work in flexible groupings that pool our collective strength to face up to the defining issues of our time, particularly through the Quad. We will continue to strengthen Quad cooperation on global health, climate change, critical and emerging technology, infrastructure, cyber, education, and clean energy, as we work together and with other partners toward a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Whoever snuck Mongolia in, I owe you a beer. Well done and exactly correct.

As for the people responsible for this but;

...we will deepen long-standing cooperation with ASEAN while launching new high-level engagements on health, climate and environment, energy, transportation, and gender equity and equality.  

I'm sorry, but whatever gaggle who clearly has zero experience in the world outside meetings at Davos, the lounge at a Sheraton somewhere, or musings in DC salons or Acela academic lounges - they need to be kept away from policy and go work at some Vermont liberal arts boarding school to teach Dadaism.

Domestic political fetishes exported to interfere with foreign policy and security requirements has brought more trouble to America abroad than any value it brought to people not holding an American passport. Feel good cultural imperialism - and that is what it is - that runs against the norms and deeply held beliefs of many nations we are trying to work on more fundamental issues with is a vanity that gets people killed. This is counter productive to the extreme.

Then we have another strange paragraph that seems wedged in. 

Allies and partners outside of the region are increasingly committing new attention to the Indo-Pacific, particularly the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). We will harness this opportunity to align our approaches and will implement our initiatives in coordination to multiply our effectiveness. We will partner to build regional connectivity with an emphasis on the digital domain, as well as to uphold international law, particularly in the maritime space. Along the way, we will build bridges between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic, and, increasingly, with other regions, by leading on shared agendas that drive collective action. We will also advance our common vision through close coordination at the United Nations.

Evidently someone has a pet theory of trying to spot-weld European security entities on to the Indo-Pacific. I'm sympathetic to that theory, but it is tertiary at the moment. I'm sorry, we can't get the Germans and French to focus on events a day's drive from Berlin. We can bring them in deeper in to Quad issues at a later date. Yes, France has a lot of waterspace in the area and it is nice for others to visit now and then, but let's not lose focus on ... oh, I don't know...Indonesia.

Focus people. Focus.

Speaking of trashy domestic vanity politics. I'm still giggling at this;

Through our Build Back Better World initiative with G7 partners,...

It's just embarrassing.

Of the five bullets, only #4 has a military focus. It dilutes that with the whole "integrated deterrence" that it says will be the "cornerstone of our approach."

As defined last year, it is word salad;

Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, fleshed out the concept ... "In terms of integrated … we mean, integrated across domains, so conventional, nuclear, cyber, space, informational," he said. "[It is also] integrated across theaters of competition and potential conflict [and] integrated across the spectrum of conflict from high intensity warfare to the gray zone."
Feel free to do something with that. Mortals can't.

Don't expect anything new about Taiwan or the NORKs. Most of what is said is either legalistic hedging or the status quo;

We will also work with partners inside and outside of the region to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, including by supporting Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, to ensure an environment in which Taiwan’s future is determined peacefully in accordance with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan’s people. As we do so, our approach remains consistent with our One China policy and our longstanding commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.


As the DPRK continues to develop destabilizing nuclear and missile programs, we will continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue, with the goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and addressing its ongoing human-rights violations and improving the lives and livelihoods of the North Korean people. At the same time, we are strengthening extended deterrence and coordination with the ROK and Japan to respond to DPRK provocations, remaining prepared to deter—and, if necessary, defeat—any aggression to the United States and our allies, while bolstering counter-proliferation efforts throughout the region. While reinforcing extended deterrence against nuclear- and ballistic-missile systems and other emerging threats to strategic stability, the United States will seek to work with a wide set of actors, including our rivals, to prevent and manage crises. 

If you thought bullet #5 about transnational threats would be terrorism, well, no. It appears that Gaia is mad and that makes her the transnational threat.

The Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of the climate crisis, but it is also essential to climate solutions. Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement will require the major economies in the region to align their targets with the Agreement’s temperature goals. This includes urging the PRC to commit to and implement actions in line with the level of ambition required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Our shared responses to the climate crisis are both a political imperative and an economic opportunity in the Indo-Pacific, home to 70% of the world’s natural disasters. The United States will work with partners to develop 2030 and 2050 targets, strategies, plans, and policies consistent with limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and will seek to serve as the preferred partner as the region transitions to a net-zero future. Through initiatives like Clean EDGE, we will incentivize clean-energy technology investment and deployment, seek to drive energy-sector decarbonization, and foster climate-aligned infrastructure investment. The United States will work with partners to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation and will support critical-infrastructure resilience and address energy security. We will also work to safeguard the health and sustainable use of the region’s vast oceans, including through the legal use of their resources, enhanced research cooperation, and the promotion of beneficial commerce and transportation.

We will partner with the region to help end the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilience against common threats. We will work closely with partners to strengthen their health systems to withstand future shocks, drive investments in global health security, and expand regional platforms to prevent, detect, and respond to emergencies, including biological threats. We will also work through the World Health Organization (WHO), the G7, the G20, and other multilateral fora to strengthen preparedness and response. We will advance our resilience efforts in close coordination with ASEAN, APEC, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and other organizations. 

It appears that the adults were allowed to kick off the action plan. Some solid stuff here;


We will launch, in early 2022, a new partnership that will promote and facilitate high-standards trade, govern the digital economy, improve supply-chain resiliency and security, catalyze investment in transparent, high-standards infrastructure, and build digital connectivity—doubling down on our economic ties to the region while contributing to broadly shared Indo-Pacific opportunity.


The United States will defend our interests, deter military aggression against our own country and our allies and partners—including across the Taiwan Strait—and promote regional security by developing new capabilities, concepts of operation, military activities, defense industrial initiatives, and a more resilient force posture. We will work with Congress to fund the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and the Maritime Security Initiative. Through the AUKUS partnership, we will identify the optimal pathway to deliver nuclear powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy at the earliest achievable date; in addition, we will deepen cooperation and enhance interoperability through a concrete program of work on advanced capabilities, including cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities.

I'm all about giving interns a chance to contribute, but who let the Model UN kid go unsupervised?

The Quad Fellowship will formally launch in 2022, recruiting its first class of 100 students from all four countries to pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields in the United States beginning in 2023.

OK. "The Quad" is Australia, India, and Japan in addition to the USA. Let's look at the numbers;

- 167,582 Indians are studying in the USA already.

- 11,785 Japanese. 

- Australian numbers are hard to find, perhaps a bit over 5,000

100 students won't make a ripple unless they all become CIA assets.

So, in the end, I kind of understand why this was dropped on Friday. We can now say we have a strategy, but there simply is nothing here we didn't already know.

In the end from 'ole Sal, there are five places we need to focus on to build our relationships in the Indo-Pacific. Don't worry about the details, they will reveal themselves.

- Security.

- Economic growth.

- Standard of living.

- Good governance and rule of law.

- Respect for local cultural norms.

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