Peter Jennings’ recent post on the 2014 QDR led me to read the report—and its 50% longer, more ambitious and less focussed 2010 predecessor.
I’ll adopt Peter’s format of worries and hopes/opportunities for Asia-Pacific allies and partners (the majority of states in this region). The 2014 document and the comparison with its predecessor left me with three worries, three reassurances/opportunities and a net assessment that the reassurances significantly outweigh the worries.
- For Australia in particular, the 2014 QDR is squarely an Asia-Pacific-oriented document with no mention of the broader and more diffuse Indo-Pacific construct championed in the 2013 Australian defence white paper. India barely gets a mention in the 2014 QDR, even as a security partner, and yet it’s at the core of the Indo-Pacific construct. Maybe the successor to the 2013 DWP should follow suit?
- The 2014 QDR seems to deepen the United States’ commitment to the Air-Sea Battle Concept and the key role of regional allies and partners in this China-focussed construct. Yet it provides little clarity on what AirSea Battle means in operational terms, beyond allies and partners purchasing F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. This does little to satisfy fears about the destabilising effects of US strategic ambiguity in the Asia-Pacific (PDF).
- The document is very clear that allies and partners in Europe, and not the Asia-Pacific, are the most important security providers and supporters for the US globally. The 2014 QDR contends that ‘Europe is home to our most stalwart and capable allies and partners and the strategic access and support these countries provide is essential to ensuring that the U.S. Armed Forces are more agile, expeditionary, and responsive to global challenges’; and that ‘Europe remains our principal partner in promoting global security’. This characterisation doesn’t jive with Australia’s oft-repeated and celebratory view of its alliance relationship with the US. More broadly, this disjuncture between the centrality of the Asia-Pacific globally and the contribution of Europe to American global security concerns supports the US push for greater burden-sharing by Asia-Pacific allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific theatre and beyond.
- The announced reduction in military ambition and troop numbers is heavily focussed in areas of less relevance to the Asia-Pacific region. The vast majority of troop cuts are from the Army, reflecting QDR 2014’s claim that ‘our forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale prolonged stability operations’. Given the recent contributions of Asia-Pacific allies and partners to such US-led operations in West Asia, this moderation in ambition is likely to be quietly welcomed in many Asia-Pacific capitals.
- In contrast, the 2014 QDR calls for enhancing American presence in Oceania and Southeast Asia and the critical US naval presence in Japan, developing a second X-band radar site in Japan, and boosting the number of large and small surface combatants.
- The language on the essential role extended nuclear deterrence plays in securing the United States and in reassuring its allies and partners is stronger and clearer than in the 2010 QDR.
Overall, the 2014 QDR underlines the defence side of the Obama administration’s ‘rebalance to Asia’. Now, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be completed soon and Congress can provide the President with Trade Promotion Authority, the trade and commercial side of the ‘rebalance’ can catch up.
Malcolm Cook is a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Image courtesy of Flickr user EUCOM.