‘This is the navy’s time’: Experts call on US Senate Committee on Armed Services to refocus military efforts in Asia

By Jessica Perry

Washington, D.C. — A panel of four defense policy experts called on the Committee on Armed Services to restructure U.S. involvement in the Asia-Pacific theater during a Senate hearing on April 14. Among the main methods discussed were naval expansion and budget reassessment, which the experts said would allow for the creation of a more comprehensive military plan.

“For us to get into Asia, the price to get into this disco has gone up dramatically,” said Graham T. Allison, a Harvard professor and national security and defense analyst. “We’ve got to focus more of our military, our trade, [and] our economic engagement there to really be successful.”

Each speaker argued his case for reassessing the strategy in the Asia-Pacific area, but they all agreed that it is in the U.S.’s best interest to shift away from relations in the Middle East to mutually beneficial relations in Asia.

“One of the great benefits of Asia is that this is essentially a bipartisan commitment,” Allison said. “I believe we can sustain this bipartisan purpose into Asia, into the 21st century.”

In order to do that, Michael J. Green from the Center for Strategic and International Studies presented a comprehensive military plan. First, he suggested enhancing deterrence capabilities for China and North Korea; second, keeping the peace by investing in “shaping activities,” which he said would keep China from pressuring weak areas like the Philippines; third, harnessing power from all branches of government instead of just from the Pentagon; and fourth, to reconfigure American rhetoric about China.

All of these suggestions were based on precedence set in previous conflicts. “We haven’t really re-evaluated some of our strong position historically in Asia, but it’s a position that needs constant refurbishment,” Allison said.

Admiral Gary Roughhead elaborated on the topic of military strategy. He suggested using the previous U.S. maritime strategy of the 1980s and applying it to the current situation, which also fed into the discussion’s theme of naval expansion.

Allison advocated for more ships with technological advances so that the Navy can prosper. “I want the Navy to stand up,” he said. “This is the Navy’s time. This is a period for dramatic, fresh thinking…from our expeditionary men and women in white.”

With that, each speaker proposed a critical general military expansion and a solid plan to react to China’s changes. Roughhead described the state of the People’s Liberation Army in China as increasingly complex, and how that new position could be used to U.S. benefit.

“They’ll be better prepared to defend themselves at home, secure their interests abroad, to fight and win which is a bit of a different strategy than the bide and hide strategy a of the past,” he said. “It’s now time to create more balanced military-to-military relations.”

Though the tone was generally optimistic, the experts brought up several challenges including budgetary issues and the uncertainty of China’s role in the future global power order.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies research, Green said “democratic norms…are what most Asian leaders see as the future.”

But he also mentioned several points contrary to China’s alignment with the democratic United States.

“China is developing so-called ‘anti-Axis’ area denial capabilities,” he said. “[They will be] targeting all of our forward bases with ballistic missiles, crowding the sea with coast guard ships, PLA fighters, drones, [and] fighter and satellite capabilities.”

That uncertainty left a mark at the hearing’s conclusion.

“The rise of China is the important game that will play out,” Roughhead said. “The question is: will it become the dominant power in Asia? And do we in the U.S. accept that?”

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