“The Indo-Pacific is a priority: message from the White House document”
Alexandria, Virginia.: In this edition of “Indo-Pacific: Behind the Headlines,” we speak with Colonel David Maxwell (retired), senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., about the White House document that comes to get out, “U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy ».
Among his many assignments and commands, Colonel Maxwell served as Director of Plans, Policy and Strategy (J5), Chief of Staff of Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR) and commanded 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Okinawa, Japan and later commanded the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines. His last assignment was to serve on the National Security Strategy Teaching Military Faculty at the National War College.
After retiring from the military, he served as associate director of the security studies program at Georgetown University. He is the editor of Diary of small wars.
Q: What is this document?
A: It’s a US-specific strategy, focused on the Indo-Pacific. This is a public strategy to convey our message to the region and the world on how we see the Indo-Pacific, how we intend to operate in the Indo-Pacific and what goals and goals we seek to achieve in the Indo-Pacific. Pacific for ourselves and for the mutual interests of our allies and partners.
Normally, the White House will release the National Security Strategy (NSS) first, and a regional strategy (like this one) would be a supporting piece of the NSS. What’s really interesting is that this was released before the NSS. This is usually an SSN, which then supports regional and defense strategies.
It is very comprehensive for a regional strategy. Going back to the history of this kind of regional strategies, I don’t remember anything so public and with so much emphasis. We are trying to send a message that we prioritize the Indo-Pacific.
The strategy’s main target is the security apparatus – the broader military, interagency, Treasury, USAID, state – but it also sends a strong message to our partners, allies, regional organizations and competitors – China.
There is a clear articulation of the basic strategic construction of ends, ways and means – and it spells them out very clearly. And then he actually provides advice on ten lines of effort which really delivers the meat of it and gives some really good advice. As a former military planner, I could put it to good use in developing supportive military plans across the spectrum of conflict. I find this very useful.
Q: What are the main themes of the Strategy?
A: Overall, the strategy is based on alliances as the core, then on partnerships, then on international organizations, in particular ASEAN, Quad and AUKUS. And the key point is that this is consistent with our broader strategic approach in which we rely on our only asymmetric strength – our network of alliances and partnerships.
China will perceive the construction of these networks as a response to China. China will interpret it that way even though we’re talking about competition with China — and it’s realistic to say competition with China.
Another aspect of all of this, in addition to our core asymmetric force, is that integrated deterrence will be key to our strategy and will be linked to the defense strategy currently being staffed. Integrated deterrence means that we integrate all of our activities in all areas of warfare, from peacetime, to gray area, to conflict, to major war, and ultimately, in the worst case scenario, to nuclear war.
The strategy does not say so, but integrated deterrence must do so with alliances and partners. This integrated deterrence aims to deter and defeat aggression, and as part of this strategy we will undertake initiatives to both enhance deterrence and counter coercion.
This, to me, is a signal for China because we see China coercing nations with its debt trap diplomacy, its use of the Belt and Road Initiative to expand its influence and leadership. Malicious Activities in the Three Wars: Psychological Warfare, Law, and the Media. or the war of public opinion.
One of the positive things I like about it is that it’s really focused on the world — the Indo-Pacific, plus the Euro-Atlantic. He seems to be paying great attention to this issue, which I think is necessary because the United States has global interests. We expect a huge shift towards the Indo-Pacific, but we must remain engaged in the Middle East, in Europe, in Africa.
Q: What about India?
A: There are specific things about India that are very strong. As it speaks to the core of our alliances, it specifically addresses the Quad, and also indicates that a specific objective of the strategy is to “support India’s continued rise and regional leadership”.
It’s really important. It is a key element of our strategy; we recognize that our interests align in so many areas. It is actually one of the ten lines of effort. Another is “Deliver on the Quad”.
It is a recognition that India is a like-minded partner and leader in Asia and the Indian Ocean, with connections throughout South Asia and around the world.
Q: Do any elements stand out?
A: What will be a lightning rod is the discussion about Taiwan – about aiding Taiwan’s defense, but also about paying homage to the one China policy.
[“We will also work with partners inside and outside of the region to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, including by supporting Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, to ensure an environment in which Taiwan’s future is determined peacefully in accordance with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan’s people. As we do so, our approach remains consistent with our One China policy and our longstanding commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.”]
I’m sure it’s written that way in order to defuse tensions with China. Everything before this section has been about building alliances, building Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities – and that’s really the key point – ensuring an environment in which Taiwan’s future is determined peacefully by the Taiwanese people.
In the view of the United States, this is consistent with commitments made under the One China Policy. It will be interesting to see how China reacts. I’m sure it won’t be positive.
As for China, our main competitor is never identified as a competitor, or an adversary, or an enemy and is referred to only once as a “rival”. It’s really interesting because, although it talks about the important things – the values, what we intend to do, what we want to see, for example, the rules-based international order – it also recognizes China’s intention to shape things in its own interest. This is the essence of the rivalry – the different values and vision between the United States and China,
Q: What is your overall assessment?
A: It’s too early to judge its effectiveness, but on the face of it there’s a lot of goodness in it, and as a planner I could use it all over the Indo-Pacific. Planners don’t like to guess what the boss wants and that gives enough guidance to plan. It’s a really transparent message that spells out what we believe in, what we stand for, what we intend to do.
One of the negative criticisms, common to most strategies, is that it does not clearly state priorities. It’s very broad and ambitious, but it provides a surprisingly good level of detailed guidance that could be very useful to planners.
Pundits and analysts could criticize many. There are those who will want less detail and those who will want more. For me, there’s enough detail that I can understand the administration’s intent, but it’s broad enough to give the interagency and the embassies the flexibility to operate with a strong but broad intent. I hope every country team, every embassy, in the Indo-Pacific will and should use this to shape their country team’s strategic plan as the military develops the support plans.
But the proof is in the pudding. The problem is that strategies are often put aside and simply admired. Often they just end up on information slides and as talking points. Civil departments do not take them as orders. We have to see if this will be the basic document and if it will be applied strategically, operationally and tactically.
It will be in the years to come. A strategy is only as good as what we do in actual execution. Is this strategy executable? And will we support him to achieve the goals and strategies? What we end up doing is the real message and the real strategy.