Such examples are legion. It’s good to see allies take ownership of their own security, and of freedom of the sea. The French and British governments have bruited about a return to Asia, possibly including naval bases in the South China Sea where aircraft-carrier groups can tarry. Here’s how a grand bargain could work should the USSC team get its way. A Golden Rule governs alliances and ententes of all types: the ally who furnishes the gold makes the rules. If Washington could provide for the common defense all by itself, it would have little reason to consult with allies or heed their advice. It would remain the sole agenda-setter. But if others contribute significant resources of their own, Washington must consult with them and consider—and perhaps embrace—their advice. U.S. leaders often deferred to allies during the Cold War, allowing them a say in policy and strategy. Consensus prevailed for the most part, even when decisions ran afoul of American preferences. And U.S. alliances proved resilient for the most part.
So America needs to rediscover the habit of strategic humility after being top dog for a generation. Here’s what Indo-Pacific allies need to do: help us help you. Even if island-chain defense works out, U.S. reinforcements must gain access to the Western Pacific to prevail in wartime. PLA commanders have predicated their access-denial strategy on disheartening their U.S. counterparts or convincing the U.S. administration the military effort cannot succeed at a cost the country is prepared to pay. Allies and partners should devise strategies and operations that hold down the price of access for U.S. forces—and thus make it thinkable if not easy for an American president to order them into combat.
Let’s march jointly in the Indo-Pacific.
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone. This article is being republished due to reader interest.