September 8, 2014
Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy
In the words of Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy is dictated by a “presence mandate;” that is a duty to be present “where it matters, when it matters.” Today, with over half of the worlds tonnage passing through the Straits of Lombok, Malacca, and Sula, a third of the world’s crude oil and half of the liquid natural gas trade flowing through the East China Sea, and five of the U.S.’ top fifteen trading partners located along the Pacific and Indian Oceans, there is arguably no region in the world with more economic and strategic significance than East Asia. It is for these reasons that the U.S. “rebalance” is so significant. As China’s maritime strength continues to grow, and as economies throughout the region develop and flourish, Adm. Greenert believes that the U.S. has a political and economic duty to not only strengthen ties with its existing allies in the region but to also engage and assists emerging powers while working to form new and prosperous partnerships.
In order to effectively act out the “rebalance” to East Asia, Adm. Greenert plans to develop and enhance the U.S. presence along three core categories: “forces, capabilities, and understanding.” In this plan the U.S. will send new and modern ships to the Western Pacific – there are plans to send two new Destroyers and a new submarine to the region in 2015 – while also developing its air and cyber capabilities. However, in addition to these traditional means of building power, Adm. Greenert is determined to protect U.S. interests and develop regional stability by building multilateral partnerships and fostering regional cohesiveness. In an area where the world’s three largest economies – the U.S., China, and Japan – interact on a regular basis, it is crucial that minor altercations and misunderstandings don’t damage mutual long-term interests. It is his view that communication, cooperation, and transparency are key to building lasting and prosperous stability.
Already, positive steps have been taken to procure this goal. In addition to the strong military-military connections Adm. Greenert claims to enjoy with commanders throughout the region, the U.S. joined more than 20 other regional powers in voluntarily signing the regional Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in April of this year. This foundational agreement was put into practice in June of this year at the biannual RIMPAC exercises. Through these exercises, which this year included Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, China, and other regional powers, a basic communication and protocol and cooperation framework has been agreed upon and practiced in action.
In addition to RIMPAC, Adm. Greenert and the U.S. Navy have carried out several other bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral exercises in order to build trust and minimize miscalculations. In partnership with Japan and the Republic of Korea, the U.S. hosted the Pacific Dragon exercises, in which the naval powers actively shared and tracked ballistic missile launches. In Southeast Asia, in partnership with Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, the U.S. has hosted a series of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises, designed in order to strengthen skills and regional cooperation in the event of a natural disaster or search and rescue, such as that seen with Malaysian Airlines flight 370.
Lastly, Adm. Greenert sees a “golden opportunity” to strengthen ties with India through its Malabar exercises – which were expanded this year to include the USS George Washington and Japan.
However, even with all these developing partnerships, it can be argued that the major focus of the “rebalance” is to ensure stable and amicable ties with China. As the U.S.’ second largest trading partner, its third largest export market, and largest import market, it is crucial that a clear understanding and balance of power is achieved. In signing CUES and partaking in this year’s RIMPAC exercises, the U.S. and China have made significant steps in building normalized relations. In addition to these measures, Adm. Greenert laid out several additional initiatives – such as increasing the number of official port visits and personnel exchanges – through which he believes greater U.S.-China cooperation can be achieved.
With an increasing amount of economic, strategic, and political interests tied to the region, it is crucial that the U.S. continue to develop an array of capable and coordinated partnerships throughout South and East Asia. As the region develops and becomes increasingly interconnected, no country can thrive unilaterally. For the U.S., and all countries in the region, stability and prosperity can only be achieved through cooperation and transparency. Even in the military, force alone is not enough.