Numerous countries throughout the Indo-Pacific are reasserting their commitment to freely fly, sail, and operate where international law allows. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an organization set up to settle disputes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty, at the Hague, unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, nullifying the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) claim to those same islands. Despite being a party to the treaty, Beijing has actively refused to acknowledge the tribunal’s decision, continued to militarize those islands, and demanded that the international community unquestionably respect its illegal claim to these maritime features. China has also demanded that the international community recognize the PRC’s broader claims to a vast area within a so-called “nine-dashed line” in the Pacific, stretching to the shores of Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as over Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The United States has formally rejected these Chinese claims in the Pacific, stating that the U.S. “[stands] with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject[s] any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.” Many of our Allies and Partners have voiced the same positions with great courage and strategic conviction.
In addition to the public statements, the United States and its allies and partners in Asia are increasing the frequency, scope, and scale of bilateral and multilateral naval exercises. The participating navies, as demonstrated this week, are deliberately and continually sailing and flying within areas of the Pacific that China illegally claims as its territory, including near the Spratly Islands’ features, in accordance with international conventions on freedom of the seas. These moves directly challenge China’s assertion that it “owns” these South China Sea territories, many of which were artificially turned into islands, and have now been militarized with airfields and naval ports. The militarization by China of the Spratly Islands has brought Chinese anti-ship land-based missiles, along with new air bases and ports that feature bombers, warships, and submarines. The PRC is intent on implementing its anti-access and area-denial strategy over a much larger area, one which is vital to all of Asia for access to energy and crucial shipping routes that dictate much of the international economy. While our Allies and Partners have committed to these multi-national maritime maneuvers, it is time to think about how the Pacific Deterrence Initiative might be advanced in ways that offer collective contributions and actions on the seas and across all domains. Having a collective, combined and integrated missile defense systems and capabilities on the ships of multiple navies presents profound power in penetrating and negating A2/AD thereby strengthening Strategic Deterrence.
The second-largest nation in the Indo-Pacific is India, a country dependent on international trade routes through the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and one whose national security interests are shifting into increased convergence with the United States, driven by a common competitor: the People’s Republic of China. The overwhelming majority opinion of India’s 1.38 billion citizens (17.7% of the world population) is ‘all aligned’ against the daily, constant, and direct threat that they perceive from China. A China that disputes their common borders, and arms and enables Pakistan, India’s other neighbor with which it shares a disputed border and which sponsors militant groups that continuously attack India, including in large-scale terrorist attacks. A China that has significantly increased its military presence in the Indian Ocean, including out-of-area submarine deployments into the Indian Ocean. A China whose economic power is growing, beginning to dominate the Indo-Pacific region, and impacting Indian economic opportunities. The Economic-Security nexus remains most profound in the Maritime Domain. It must be protected and defended with like-minded Allies & Partners who respect International Law.
India has historically been a non-aligned state and previously relied on military technology and systems from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Today, India has broadened its suppliers of military systems to include the U.S., France, Israel, and Russia, but is challenged with interoperability between them.
India’s long-held non-alignment may be reaching a tipping point in the face of China’s incessant bullying and aggression. India tested its own hypersonic weapon earlier this month in response to China’s DF-17 hypersonic missiles. India has, for the first time since 2007, brought Australia, who had been viewed as aligned with China, into an upcoming naval exercise. New Delhi announced this week that the annual trilateral Malabar Military Exercise set for this November, with the United States and Japan, will now include Australia. The Malabar exercise is an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate interoperability and credible deterrence across multiple domains and mission sets. The exercise is also the most significant annual effort on sharing data, integrating sensors, and bringing American and Indian technology together to cooperate on missile defense at sea.
Most significantly and with strategic foreshadowing, the Malabar exercise demonstrates military cooperation that complements the political and diplomatic efforts of the four ‘Quad’ nations. The Quad of India, Australia, Japan, and the United States are pushing back against China’s expansionist claims and continue to uphold their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
United States Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper will be traveling to India next week to hold a “2+2” meeting with their respective counterparts to discuss alignment. That strategic calculus is much more than 2 + 2, as it could represent and guarantee a Free & Open Indo- Pacific.
Diplomatic non-alignment does not preclude collective alignments for protecting and defending mutual interests especially for the Economic-Security nexus and for Missile Defense from international waters.
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.