US Navy ma­neu­vers in the Indo-Pa­cific

Arab News - - Opinion - DR. THEODORE KARASIK

Aday or so ago the US Navy sent a guided-mis­sile de­stroyer into Rus­sian­claimed wa­ters in the Sea of Ja­pan in what it called a “free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion” op­er­a­tion. The op­er­a­tion comes as the US and Rus­sia are in con­fronta­tion over a va­ri­ety of se­ri­ous se­cu­rity is­sues, in­clud­ing Rus­sia’s vi­o­la­tion of the terms of the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ateRange Nu­clear Forces Treaty (INF) and Moscow’s op­er­a­tions to control the Sea of Azov and to ul­ti­mately control the lands above the Crimea Penin­sula.

The USS McCamp­bell, an Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroyer op­er­at­ing from the US Navy base at Yoko­suka, in Ja­pan, sailed near Peter the Great Bay “to chal­lenge Rus­sia’s ex­ces­sive mar­itime claims and up­hold the rights, free­doms and law­ful uses of the sea en­joyed by the United States and other nations.” Rus­sia re­sponded that the USS McCamp­bell never crossed into Rus­sian wa­ters and the de­stroyer was un­der sur­veil­lance the en­tire time. Rus­sia’s con­cept of mar­itime prop­erty rights is part of Moscow’s be­lief in ex­tended ju­ris­dic­tion over seabeds.

A US Navy spokesper­son said: “US Forces op­er­ate in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion on a daily ba­sis. These op­er­a­tions demon­strate the United States will fly, sail and op­er­ate wher­ever in­ter­na­tional law al­lows. That is true in the Sea of Ja­pan, as in other places around the globe.”

This idea of “Indo-Pa­cific” is im­por­tant to note. US mil­i­tary doc­trine to­ward China and East

Asia un­der­went an up­grade at the Pen­tagon in May 2018. US De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis an­nounced that Pa­cific Com­mand would now be the US Indo-Pa­cific Com­mand to bet­ter re­flect link­ages and val­ues in the re­gion. For the Pen­tagon, re­la­tion­ships with Pa­cific and

In­dian Ocean al­lies and partners are prov­ing crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing open and free mar­itime sea lanes.

Mat­tis stated that “… over many decades the for­mer Pa­cific Com­mand adapted to chang­ing cir­cum­stance, and to­day car­ries that legacy for­ward as Amer­ica fo­cuses west.” The idea of “west” is meant to un­der­score Wash­ing­ton’s grow­ing mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship with In­dia, which Amer­ica is work­ing with to counter Chi­nese mar­itime in­flu­ence.

It is sig­nif­i­cant that as In­dia is seek­ing to ex­pand its naval “des­tiny” with a mix of Rus­sian and Euro­pean-made naval as­sets, Delhi bumps into Chi­nese re­gional in­ter­ests. At­tempt­ing to ex­pand its own in­ter­ests, com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, and en­ergy goods im­ports, China has launched the “String of Pearls” pro­ject. This is the con­struc­tion of a web of naval in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing ports and bases, through­out the In­dian Ocean Re­gion (IOR). These ac­tiv­i­ties, along with the arms sales to IOR states, are rous­ing fears of Chi­nese control of blue wa­ter sea lanes, fu­el­ing an old ri­valry be­tween In­dia and China.

The US Navy’s free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion op­er­a­tions have mostly in­volved mak­ing a show of send­ing ships into con­tended wa­ters. The US Navy has con­ducted sev­eral such op­er­a­tions in the South China Sea, sail­ing past is­lands claimed by China near Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Is­lands.

The Amer­i­can ex­er­cises around Rus­sia and China are part of the wider move to pro­tect naval sea lanes in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional mar­itime law.

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