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Essay: U.S. Should Consider Establishing a South China Sea International Operations Center in Indonesia

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, walks with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Cmdr. Kazutaka Sugimoto on Feb. 6, 2015. US Navy Photo

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, walks with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Cmdr. Kazutaka Sugimoto on Feb. 6, 2015. US Navy Photo

The incoming U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) commander, Adm. Harry B. Harris, testified before Congress late last year that “China’s rise as a regional military and global economic power, and in particular, its rapid military modernization and assertive behavior toward regional neighbors present opportunities and challenges that must be managed effectively. This is our most enduring challenge.”

To meet that challenge, the U.S. Navy should explore establishing an International Maritime Operations Center (IMOC) headquartered in Indonesia to showcase the Navy’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific, monitor maritime developments in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean and serve as a new mechanism to meet China’s rise.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has increased efforts to build indigenous submarines and ships, intends to operate three aircraft carriers, and maintain offensive maritime land based missiles such as the DF-21D, an anti-ship ballistic missile. Of those developments, the increase in submarine capability has a significant role in conducting anti-access, area denial operations. By 2020 the PLAN will operate more than double the number of submarines in the Asia Pacific compared with 60 percent of U.S. submarines forward-deployed. The number of total PLAN submarines is substantial, but the mission types and geographical location of those operations are equally important.

The PLAN has extended surface and submarine operations beyond China’s coastal shores and may continue those operations for the foreseeable future. Since 2009, the PLAN has demonstrated continuous surface ship operations and improved at-sea logistics in the Indian Ocean. The PLAN during the 2013-2014 time period also took steps to increase naval operations in the Indian Ocean with three separate out of area nuclear and diesel submarine deployments—a possible new trend similar to how PLAN have sustained surface ship operations.

Undated photo of Chinese submarine

Undated photo of Chinese submarine

While the PLAN operates forward in the Indian Ocean, China has simultaneously built a robust civilian maritime presence in the South China Sea. The State Oceanic Administration (SOA) is an enormous Party-run organization with two essential tasks worth noting: law enforcement of territorial maritime claims, and undersea exploration and surveillance. The SOA manages the China’s coast guard (CCG) and other maritime entities that could have more than 500 ships by 2020. The SOA provides the Party leadership with a “first use policy,” which allows the CCG to protect territorial claims like Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea while the PLAN provides forceful backup if tensions should escalate. In addition to law enforcement, SOA ships provide undersea surveillance—a useful capability to find natural resources and better understand the water column for submarine operations.

China has also embarked in other military activities in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean to increase maritime presence. The PLAN is in the process of dredging and expanding maritime features such as Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. The construction improvements could serve as future logistic hubs for naval surface or subsurface assets, landing strips for aircraft, or areas for permanent offensive or defensive land-based weapons. In 2014, China’s naval chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, visited several reefs aboard a PLAN ship to observe the reclamation progress—a vision he set forth in 2004 as head of China’s South Sea Fleet. In 2014 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Sri Lanka, the PLAN confirmed Colombo as a logistics port for submarine out-of-area deployments. The PLAN does not have permanent naval bases in the Indian Ocean, but has established strong economic ties with nations such as Sri Lanka, Yemen, Pakistan, and others to support forward deployed naval operations.

Coalition Building and the Maritime Commerce

The strategic rebalance has long been a focus of policymakers in Washington and was reiterated recently again by the Obama administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy. The new strategy highlighted China’s military modernization and the potential for intimidation in territorial disputes. The new strategy also advocated that the United States will “manage competition from a position of strength” and “will closely monitor China’s military modernization and expanding presence in Asia, while seeking ways to reduce the risk of misunderstanding or miscalculation.”

Cmdr. Steven Foley, left, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102), and Gen. Moeldoko, commander of the Indonesian national defense forces.

Cmdr. Steven Foley, left, commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102), and Gen. Moeldoko, commander of the Indonesian national defense forces.

As part of the rebalance strategy, the U.S. Navy should establish an IMOC located in Jakarta, Indonesia, to monitor the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The IMOC would serve as the primary link to enhance maritime relations with the Indian, Indonesian, and Southeast Asian maritime forces. An operations center supported by international navies is a familiar concept in key maritime areas. In Bahrain, the Combined Maritime Forces exists as a multi-national naval partnership consisting of 30 nations to promote security, stability and prosperity in the maritime domain. In Norwood, United Kingdom, as part of NATO, the Allied Maritime Command operates two key organizations: a 24/7 operations center for permanent command and control of NATO maritime operations, and a shipping center to provide dialogue and coordination with the shipping industry about potential threats.

An IMOC also provides a forward presence and an increased capability to manage the protection of maritime commerce—the single most important variable in the Asia Pacific. The 2015 National Security Strategy echoed that and stated the United States will “maintain the capability to ensure the free flow of commerce, to respond quickly to those in need, and to deter those who might contemplate aggression.” The statistics about the maritime economy are well known. For example, more than 90 percent of world trade is carried by sea and approximately $5 trillion of ship-borne trade or nearly 30 percent of maritime trade transits through the South China Sea alone.

China understands the economic importance that both the South China Sea and Indian Ocean have to the livelihood of almost every Chinese—approximately 84 percent of China’s total energy imports are required to transit through the Strait of Malacca. President Xi has also made maritime development a cornerstone element of his presidency by offering the building of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road—“a system of linked ports, infrastructure projects and special economic zones in Southeast Asia and the northern Indian Ocean.”
China has increased economic developments in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. In 2014, China operated oil platforms in the vicinity of Vietnam with several CCG ships nearby for protection purposes. President Xi has made trips to Sri Lanka and Maldives investing billions in infrastructure projects. In late 2012, China also advocated for the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) encompassing ASEAN nations, but failed to include U.S. participation.

Why Indonesia?

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Data Comparing Population and GDP Source: http://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/index.php

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Data Comparing Population and GDP
Source: http://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/index.php

There are several locations in the Asia Pacific, such as Singapore, that could serve as the IMOC headquarters, but Indonesia offers unique strategic attributes. First, compared to other Asia Pacific nations, Indonesia’s economy is the fourth largest in the Asia Pacific behind China, Japan, and India. (See the graphic illustrating Indonesia’s GDP in comparison to other Southeast Asia nations) Given Indonesia’s economic influence, the U.S. government should embark on an aggressive campaign to improve bilateral trade relations and include Indonesia as part of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is a proposed trade agreement with 11 nations and considered the foundation of the Obama Administration’s Asia Pacific economic policy.

Second, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo desires his nation to become a primary player in the maritime domain. After assuming the presidency, he stated, “Thus, as a maritime country, Indonesia should assert itself as the World Maritime Axis. This position opens opportunities for Indonesia to develop regional and international cooperation for the prosperity of the people.” To help promote this renewed maritime focus, President Jokowi has proposed increasing military spending by 1.5 percent of Indonesia’s total GDP. In addition, he has published a maritime doctrine with five pillars to advance his quest and establish Indonesia as the maritime “fulcrum.”

President Jokowi recognizes with a limited budget, foreign investment plays a critical role in achieving success and has said, “So we need investment, we need investors, to boost our economic growth, to build our deep seaports, to build our airports.” As President Barak Obama enters the last years of his administration, a strategic opportunity exists to establish a meaningful relationship with Indonesia to improve economic development and maritime security. President Obama could lean on his strong personal ties to Indonesia—he lived there during his childhood and his mother worked there for more than 20 years. President Obama’s actions toward Indonesia are crucial to support President Jokowi’s vision and will also require buy-in from Congress to boost Indonesia’s economy.

Third, Indonesia can emerge as a beacon for democracy in a time period where Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand are struggling with political unrest. Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world behind India and the United States respectively. In 2014, 50 percent of the population was reported under the age of 30 and the working-age population will grow by 14.8 million by 2020. Those demographics offer an opportunity to spur interest in democratic ideals and open market economies.

Fourth, the IMOC’s location in Indonesia serves as a central point for maritime operations in the Asia Pacific. The U.S. Navy relies on one Fleet Commander (7th Fleet) in Yokosuka, Japan, to oversee 48 million square nautical miles and sustain relationships with 35 nations. This enormous responsibility and sheer size of the Asia Pacific requires several nodes throughout the theater to maintain a robust maritime domain awareness. By adding an IMOC in Indonesia, the Navy can further leverage and integrate partner nations to monitor the maritime domain from the center outward.

Even though Indonesia provides strategic attributes for an IMOC, the maritime nation has several shortcomings moving forward. The most critical is a suitable infrastructure—specifically ports and roads. Last year the World Bank issued an Indonesia Development Policy Review and cited the specifics of the infrastructure gap. The report indicated that Indonesia’s “port capacity remains very limited” and “compares poorly with other developing Asian countries on trade logistics measures.” In addition, the report offered that Indonesia’s roads have faced a decade of under-investment, which has “contributed to serious capacity gaps, congestion problems and poor logistics performance.” The World Bank has projected $120 billion (U.S.) is required to improve Indonesian roads.

President Jokowi seems to have the right vision to improve Indonesia’s poor infrastructure, but faces other hurdles in the coming years as well. He will have to narrow the skills gap in the labor market, improve the functioning of several public and private markets, fight the potential threat of international terrorism, thwart corruption, and maintain the support of approximately 220 million Muslims and numerous ethnic groups speaking more than 700 different languages. In addition he will need to answer his nation’s past history of human rights abuses. In 2014, Indonesia failed to report previous human rights violations to the United Nations and was questioned earlier this year about the nation’s commitment for resolving those issues. Regardless of Indonesia’s shortcomings, the nation is at a unique historical crossroads as a rising Asia Pacific nation.

The United States has a difficult challenge to rebalance towards the Asia Pacific and monitor China’s maritime rise. More important, the nation has made a commitment to allies and partners that must be followed by actions or the potential loss of credibility will ensue. During his trip to Australia in 2011, President Obama commented, “So let there be no doubt: in the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in.” If the United States is “all in” in its rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific, the Navy with the assistance of Congress and the Obama administration should explore ways to do more as China further advances its interests and influence in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

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  • Curtis Conway

    Amen and Amen! Indonesia is perfectly situated geographically for an IMOC. The agreement with the Philippines already includes a location in Palawan Island on the East side of the South China Sea. Thought to operations out of Malaysia, and Vietnam should be considered. If Vietnam does not play ball then Thailand or Cambodia.

    Some thought to deployments of the US Navy SEABEES and USAF RED HORSE units, even Reserve units, could deploy to help with construction. They are also awesome for helping out the local community infrastructure. This area is ripe for supporting how to police the Maritime Patrol of Economic Exclusion Zones of our various Allies and partners in the region. We should be about assisting them in developing their own programs for:

    · Ports, waterways, and coastal security
    · Drug interdiction
    · Aids to navigation
    · Search and rescue
    · Living marine resources
    · Marine safety
    · Defense readiness
    · Migrant interdiction
    · Marine environmental protection

    A US Coast Guard presence to assist in program development and training in each country would be useful.

    the fisheries i the South China Sea are already be depleted by the Chinese fishing fleet to feed their population. Regulation practically does not exist for many of the locations in this region.

    • Rob

      Given the massive national debt, and a tax burden which takes more than half of the incomes of many taxpayers in the United States, why should the United States pay to preserve Asian fisheries from the Chinese, marine safety programs in foreign waters thousands of miles from the jurisdiction of the United States, or drug interdiction on the other side of the world? The U.S. Coast Guard — already suffering from massive mission bloat — has no business guarding coasts 10,000 miles from the U.S. Mainland. If the United States is to maintain its (already declining) standard of living for its own citizens, it must leave policing on the other side of the world, to the citizens of these foreign countries.

      • Curtis Conway

        Well Rob, we don’t guard other nation’s coast. We teach them how to do that and they do it. The United States Navy keeps the Sea Lines Of Communications (SLOCS) upon which our economy, and the economies of our Allies, depend. Without that trade, our economy will fail. Gotta live in the real world.

        The United States is a maritime nation, and our economy depends on free trade and those Sea Lines Of Communications (SLOCS), so our nation’s economy, and the economies of our Allies, rely on international trade. When we shrink from that responsibility, our economy shrinks, and that has a very negative effect on everything else. The US Navy has not populated our SLOCS regularly for about 6 years. Huummm . . . wonder why that is? The vessel that was most used for that duty (52 FFG-7 Class frigates) have been (or are in the process of being) decommissioned. it is to be replaced by something that is less capable, can stay on the high seas for far less time, and can intervene less capably that its predecessor . . . . at a higher cost per unit (a magnitude of X 10) I might add. How’s them apples.

        • Rob

          Curtis, to me that is just rationalizing why the rest of the country needs to pay for your job and cool toys.

          To be sure, international trade is vitally important, but no more so for the United States than any of the Asian nations that you think the United States taxpayer should subsidize. If our allies consider the SLOCS in their own backyard to be of importance, than they should pay to keep them open, and not be asking people on the other side of the world to open their wallets for it. Moreover, if you believe that trade is so critical to the United States — and I quite agree that it is — how is the U.S. interest served by alienating our #1 trade partner in the region (and soon the world) over some rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea which have no strategic importance to the United States? In fact, the U.S. interest is not served with such foreign entanglements.

          Given that the “U.S. Navy has not populated our SLOCS regularly for about 6 years”, and the world hasn’t ended, let’s just press our luck and keep that money at home. It must be fun to have such a cool job, but I think a lot of us are sick of paying for it, and would prefer to be allowed to keep a bit more of our hard earned income instead of paying it over to Uncle Sam.

          • mary yang

            So, that’s what you really mean: abandoning time-tested friendships where rocky outcroppings matter but, not ”

            alienating our #1 trade partner in the region (and soon the world)” which is a proven global danger by the day? Your self-contradicting argument also defies facts and political realities as well as being very short-sighted:
            . China as a market size and population is much smaller when compared to those Asians that recognize the threat of Chinese expansionism and aggressions: already confronted China are: Australia, Japan, India, the Philippines and Vietnam and those to step up at the next Chinese provocation are Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and South Korea. As a group and as individual sovereign nations, they share some if not most US values as opposed to Chinese rejection of the same. To different degrees, they want and welcome faster US pivot, deeper involvement and concrete counter-measures…
            . Also as a group and as responsible governments, Asia is not waiting for America nor expecting hand-outs by either upgrading defense capabilities, coordinating overall economic and military ties and leveraging their geopolitical advantages while diplomatically, trying to reason with China.
            Finally, I do appreciate this thoughtful essay suggesting another US gesturing to counter continued Chinese aggressions. However, this complex process is too time-consuming given regional fear of Chinese retributions/retaliations and too late given the de fato Chinese territorial control, economic penetration…here is an easier act that matches US core competency and tests Chinese hollow rhetoric and premature self-declared strength: a clandestine Ohio-Class submarine, armed with conventional Tomahawk missiles to attack and take out all Chinese military bases in the South China Sea (existing Paracel compound and soils-reclaiming projects at 6 Spratly rocks).

          • Rob

            Mary, this is quite excellent, and your post well illustrates why the U.S. should not be involved in this controversy. Putting aside your false choice between pursuing the Chinese or non-Chinese markets — we can actually freely trade with both, with no need to choose between or alienate either side with our meddling — the worst case scenario is a foreign war with China, with American lives and assets at risk. Although you have not identified any interesest of the United States in the Spratlys, your suggestion that the United States instigate an unprovoked act of war on China to “test Chinese hollow rhetoric and premature self-declared strength” clearly evidences that your interests are in promoting the foreign policy of some other nation (your rhetorical stylings have a Japanese ring to them) and have interests that are greatly divergent from the people in the United States — almost none of whom are interested in an unprovoked war with China as you so proudly admit to desiring.

          • Zephon

            Our number one trading partner in the region is China.

            They pose no threat to America and in fact pose an opportunity for Americans to prosper. But for that to happen we have to get this most strategic relationship we have in a proper footing.

            Not based on some McCarthyism Red scare tactics that were never appropriate in the first place.

          • Helen Mucus

            Who do you speak on behalf of? Chinamen who fled to Amerika and bought a passport, or some other group?

          • Zephon

            A USN officer from Annapolis.

            Class of ’81 , GONADS!

          • Curtis Conway

            We are in trouble now. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

          • Zephon

            I remember well a fellow officer from the Academy. A Bircher from Lynchburg … I could not believe the ideas this young man had.

            Now it seems such ideas are common in many circles. With the NeoCon agenda in Iraq/Afghanistan, Ukraine etc… No wonder we are broke from our wars and cannot maintain our fleet and create a USN that can meet the goals of the 21st Century.

            The goal of any warrior should be peace and health of the citizens they serve.

          • Curtis Conway

            It was always the Liberals who wanted to do Nation Building. The Conservatives were very reluctant to do that, rather engage in Constructive Engagement. Then the Bush Administration came along. The Cause was righteous, but the Nation Building culture took over, and that takes generations (remember Japan and Germany after WWII). There were WMDs there and always have been. We destroyed Sadam’s centrifuges with little notice around the globe and here at home. The nuclear program moved to Syria, and the Israelis fixed that in 2008 with even less notice, like the planet was in denial. The Chemical Warfare Plant (remember chemical Ali) was well know and is now occupied by ISIS. Thank G-d it is a shambles. We actually had troops and reporters that had to go to Germany for treatment of exposure to Nerve Agents during the war, and no one reported it. Now the press finally admits their mistake . . . and its no big deal?

            Today it is as if the English Language and all things virtuous contained therein have been abrogated into something Different.

            Tyranny was a term that I understood very well before I graduated from High School. Today we have college graduates acting like narcissistic tyrants, and treating other people like trained little minions . . . in the Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave.

            Our nation used to be run by learned and experienced people, who knew their constitution and exhibited wisdom because they had been there and done that. Today, we are led by people who are trying very hard to create a universe they wish existed . . . but does not, and we are paying the price.

            Example? Nuclear safety and the two man rule exist for a reason. Both parties are certifiable good guys or the uncertified individual (group) is excluded from the task. THAT is the solid foundation from which our nuclear deterrent policy has safeguarded our great nation for over 50 years. Now we have an administration that tells us
            that all that does not matter, and we can trust the enemy, which will now become the legacy of this administration. This administration has undermined our safety and security from within and without.

            That same mindset is driving specifications for extremely expensive weapons systems that are going to have to keep us safe for several decades, LORD let us live that long, while the enemy has designs on how to defeat those systems in which we have placed so much trust. There is NOTHING in the LCS/SSC/FF design that inspires confidence in anyone, except those who think 30mm bullets are good against a supersonic Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM). Sad state of affairs. If you are truly a USNA graduate then you can do the math on the probability of those bullets hitting the supersonic ASCM that you will have to detect, track and bring weapons to bear on in mere seconds.

          • Zephon

            I think the wars of this century will be based more upon asymmetric threats: terrorists and piracy.

            Indeed the LCS were lightly armed, but they are fast and can navigate shallow waters. My worry with them is more the overworked crew with multiple responsibilities.

            I am not that worried from Cruise missiles much as only nation states can adequately maintain such complex systems. For nation states we need to maintain our economic power which is first rate but declining because we have failed to invest in things as simple as bridges and schools back home.

            LCS costs up front about $700 million. Zumwalt class about $3.45 billion. We will develop the flexibility of the LCS modules more and deploy containers as appropriate around the world and work logistics to help that are not fully in place today.

            Bottom line is drones and flexible systems are the wave of the future USN.

            P.S. – of course Iraq had WMDs, we and our European friends gave Saddam these precursors so they could be used on the Iranians. The question is how viable were these weapons when we went into Iraq after 911 and what was destroyed before that war.

          • Curtis Conway

            Expand more on the threat from Iran, particularly after the administration cuts a deal with Iran and the Middle East starts its nuclear arms race. The Ballistic Missile Defense race has already begun with Iran’s neighbors.

          • Zephon

            The middle east is already in a nuclear arms race. It started with France giving Nuclear weapons technology to Israel. We stepped in after France to help them miniaturize it and help them put it on subs.

            If we want de-nuclearization and de-militarization of the middle east all members need to get together and discuss it and work together for peace.

            Bottom line is Israel makes us look like a hypocrite in the Middle East with double standards. The Sauds are also of no help funding terrorists and committing the most abusive acts against people in their country. Anybody that thinks either of these countries are allies needs to study them more.

            P.S. – I still have not forgiven the IDF for the USS Liberty, when they come clean on it (as well as our implication of assistance in the cover-up and failure to protect our sailors with the Johnson administration) I will consider moving on.

          • Zephon

            And I will add. Terrorism in the middle east in the Modern era started with the Zionists, groups like the Irgun. As with the bombing of the King David Hotel in Palestine filled with British officers causing the British to capitulate and the subsequent Balfour agreement.

            And Pollard should die in our jails for his traitorous acts.

          • Curtis Conway

            With that last statement . . . and he calls others “neocons”?!

          • Curtis Conway

            Asymmetrical threats – yes, but not limited to.

            Overworked LCS crews – no doubt. Those poor souls are overworked. How ready will they be when GQ is called at midnight?

            The cruise missile market on mobile launchers is growing in leaps and bounds. Relatively cheap and cost less than expensive platforms with crews.
            Effective? WHHOOO! Took part in some of those exercises and that
            was in the 80s.

            LCS was a waste of money and are going to get our people killed because you can’t outrun a cruise missile, and a determined adversary will shoot more than one with TOT. Hopefully we learned something from the DDG-1000, and I don’t ever want to see someone argue we need more again.
            The FFG-500 ? . . . maybe. It depends on what we learn from DDG-1000.

            Drones are not only in our future they are here now, and will proliferate in the future. Replaced manned A/C? NO . . . mostly! AI ain’t that good.

            Invest more in infrastructure and schools? Well, we tried to invest over $700 Billion, and it mostly went to organized labor. What was it, about 7-10% actually went to projects. And education ? . . . this is when I worry
            about academy grads who make such statements. Investigate the statistics. The United States invest huge amounts of money per student, and we stand down around 20th compared to the rest of the planet, but those students SURE DO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSLEVES! Great self esteem.

            As for us giving Sadam WMDs and that started this whole mess, is as bad an excuse as the president blaming it all on Bush again, because he started everything, when Mr. BHO pulled all the troops out, allowing the Iranians to influence this whole equation for years in our absence, and now he wants to go back to war ? . . . but (like Hon Solo) “It’s not my fault”! Own your own stuff, ask for forgiveness, grow
            a little and move forward.

            I think we can do better than this, and it will probably take an asteroid hitting the planet to make the change.

          • Rob

            I think you might speak in jest, but Isn’t this too true? An interesting Naval policy discussion on the USNI website slowly de-generates into rants against “Chinamen” and “Zionist” conspiracies from a USN Officer and Annapolis grad — all of which have gone uncontested. This does nothing to inspire confidence in our Naval elites.

          • Curtis Conway

            I quote inconvenient facts, make fairly pointed observations, and we get THIS from . . . whoever. I’m disappointed in what we are getting out of the academies these days, particularly when they throw mud and call names. I pay attention to HiStory, stay up to date on current events (even the inconvenient ones I don’t like in professional publications and AW&ST) and look to the future, which has already been laid out for the believer. For everyone else . . . . ? . !
            To be a responsible citizen one must know what one is talking about. it is a constant battle, and I am constantly going to ‘school call’. So . . . when someone calls “school circle” I’m all about that. Although I can admit I have engaged in a rant or two . . . my bad! Your retired senior enlisted and Chief Warrant Officers are your practical subject matter experts, who understand chemistry, physics, and human nature. It’s hard to blow smoke at these individuals.

      • Ctrot

        If you are really concerned about the national debt, as I am, you need to look to the largest contributor to that debt for answers in solving the problem. And it isn’t the defense department. The welfare state is what is eating our lunch. Not only is it the largest share of the federal budget, it is growing at an alarming rate.

        • Rob

          I was not suggesting that we should ignore entitlements, but the fact that the welfare state is out of control serves as no justification to maintaining forces far from our shores to police and protect citizens of other countries for interests which are neither vital nor necessary to the well being or safety of those residing in the United States. You might think that the expenditures of the defense department are not a problem, but I might think that too if that’s how my bread was buttered — the people receiving welfare think those programs are great too. For the people paying for these extravagances, the defense department’s massive — massive!!! — operations in Asia and Europe are a great place to start cutting. That the US has an overgrown welfare state is no reason to pay for the protection of Germany, Japan, or South Korea, and let those countries maintain bloated welfare states.

          • Ctrot

            Isolationism isn’t in the best interest of the United States.

          • Rob

            I’ll agree with that statement — at least for the sake of argument — but you need to agree with me that not maintaining massive standing armies (some on perpetual near war footing) on foreign soil, to defend some of the richest countries in the world — who are very able, and arguably more able than the US, to pay for their own defense — constitutes “isolationism.” If anybody were to adopt such a standard, almost every country in the world could be deemed an isolationist.

          • Ctrot

            The US has about 1.1 million active duty military personnel. Of those there are about 50k stationed in Japan, 30k in S Korea, about 40k in Germany and a few more thousand scattered elsewhere. I don’t call that “massive standing armies” stationed on foreign soil. Having those troops there may be just enough of a deterrent that stops a major war. At any rate the cost of those few thousand troops are insignificant when it comes to their effect on the budget deficit.

          • Rob

            Ctrot, even accepting your numbers — which understate the relative expense of maintaining these fighting forces in forward positions overseas — that is 120K troops to equip, pay, house, and pay pensions to, and does not seem at all insignificant to me, and I think what most people would fairly consider, without hyperbole, to be a “massive standing army.” The U.S. could easily save well over $100 Billion per year by shifting these costs back to the Germans, Japanese, Koreans, etc., whom should more properly be bearing them. As a U.S. taxpayer, that seems quite significant to me, and I can think of many better uses for that money.

          • Zephon

            It costs $2.1 million/year to keep each American military soldier in a Foreign Country per year.

            That is numbers from 2013. Expect it to be more like $2.4 million today.

  • Rob

    Let’s leave it to the Japanese and South Koreans to pay for the defense of Asia, and these small islands in particular. The cost to the United States of defending these wealthy nations dwarfs the foreign aid budget, and amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from the U.S. taxpayer (and in reality, the children of U.S. taxpayers, since it is paid for through federal long term debt) to the 24th and 28th richest countries in the world. If it not in the vital interest of Japan and South Korea (and Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore) sufficient to bear the laboring oar of the defense of these fly speck islands, it is certainly not in the vital interest of the United States.

    • Curtis Conway

      In fact, through exercises, growth of their fleets, and their responsible interactions with the neighboring fleets, this capability has been growing. The Japanese have changed their constitution to include a joint defense pact, and they are exploring increasing operations in the South China Sea. The system works, but it takes time. To do otherwise will eventually cost Blood instead of money. Which do you want to spend.

      • Rob

        It depends upon whose blood and money we are talking about. I don’t want American blood to be spilled, or American money to be spent, pursuing interests that are in no way vital or important to the United States. If Japan wants to protect Senkaku, god bless them — but not on our dimes. Time for us to close up shop in Japan and South Korea, and bring those billions and billions of dollars back home, and pay off some of that national debt the US has incurred protecting those whom are unwilling to protect themselves.

        • Curtis Conway

          The money spent is our money protecting our interest (SLOCs), and the watershed is the Allies who are safer . . . and they develop capability and assume more of their security responsibilities with time (as previously discussed). The Blood will be our blood trying to get back what we lost, the economy suffers, so we must recover our trade or the economy languishes. We import SO MANY THINGS that we no longer have the capability to build in this country. If we built a new (shore based) nuclear reactor today, we could not build the pressure vessel. The capability no longer exist in the United States. This is one of dozens of examples of this fact. I don’t want to be an alarmist but this maritime country surrounded by water has become so dependent on trade, we will not make it on our own in the future without our trading partners. If we reconstitute the capability it will cost far more than just getting from our trading partners.

        • jigs

          Rob do you think SCS is not an interest of your country..try to broaden your mind

          • Rob

            Jigs, it is the people with the most closed minds who live in a world in which everybody should and would agree with them . . . if they would just broaden their minds. My belief that the South China Sea is not a venue that the U.S. should be paying the bill to protect, and also that the ownership of the outcroppings within it is not a matter with which the US should become embroiled within, are the results of my own rational thinking and observation — and has nothing to do with a closed mind.

  • Wolf

    This essay leaves unanswered two critical questions that ought to be answered and understood before recommending the establishment of an IMOC. Who would run such a center and to what purpose? The author mentions both Combined Maritime Forces and Allied Maritime Command. Both of the organizations are military run and serve very specific military and security purposes. Would the IMOC be run by regional militaries or would it be the US? Such a distinction matters, as the closest the region has to a multilateral security mechanism is the ASEAN Regional Forum that does not yet possess the close collaboration and trust required for something like an IMOC. That would leave it to the US to manage, which then raises issues on whether there is sufficient regional political demand to stand up and support a US
    military-led organization. Southeast Asia is already reluctant to choose between a China that has been its primary economic driver and a US that offers it protection from China’s military might. Standing up an IMOC would undoubtedly cause significant enough friction between those who support it and Beijing to call into question whether the gains security-wise are worth the losses economically and politically.

    All this leads to the second and perhaps most important question that needs to
    be answered more clearly, the purpose of the IMOC. The author states that it
    would used to monitor the Indian Ocean and South China Sea as well as provide a
    forward headquarters for the protection of maritime commerce. What exactly would
    be monitored, by what means and how would it be shared? The challenge from lack
    of trust within the region and domestic sovereignty concerns should not be
    overlooked or downplayed. As far as protection of commerce, there is little
    evidence that maritime commerce through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea is
    at serious threat. Piracy is a legitimate concern but those areas affected are
    generally speaking not at risk from the Chinese domination the author is
    seeking to balance against (piracy in Southeast Asia predominantly being found
    in the littorals of the Malacca Strait and Natuna, Sulu and Celebes Seas). An
    IMOC focused on piracy would certainly improve and strengthen regional military
    relationships with the US but that is playing the long game and would not address
    the immediate need to check growing Chinese assertiveness. This leads the
    reader, and the region, to assume the real purpose has little else to do but
    provide a check on Chinese assertiveness. If that indeed is the IMOC’s purpose,
    then one must begin to explore its mandate and mission. Mandate and mission
    answers then bring you back to the issue of regional political desire or lack
    thereof for a US-led military organization.

    As good in theory and concept as the IMOC sounds there are serious political and structural questions that must be understood and answered before it can be considered a viable option to be put into practice. Ultimately the central challenge determining the viability of an IMOC is whether the reluctance of regional governments to choose between Beijing and Washington can be overcome.

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  • Al

    Current US policy defines that there are five vital national interests: to prevent the threat of an attack of weapons of mass destruction on U.S. soil or its military abroad; to ensure U.S. allies’ survival and cooperation to shape an international system in which we can thrive; to prevent the emergence of hostile powers on U.S. borders; to ensure the viability of major global systems (to include SLOCS); and to establish productive relations with nations that could become adversaries. The president faces six cardinal challenges: to strengthen partnerships with Japan and European allies despite an immediate threat; to facilitate China’s entry onto the world stage without disruption; to prevent the loss of control of nuclear weapons; to prevent Russia’s reversion to authoritarianism or chaos; to maintain the United States singular leadership; and to marshal forces that promote freedom and prosperity.
    I totally agree that we have economically been beaten down by misguided policies in the past 13+ years. Unadvised military operations in several parts of the world have drained our economy and depleted our military supremacy, However, putting our collective heads in the sand wont fix our economic woes and definitely wont lead to a rekindled budget surplus.
    So sorry Rob, your isolationist views have not won US dominance in the past and wont again in the future. If you do not like the US policy (and the required forces and expenditures necessary to make those policies a reality) then entice the majority of Americans to vote in isolationist administrations and congresses. But don’t expect an economic or budgetary bonanza from such policies…learn to look over your shoulder and then when evil comes knocking at your door understand we will have to go it alone as we thumbed our noses at our Asian and European alliances and partners. But of course, with no secure SLOCS or access to the resources necessary to maintain such ventures, have in hand the terms you would like to negotiate our capitulation and hope our adversaries will be magnanimous in their victory.

    Look, I don’t like the costs of some of these polices either, but be realistic about what you are offering as an alternative.

    • Rob

      Well Al, you will have to explain to me how maintaining troops in Okinawa — much less protecting the Sokakus — prevents weapons of mass destruction from entering US soil or why the US taxpayer should bear the expense of the SLOCS that you use as a justification for soaking them. I think China has already appeared on the world stage — and every consumer who enjoys cheap goods should be thankful for that — and Russian authoritarianism doesn’t scare me much (and if it scares the Germans let them pay to protect themselves from their own tax kitty). Calling for Japan, Germany, and South Korea to pay for their own protection “isolationism” is just empty rhetoric, and if you look at the polls for the next President, there is some doubt that the next Administration will agree with you.

      • Al

        Sorry Rob, no I don’t have to explain, I leave that to the politicians that the majority of our fellow citizens elected, to explain how to carry out National Policy. If I and the majority of Americans do not like that policy or how to accomplish those policies then I get to go to the voting booth with the rest of our citizens at the next election…Democracy at its fines. I don’t always like the outcome but I do not know of a better process.
        Polls for next president aside, I dare say whether we have another Clinton, Bush, or player-yet-to-be-named take over as our next leader, we will continue to maintain our alliances with our Asian and European partners.
        From all your previous diatribe on this it isn’t just ‘paying the financial protection’ that bothers you but also you stated these relations are not worth American lives…that my friend IS Isolationism no matter how else you try to couch your position. May I ask where your line in the sand is? Is it drawing all forces back to the CONUS, build big walls and circle the wagons?
        As you like to point out how those who take a different position from you is ’empty rhetoric’ you still failed to address how we will develop economic success from your policy.
        Oh, buy the way…i didn’t make up those 5 Vital interests…those ARE the ones currently stated in US policy…
        Cheers mate…

        • Rob

          Al, since you prefer to leave it to the elected politicians — and if you think that the current administration really expresses “Democracy at its finest” we greatly differ — to rationalize your preference for militarism, there is not much for me to respond to.

          But as to your question as to how taking a less generous tack with our allies will help the U.S. economy, this should be self evident, but I can certainly explain. Right now, U.S. citizens are taxed at marginal rates up to well over 50% of their worldwide income, plus capital gains taxes, plus death taxes, and its still not nearly enough to pay the federal budget and the national debt continues to grow while the national infrastructure disintegrates. Germany spends less than a third, and Japan less than a quarter, per capita, than the United States for defense — but only because the United States taxpayer keeps them safe. This difference represents deadweight loss to the U.S., which could be regained if the U.S. transferred the expense of defending Japan to the Japanese and Germany to the Germans, etc. Then maybe the U.S. could have the same kind of infrastructure that these countries take for granted, and wouldn’t be saddling our children with a debt that they will never be able to pay. People rightly complain about the foreign aid budget, but its small potatoes compared to the much more massive transfer of wealth from the United States to these very rich countries. It is neither fair nor equitable to ask the U.S. taxpayer to toil for the benefit of Japan, Germany, or S. Korea.

      • Zephon

        Rob it is sad that folks like Al denigrate you by name calling – isolationist.

        Bottom line is folks like Al still have not got it yet… Our Foreign Policy is in shambles and is creating more problems than solving them. Which has caused much of the world to look at us as buffoons.

        We no longer can be trusted to protect the liberty and freedom of others. Instead we work to contain and control other nations for our own greedy purposes. Often based on bias and ethnocentric ideas lacking sensitivity for the differences that other nations have.

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  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    From an Antiterrorism point of view, please allow me to interject or play Devil’s advocate IRT placing such a proposed South China Sea International Operations Center in Indonesia. 1. The proposed facility/installation would be placed upon foreign soil…NOT controlled by the U.S. & would call for some legal agreement to ensure that on any given day Indonesia decides that they do not want foreigners there anymore (always keep in mind the violent uprisings against Christians & Chinese). 2. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world. Currently, strides are being made to maintain a civil relationship with the West…but, “What If,” say during a regime change, Indonesia goes full Sharia, partners with Malaysia, Brunei, S. Thailand, S. Philippines, etc. & declares a Jemaah Islamiyah inspired Super Caliphate? 3. Are ALL countries being considered for such an endeavor acceptable for having a semi-permanent presence in Indonesia? 4. Summary: If I were the person delegated to perform a Risk Assessment (Threat, Criticality, Vulnerability assessment) prior to HHQ approval for this proposal, I would have to submit a negative report. Perhaps a better location, albeit further away from the desired Jakarta location, might be Port Darwin in Australia? Still in a foreign country, but historically a major Ally, with no negative past or future indicators which would have the potential to suddenly terminate all access with such a proposed facility/installation.

    • Rob

      Yes, the idea of a base in Indonesia seems far fetched for many practical reasons, but one must concede that the R&R potential is much greater than in Darwin. While Joko wants Indonesia to be a world maritime power, it first needs to keep its ports from deteriorating — which it would no doubt prefer the US to pay for. It also shouldn’t be missed that Indonesia continues to suffer from quisi-Maoist agricultural policies, state control of industry, and hostility to foreign investment, which China long ago abandoned, and is hardly a bastion of capitalism or free markets. Many of us had high hopes, but none of this seems likely to change during this administration.

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  • Someone

    US fucked you guys back in 1998, and you still want to be fucked ?! Well good then.

  • Zephon

    We would serve the American people and our interests better if we withdrew from the region with China replacing American servicemen to help keep commerce to travel freely without spending American taxpayer dollars or risking their lives.

    Meanwhile reducing Defense costs and taking that savings to invest back into American infrastructure from schools to roads if not just paying down our government debt and actually saving for the day when we really need to go into deficit spending.

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