How America and Its Indo-Pacific Allies Will Redefine Regional Security

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) is seen underway in the Pacific Ocean

From the perspective of threats—as well as interests—the region will clearly be front and center in American global security strategy.

Regional Freedom Caucus. Any regional framework must have a component built around the major democracies: Japan, India, Australia and the United States. Only recently have the world’s two largest democracies—the United States and India—looked more like strategic partners. That development has arisen due to a convergence of interest: concern about China’s drive for regional hegemony. Shared interests are a gravity pulling the great democracies; Democracy is a glue that will help the alignment endure.

While the regional democracies will become a band of brothers, they will likely attract a broader coalition of nations whose political systems share a common commitment to human rights and an interest in regional peace security. This, in turn, will serve to shape other elements of the framework, like the current suite of ASEAN-centric forums, to which Trump is reaffirming American commitment.

Peace through Strength. There will not be an arms race to be won in Asia. The United States currently lacks the military capacity to defend all its global interests in a two-conflict scenario. Trump is committed to fixing that problem. Indeed, many of America’s major friends and allies in the region are looking to strengthen their defensive arsenals. Denuclearization of North Korea remains the objective, but in the meantime, North Korea will face a combination of strategic and conventional deterrence and missile defense that will severely constrain its capacity to make mischief. Over time, China will find its expansion of military influence to be checked and it will discover that its capacity to limit the access that the United States and its allies have to sea lanes or key operational theaters to be significantly challenged.

Building Blocks of Asian Security

Over time, the security of architecture of Asia will emerge organically, largely as a matter of consensus among America and its friends and allies. Like the planners who plant grass and put sidewalks where the people walk, the United States will likely let a cooperative structure emerge from the regional players. Still, given what we know of America’s future intent for regional security, some pieces of the future framework would seem to be predictable.

Enter the Quad. Whatever framework emerges will be heavily influenced by a sustained, official quad dialogue—the four discussants being India, Japan, Australia and the United States. The administration has already announced that it will restart this initiative. The four nations reportedly will meet on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. The four countries are unlikely to drive the conversation alone. This will be a quad “plus” dialogue that will permit other powers to engage and influence the discussion. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Vietnam are some of the countries that will likely move in and out of the discussions.

From the Water’s Edge. Sustaining the capacity to operate in the maritime domain will be central to any effective regional-security architecture. Unlike naval operations of the nineteenth century, when mastery of the seas was all that mattered, operations in the modern maritime domain require the capacity to operate undersea, in space and cyberspace. The framework will integrate all of these and likely start by establishing a common maritime domain awareness picture for all the participants. Efforts will start with confidence-building measures such as joint patrols. Capacity-building initiatives will likely be accelerated as well. Pushing for the production of F-16 jets in India, for example, is the kind of initiative we might see more of.

Global Partnerships. The regional-security architecture of the future will likely have connections that extend beyond the region, because threats like transnational terrorist and criminal networks operate beyond the boundaries of Asia. Further, China’s plans for regional hegemony are partly based on establishing economic dominance through pathways that extend through the Middle East and Europe. Part of the framework will require dialogue and cooperation with key friends and allies in the Middle East and Europe. India’s cooperation with Israel is a good example of the lines of communication and cooperation to come.