20 January 2016

Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships

Michael J. GreenKathleen H. HicksMark F. Cancian, Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025: Capabilities, Presence, and Partnerships (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies, 19 January 2016).

An Independent Review of U.S. Defense Strategy in the Asia-Pacific

Contributors: Ernest Bower, Victor Cha, Heather Conley, Zack Cooper, Ryan Crotty, Melissa Dalton, Bonnie Glaser, Rebecca Hersman, Murray Hiebert, Christopher Johnson, Thomas Karako, Stephanie Sanok Kostro, Gregory Poling, Richard Rossow, John Schaus, Sharon Squassoni, Nicholas Szechenyi, Denise Zheng

In 2015, Congress tasked the Department of Defense to commission an independent assessment of U.S. military strategy and force posture in the Asia-Pacific, as well as that of U.S. allies and partners, over the next decade. This CSIS study fulfills that congressional requirement. The authors assess U.S. progress to date and recommend initiatives necessary to protect U.S. interests in the Pacific Command area of responsibility through 2025. Four lines of effort are highlighted: (1) Washington needs to continue aligning Asia strategy within the U.S. government and with allies and partners; (2) U.S. leaders should accelerate efforts to strengthen ally and partner capability, capacity, resilience, and interoperability; (3) the United States should sustain and expand U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region; and (4) the United States should accelerate development of innovative capabilities and concepts for U.S. forces.

Click here to download full report

Click here to download abridged version.


Andrew S. Erickson, “New U.S. Security Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough on South China Sea,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2015.
… 1. Issue a comprehensive Asia-Pacific Strategy. Such a document would offer the broader context lacking in the Pentagon’s publication and clarify to allies, partners and potential challengers alike that all key executive branch stakeholders are on board—currently not a universally-shared perception. …

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations,” Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, “U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to PLA Naval Forces” hearing, Washington, DC, 11 December 2013.

… While conflict with China should be avoided if at all possible, China must also be prevented from significantly coercing its neighbors or altering the region’s status quo. Failure to emphasize this point as well risks making the U.S. appear weak and acquiescent to Chinese assertiveness, both to Beijing and to regional allies, friends, and partners. This risks miscalculation on Beijing’s part. It also makes it unclear to taxpayers and their representatives why significant U.S. military investments are needed in a time of austerity. This should be framed in terms of ensuring the continued functioning of the existing international system. Washington should clarify, as necessary, that it is not trying to contain Beijing per se, but rather to resist any Chinese actions that would harm the existing system.
The U.S. has upped the ante ambitiously, particularly in the South China Sea, while a rising and already potent China is playing a long game. The worst possible approach would be for the U.S., having anted up, to fail to follow through adequately, both in capability and in action. If both private and public expectations of America’s “walk” matching its “talk” are not met across the Asia-Pacific, and views of a “hollow rebalancing” take hold, the results could be worse than not having tried in the first place. 
To prevent such failure, as well as the destabilization of a vital but vulnerable region, the U.S. must maintain the credibility of regional presence and demonstrated capability. This is essential to renew and intensify the U.S. role in the region. The credibility of continuous naval presence and capability is essential. As the latest U.S. Maritime Strategy emphasizes, “trust and confidence cannot be surged.” That is one reason why the U.S. would not be able to address anywhere near its present objectives if it allowed itself to diminish to a mere “offshore balancer.” 
The Asia-Pacific Rebalance must thus be comprehensive, credible, and sustained (properly funded). Here shipborne trade and ship numbers (particularly of nuclear-powered attack submarines) will speak much louder than sermons or soundbites, both to China, and perhaps equally importantly, to longstanding and newly emerging U.S. partners in the region. Lee Kuan Yew offers wisdom of particular relevance to the Asia-Pacific rebalance: “Americans seem to think that Asia is like a movie and that you can freeze developments out here whenever the U.S. becomes intensely involved elsewhere in the world. It does not work like that. If the United States wants to substantially affect the strategic evolution of Asia, it cannot come and go.”6 
At a minimum, the U.S. must continue to deter the use—or threat—of force to resolve Asia-Pacific disputes and cooperate where it can until Beijing embraces the mutual efforts required for the two Pacific powers to achieve durable, if frequently or even continuously competitive, coexistence. To ensure this, the U.S. should demonstrate the capability to deny China the ability to seize and hold disputed territories. 
The need to avoid an insular approach, combined with the increasing inability for Washington to exercise undifferentiated global preeminence, makes it necessary to craft a coherent Asia-Pacific Strategy. Subordination of vital regional realities to global strategy may have been appropriate during the Cold War, when the U.S. confronted a global adversary that threatened vulnerable Euro-Atlantic allies directly, and in the subsequent “unipolar moment,” when U.S. hegemony was undisputed and substantial regional challengers and direct global terrorist threats had yet to manifest themselves, but it is no longer sufficient. Failure to craft an explicit comprehensive Asia-Pacific Strategy will complicate efforts to “see the big picture” across the entire diplomacy, information, military, and economic (DIME) spectrum and beyond. The most relevant example to build on is a series of unclassified regional policy documents issued by the Office of International Security Affairs in the late 1990s.7 This strategy should facilitate a coordinated, whole-of-government approach. At the same time, it should also support a clear bureaucratic division of labor based on which agency (or agencies, in special cases) is best placed to lead on and address a given issue. This will help to maximize efficiency and effectiveness by offering clear strategic guidance, aligning resources, and ensuring that agencies not ideally placed to contribute in a given area are not motivated or pressured to waste resources chasing headlines. The U.S. must (1) engage with China, (2) hedge against its possible negative behavior, and (3) work with its allies, friends, and other partners (including China) to further positive outcomes in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Accordingly, U.S. policymakers should base their response to China’s naval/military development on the following principles: 
  • Understand key dynamics of geography, physics, economics, and politics.
  • Develop an Asia-Pacific Strategy. 
  • Support rhetoric with resources. 
  • Emphasize and demonstrate U.S. identity as an Asia-Pacific power. 
  • Maintain regional presence and credibility. 
  • Sustain alliances and partnerships and leverage them in new ways. 
  • Engage and cooperate with China where productive to build on substantial shared interests and interdependence. 
  • Accord China international status in proportion to its international contributions. 
  • Focus military and strategic hedging on resisting China’s regional exceptionalism. 
  • Resist intimidation and coercion, pass Beijing’s tests. 
  • Prevent China from using force, or threat of force, to address regional disputes or alter the region’s status quo. 
  • Pursue deterrence by denial capabilities as a minimal foundation. 
  • Avoid making concessions during China’s growth slowdown, while emphasizing that genuine constructiveness and reciprocity may be possible if it ultimately moderates its demands. …