America is Losing Tomorrow’s War in the Indo-Pacific

America is Losing Tomorrow’s War in the Indo-Pacific

Washington's Foreign Military Financing program is wholly de-aligned with its stated Asia focus. 


In 2011, the Obama administration declared a “strategic pivot” to Asia away from the Middle East. Nearly a decade later, in October 2022, the Biden White House published a National Security Strategy that stated, “No region will be of more significance to the world and everyday Americans than the Indo-Pacific.” In the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, the “sense of Congress” declared its goal to “strengthen United States defense alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region to further the comparative advantage of the United States in strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China.” Today, despite all of these grand declarations, 86 percent of the annual U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) still goes overwhelmingly, as it has for decades, to nations in the Middle East. 

Within that overwhelming portion of the pie, the top beneficiaries of this largesse include long-time security partners Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Of the roughly $13.2 billion Congress placed in the FMF account in Fiscal Year 2024, Egypt’s security assistance is roughly $1.3 billion, and Israel’s share is a tremendous $6.8 billion


The remaining thirty-four countries authorized to receive this grant assistance, including two U.S. mutual defense pact allies in the Indo-Pacific (the Philippines and Thailand), must split the leftovers among themselves even though they are in a more strategically important region according to the United States National Security Strategy. All told, under 2 percent of yearly FMF funding goes towards America’s priority theater—the Indo-Pacific. This disparity became even greater as Congress recently passed a supplemental foreign aid package designed primarily to provide security assistance to Ukraine and Israel. Meanwhile, a disproportionately low $2 billion was allocated for the Indo-Pacific region. The United States should continue to support Ukraine and Israel’s right to self-defense. Still, it also must allocate foreign military assistance more effectively and in line with the stated U.S. strategy.

The current U.S. National Security Strategy refers to Israel four times and does not mention Egypt. Meanwhile, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) draws twelve references. The current U.S. National Defense Strategy states that the Department of Defense’s top four priorities are: 1) defending the homeland; 2) deterring strategic attacks against the U.S. and our Allies; 3) “deterring aggression while being prepared to prevail in conflict when necessary—prioritizing the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific region, then the Russia challenge in Europe;” and 4) building a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem. The U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, recently stated that his top priorities “in order ... are China, China, China” and that “we are out of time.” 

In March, Admiral John Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, testified to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that “the PRC is the only country that has the capability, capacity, and intent to upend the international order.” China is the pacing challenge, an existential threat to the United States, and a revisionist power developing a fast-growing nuclear arsenal with little interest in arms control. The United States must urgently put more money into the Indo-Pacific theater to build a resilient, interoperable “joint force” with its allies and partners in that top strategic region. 

In an era where budget resources are becoming increasingly scarce, adapting U.S. foreign military assistance policies to increase aid to the Indo-Pacific region will be challenging. According to the Congressional Research Service, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.” In that time, the United States has provided Israel with a total of $300.5 billion (adjusted for inflation). The United States has also renewed its third, ten-year Memorandum of Understanding with Israel through 2028, which, while not legally binding, pledges another $38 billion in military aid, including $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing.

To rise to the strategic challenges of an increasingly aggressive China, U.S. Foreign Military Financing must urgently focus more resources on supporting allies and partners in the First and Second Island Chains, where they are constantly contending with Chinese gray zone and military coercions. Notwithstanding the ongoing conflicts between Israel, Iran, and Hamas, as well as from Iranian-backed Houthis causing Red Sea disruptions, no conflict in the Middle East existentially threatens the United States itself. Iran today is a sub-nuclear power competing for regional, not global hegemony. 

The United States and its regional allies maintain distinct military superiority in the Middle East, as demonstrated by the interception of the vast majority of Iran’s April 13 drone and missile strikes by Israeli and allied defenses. Israel remains “one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world,” due in large part to Israel’s unique access to the top drawer of U.S. weaponry. In 2022, Israel ranked as the world’s fourth strongest military and the tenth most powerful country. Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, said, “The U.S.-Israel relationship would be much healthier without this dependence [on the United States]. Time for Israel at 75 to stand on its own two feet.”

Likewise, in Europe, NATO allies should continue accelerating spending to strengthen their defense readiness and fund more military assistance to Ukraine. Picking up more of their share of the burden for European security should help free up American resources to support allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific to address the existential strategic threat posed by the PRC.

The United States must continue to honor its obligations to NATO, Israel, and Egypt, consistent with the 1978 Camp David Accord commitments. However, the United States must adjust its Foreign Military Financing program to address current U.S. national security imperatives more effectively. A sizeable and readily apparent funding increase for the Indo-Pacific would send a strong political signal to the PRC that the United States is serious about its commitments and would also reassure U.S. allies across Asia. 

Such a prioritization does not necessarily mean a zero-sum game—taking security assistance from the Middle East or Ukraine and reallocating it to allies in the Indo-Pacific—although that argument exists. Reprioritizing available resources across the U.S. budget to allocate more FMF dollars toward the Indo-Pacific is urgently required to achieve the U.S. Government’s National Security Strategy. It is time for Congress to make some tough calls by decisively increasing U.S. Foreign Military Financing to the region where the United States faces its most significant existential risk—the Indo-Pacific. 

Lieutenant Commander Jonathan G. Wachtel is a U.S. Navy Foreign Area Officer and naval strategist currently assigned as the Navy’s Federal Executive Fellow at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University. The personal opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or estimates of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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