US Military in Asia: 'Places not Bases'
As part of its much touted ‘pivot to Asia’, the United States is beefing up its forward military presence in Asia after nearly two decades of preoccupation with the Middle East.
Despite the recently announced defence cuts, the Obama Administration has declared that it will raise its military profile in East Asia amidst the rapid rise of China and its assertive posture in the Western Pacific.
Last week, the United States and the Philippines announced a political decision to expand bilateral security cooperation. The United States will do more joint military exercises with the Philippines, rotate more troops through the country and increase the maritime surveillance of the South China Sea from the island nation.
The Philippines, a former colony of the United States had compelled Washington in the early 1990s to vacate its large naval base in the Subic Bay and the Clark’s air force base.
Now locked in a deepening territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea, Manila is inviting the US military back in.
The move comes two months after the US President Barack Obama announced during a visit to Australia that the United States would deploy up to 2,500 Marines in the northern city of Darwin by 2016-17.
The United States also plans to position on a regular basis its newest warships in Singapore that sits astride the Malacca Straits that connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Washington, however, insists that it has no intention of establishing new military bases in Asia, beyond those it already has in Japan and South Korea.
“There is no desire nor view right now that the US is seeking basing options anywhere in the Asia-Pacific theater,” Admiral Robert Willard, who heads the US Pacific Command, told a news conference in Washington last week.
“Initiatives such as Australia offered or such as Singapore offered to allow us to rotate forces from locations that are closer and more adjacent to Southeast Asia afford Pacific Command the opportunity to more conveniently have its presence there and felt,” he said.
Washington is fully aware that full fledged military bases of the traditional kind generate intense political opposition in host countries and is not worth the unending political headache.
The strategy, instead, is to seek ‘places’ through which the US could move its forces on a regular basis, preposition some equipment, and have pre-negotiated arrangements for relief and resupply.
The US is not the only one looking for such ‘places’ to sustain its forward military presence around the world. China, whose economic and political interests in the Indian Ocean are growing, is said to be considering similar arrangements.
Other major powers like Russia, France and Japan have established such facilities in the Indian Ocean littoral.
If the Indian Navy is to establish itself as a true blue water force, Delhi too will need to work out special political arrangements to facilitate military operations far from the home territory.
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