The time is right to pursue collective security in Asia Pacific—here, ships of five regional navies gather in Australian waters in March 1995 for Kakadu II—and the challenge is to encourage countries not accustomed to multilateral activities to participate. For the first time, Indonesia, normally reticent about moving beyond bilateral military maneuvers, sent a frigate for the harbor phase of the exercise.
In the swirl of the wake left behind by the passing of the Cold War, there are opportunities for world peace that exceed those of the Wilsonian period at the end of World War I. However, Asia Pacific, one of the most dynamic and potentially eruptive regions of the world, is in danger of being overlooked as other world developments mask the changes taking place there.
Asia Pacific has been undergoing an economic miracle that has changed the face of the region. The miracle manifests itself in high growth rates, which Greg Cashman1 in his book What Causes War notes is often a significant factor leading to war. Many other causes of war described in Cashman’s book are evolving in modern Asia, including arms proliferation, uneven growth, competition for resources, and long-standing rivalries. Could it be that as Europe retreats from the brink of war, Asia Pacific is creating the environment most suited to such conflict?
The time is opportune to pursue cooperative security in the Asia-Pacific region. Economic success has created an aura of cooperative goodwill and, unlike at the end of the world wars, nationalism is not at exceptionally high levels. However, this window of opportunity may not last, as countries jostle to gain a comfortable strategy disposition as new arrangements emerge. The consolidation of regional cooperation in Asia deserves renewed efforts to ensure that stability, peace, and productivity are maintained.
New Economies, New Horizons
From 1982 to 1992, total world merchandise trade with Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries grew at an astonishing 13% per year.2 Today, the 18 member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum produce $14 trillion and export $1.7 trillion of goods annually—about one half of the world’s totals.3 Indications are that this progress will remain steady, if not improve.
This economic boom and industrialization has brought a greater degree of economic well-being, which in turn has brought attention to the security needs of individual nations and provided them with the means to do something about them. The resulting programs of modernization and rearmament—a proliferation commonly referred to as the Asian arms race—have created a security dilemma, which occurs when one country uses its new-found wealth to modernize and expand its defense force to improve its security. This causes concern among neighboring countries, which then also modernize and rearm. The result is that security is actually worse than before the arms race began.
Military-to-military contacts are one way to reduce tensions and increase trust. As each country develops its armed forces, greater military contact—through exercises, talks, and training—follows. This greater interaction, combined with the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal at the end of the Cold War, has drawn political attention to the inadequacies of current security arrangements and highlighted the potential for greater regional cooperation.
Threats and Opportunities
The Asian region, considered strategically benign by European and Middle East standards, nevertheless faces many threats to its stability: the world’s fastest growing arms markets, unresolved ideological differences, competing territorial claims, distrust of a resurrected Japan, and rising fear of an increasingly powerful China. In addition, Korea remains as an unrepentant if anachronistic reminder of the Cold War, Cambodia teeters on new, untested democratic legs, and Myanmar’s military dictatorship’s attempt to gain international acceptance for its hardline domestic policies could fail, with dire consequences.4
On the positive side, there seems to be a genuine will among governments in the region to resolve issues by peaceful means. For example, the states that lay claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea have announced that they intend to seek a peaceful settlement.5 Similarly, peaceful solutions to claims to Sabak and Sarawak are envisaged.
Despite the best intentions, resolution of such issues should not be left to national leaders alone. As Dr. Lee Boon Yong, Singapore’s Minister for Defense and Minister for Labor, said:
Peace and Security to all countries can never be taken for granted. . . . What is today a calm and peaceful environment may change drastically in the future .... it is necessary for each country to maintain its ability to look to its own security needs and as part of the process, there is a need to establish relationship arrangements which will contribute to the process of country’s security.6
Unlike many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is comfortable with cooperative security arrangements in an environment that is not defined by an immediate threat; the challenge is to encourage other countries to participate.
U.S. Strategy for Asia Pacific
When the Cold War ended, there were concerns that the call for a peace dividend would result in a contraction of U.S. foreign policy and that the United States would return to isolationist policies, leaving a power vacuum. These fears were unfounded. A prosperous and open Asia Pacific is key to U.S. economic health.7 Despite its withdrawal from the Philippines, the United States likely will remain engaged in regional affairs.
This is vital for regional security as it provides welcome leadership and U.S. involvement in countering any power imbalance that may arise, as well as reducing the need for proliferation. It also will create an environment in which immature democracies can take root and grow, while countering regimes of tyranny.
Of the world’s regions, Asia Pacific offers the greatest possibility for success for U.S. engagement and enlargement strategies. U.S. National Security Strategy gives continued support to developments in the region, and there is every indication that the United States is approaching its superpower responsibilities in a measured and sensitive way. The biggest risk is an overactive or impatient U.S. administration that might upset the steady, patient methodologies of the region’s cultures. As Singapore’s elder statesmen Lee Kuon Yew explains.
No one expects America to maintain the balance in the Pacific because the peoples of Asia are culturally and politically compatible with America. I hope America will do so because the interests of Japan and the smaller states in East Asia are congruent with America’s.8
During the Cold War, exercises aimed at building trust and reducing tensions were dubbed confidence and security building measures. Today, in Asia Pacific, it is more appropriate and commonly accepted to refer to such initiatives as trust building measures (TBMs).9
The ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference has been examining ways to promote TBMs, principally by increasing political dialogue and information exchange. The development of TBMs relies on a top-down political approach to identifying matters of mutual benefit that will increase trust and understanding at a pace comfortable for all participants. Initial proposals under examination include:
- Some exchange of military information
- A Regional Security Studies Center
- A maritime information data base
- Strategic planning exchanges
- Exchange of military observers
- Peacekeeping training
Depending on the success of these proposals, TBMs for the next decade may include:
- Enhanced maritime cooperation
- A regional arms register
- Notification of military deployments
- A multinational agreement on the avoidance of naval incidents
During the Cold War, armed forces planned for war; their role was to fight and win. With the move back from the brink of superpower war, however, the role of the defense force must expand to address peacetime activities, namely, how armies, navies, and air forces can better contribute to engagement.
This brings into question the definition of presence. Presence often is seen as gunboat diplomacy—an armed force able to coerce, intimidate, and, if necessary, strike in support of national interests. The U.S. National Security and Military Strategies, however, support the idea that presence is more than the deployment of armed forces and occasional exercises with regional forces. These strategies require the optimization of military-to-military contacts in support of alliances and coalitions to increase regional security and, ultimately, to fight combined if required.
Strategic rhetoric is not being matched at the operational level with initiatives that support engagement and enlargement. In this era of dwindling resources, a revolutionary approach to coalition preparedness and operational training is required if regional security is to be optimized.
Similar to the measured top-down political approach, the military can pursue a graduated bottom-up approach that will complement cooperative economic and political activities. But the methodologies developed in Europe to enhance confidence and security building measures cannot be applied in an indiscriminate and open-ended manner; the security situation in the Asia Pacific region is different. It is multipolar rather than bipolar, with many countries at different levels and rates of economic growth. The Asian way of problem solving also is different. While equally deterministic, it places greater emphasis on patient incremental progress toward the desired solution, rather than a rapid resolution, as is common in Western culture.
In addition, there remain cultural and ideological barriers to increased military cooperation. The role of the military in the pluralistic engagement of Asia Pacific is changing and has the potential to have a greater proportional impact than might be expected. This is because the military plays a significant political role in many Asian countries and, as such, influences the development of foreign policy and regional strategy to a greater degree than in mature Western democracies.
All arms of the military have unique and important roles to play in the engagement of Asia Pacific, but the Navy is especially well placed to capitalize on areas of common interest. This is because interests and concerns in the region tend to converge on maritime issues: piracy, search and rescue, marine environmental damage, freedom of the seas in archipelagic waters, and undersea resources.
The greater involvement of navies—particularly at the formative stages of international diplomacy—should not be surprising. In the Asia-Pacific region, first contact between communities historically has been by sea, and even today countries generally are more comfortable with naval deployments that facilitate exercises outside territorial boundaries. Foreign ship visits are an accepted part of international relationships. In contrast, a visiting army battalion or squadron of F-15s represents a higher degree of sovereignty intimidation that becomes acceptable only when the relationship has matured to a higher level of trust and cooperation.
Traditional naval deployments and exercises suffer from the tyranny of isolation. They are challenging, busy, often exciting, and rewarding, but to opinion makers, politicians, and the public ashore, out of sight usually means out of mind. As for the participants on board the ships, there is no interaction at the individual level apart from the voice on the other end of the radio and perhaps brief meetings at post-exercise debriefings. There is little cultural cross-pollination and hence little value added to the process of developing TBMs. There is potential for greater value.
Military proposals for cooperative activities need to optimize personal contact and be structured so that nonthreatening, readily acceptable, inexpensive, useful activities precede more complex and costly activities. In the first category, discussions on military and strategic issues at all levels of military command help develop habits of cooperation. These are common today at the higher levels, but dialogue activities could be expanded at the individual and ship level. For example, visiting command teams could undertake tactical floor games and command team training in simulators ashore. Similarly, mutual training activities in facilities ashore and on board each other’s ships, leadership expeditions that take the form of adventure training, combined recreational pursuits, and cultural visits could become a greater part of allied exercises. At senior levels interaction between staff colleges, tactical schools, peacekeeping training centers, force development agencies, and acquisition projects add to the fabric of TBMs.
The opportunities for interaction at the personal level within the defense environment and local communities are limited only by one’s imagination and would greatly improve understanding and increase cooperation. Although some activities would need official funding, the astute resource manager will note that increased value comes at little cost. Most of the activities identified can be conducted when ships are in harbor, with commensurate savings in fuel costs.
More complex activities in the second category are conducted at sea and maximize personal exchanges during more traditional forms of naval exercises. The operational benefits normally are consolidated by in-harbor post-exercise discussions that aim to build on experience and plan for future activities.
The Move to Multilateralism
Many regional navies conduct activities that encourage such interaction, but on a bilateral basis. In fact, except for those nations already accustomed to multilateral activities—for example, Five Power Defense Arrangement members Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand—the majority of military contacts in Asia Pacific remain bilateral. The challenge for political leaders and military commanders is to broaden this contact to multilateral arrangements involving military organizations throughout the region.
The U.S. Security and Military Strategies clearly outline the importance of coalitions in support of U.S. interests and regional and global security:
Our armed forces will most often fight in concert with regional allies and friends as coalitions can decisively increase combat power and lead to a more rapid and favorable outcome to the conflict.10
Yet at the operational level, the preparedness of regional navies to undertake coalition warfare is poor. For example, electromagnetic connectivity is at low levels, combined rules of engagement are seldom practiced, and command arrangements often are loosely defined to demonstrate political unity rather than to achieve operational effectiveness.
The Gulf War is often extolled as an example of successful coalition warfare—and it was, as far as it went. In the maritime environment, however, it was hardly a test of combined combat. The enemy was not robust. There was no real air threat, no electronic warfare, no submarines, and limited surface warfare. Coalition forces generally were allocated geographic areas and tasked to support an overwhelming U.S. effort. Forces were not integrated and command-and-control arrangements were not formalized. Coalition parties surely were needed and appreciated, but from a maritime perspective, the Gulf War was more a complex exposition of goodwill, cooperation, and logistical achievement.
Admiral William Owens, U.S. Navy, describes two models for coalitions. The first is essentially demonstrative and is formed to show political support. The second is a more complex arrangement that aims for greater interoperability in such functions as communications and intelligence. Consequently, the second model is designed to be more operationally functional. Recognizing that Desert Storm tended toward the first model. Admiral Owens notes that the ability of the United States to fulfill its role as a dominant member of a coalition or as core coordinator will depend on the groundwork undertaken before a coalition-forming crisis emerges.
Peacetime interaction—military to military and political to political—is really the only way to reduce the time it takes to achieve operational coordination in a crisis.11
In recent years, the purple wave of jointness has swept through U.S. and other nations’ forces. Joint operations generally are recognized as a way to maintain operational capability in the face of dwindling budgets and to provide a commander with a more flexible range of capabilities that optimize the individual services’ unique and complementary capabilities." This argument is readily extended to combined operations. Combined operations can do for regional security what jointness does for national security, and during peacetime, they are a force multiplier for military presence.
Changing Nature of Warfare
Post-Cold War military presence has shifted its focus from power projection to regional engagement; warfare has shifted its focus from blue-water confrontation to littoral engagements. The enemy is no longer the massed might of Soviet air and sea power but the more evasive threat of quiet diesel submarines or missile-armed patrol boats lurking in island waters, or short-range low-flying missile-armed aircraft that give little electronic or radar warning of their approach.
While U.S. forces are struggling with these new challenges, smaller navies are reveling in the change. In Asia Pacific, the priority always has been the regional threat, and this kind of warfare is the bread and butter of the area’s naval forces. Considerable capability, skill, and experience exists and is ready to be tapped in the cause of advancing regional security. Examples include modem mine countermeasures vessels and diving teams specializing in shallow-water mine countermeasures—a capability that has lapsed in the U.S. Navy; the archipelagic warfare expertise possessed by Malaysia; Indonesian and Singaporean missile patrol boats; and the extensive conventional submarine warfare capability of the Australian, Indonesian, and Japanese navies.
U.S. operational planners must determine how best to tap these resources for the mutual benefit of U.S. and allied navies, while achieving strategic military presence and regional operational objectives within available resources. The traditional method has been to conduct a series of bilateral exercises. Unfortunately, as the planner’s spread sheet becomes a nightmare of competing requirements and dwindling assets, schemes are devised to retain the veneer of activity at less cost. The reality of reductions in personnel, funding, and force structure and of increasing national tasks must be balanced against regional perceptions of disengagement. Bilateral exercises such as UNITAS in South America and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in Asia Pacific are examples of traditional operational planning that maintains a semblance of presence and activity but fails to achieve real increases in the effect of U.S. presence or operational preparedness to undertake coalition warfare. A different approach is warranted.
Multilateral combined exercises and training deployments have the potential to raise the profile of regional engagement while adding meat to the skeleton of coalition warfare. RimPac is a multilateral combined exercise, but it is also an example of how such exercises have failed to capitalize on changes wrought since the end of the Cold War.
RimPac takes place either in Hawaii or off the U.S. West Coast and generally simulates the Mahanian clash of fleets in a blue-water environment. This asset rich environment provides excellent operator training but it misses the challenges of operating in the archipelagic waters around Australia or the Philippines, where the expertise of regional navies could be brought to bear.
Similarly, multilateral combined training deployments through the region would achieve an order of magnitude increase in local awareness, greatly adding to the value of presence, regional security, and coalition preparedness. The political awareness, public interest, and media coverage of a multinational combined exercise and port visits involving ships from five, six, or seven countries would provide an excellent backdrop to high-level visits and regional security talks. Such visits have the potential to optimize the essential ingredients of presence: awareness and dialogue.
On a more professional level, the problems of interoperability—from procedures and communications to tactics and command and control—would be addressed, not on a bilateral basis, which only makes the next bilateral exercise more advanced, but on a multilateral basis, which serves the greater cause of coalition warfare and preparedness.
Asia Pacific now has the unique opportunity to harness the region’s dynamic forces to provide the basis for ongoing regional security. Combined military operations that optimize personal contact, cultural cross-pollination, and coalition preparedness need to be developed, and the United States has a vital role to play. It is time to develop operational initiatives in support of coalition preparedness and regional security.
1 Greg Cashman, What Causes War (New York: Lexington Books, 1993), p. 135.
2 The APEC Trade and Investment, November 1993, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra. Australia.
3 A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, The White House, February 1995.
4 William Ashton, “Beware of SLORC’s Charm Offensive in Myanmar,” Asia Pacific Defense Reporter, September 1994.
5 Transcript of Interview, Joint News Conference, second Five Power Defense Arrangement Defense Minister’s Conference, Singapore. 20 September 1994.
7 A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, The White House, February 1995.
8 “How to Live with China: Lee Kuan Yew’s Prescription,” Asia Pacific Defense Reporter, August- September 1994.
9 Australian Paper “Practical Proposals for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region," developed for the ASEAN PMC, dated April 1994. wNational Military Strategy of the United States of America, February 1995.
10 Adm. William A. Owens, USN, "Naval Voyage to an Uncharted World,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1994. pp. 30-34.
11 National Military Strategy of the United States of America, February 1995.
Captain Robertson is commanding officer of HMAS Hobart. He was president of the Naval Command College Class of 1995 at Newport. Rhode Island, and has served as commanding officer of HMAS Sydney and chief staff officer (operations) at Maritime Headquarters. Australia.