The U.S. military in Asia may get a big boost over the next few years.
The Pentagon has offered its support to a plan that will inject $8 billion over a period of five years into U.S. military strength in Asia, reports The Wall Street Journal. The funds will be used to upgrade military infrastructure, conduct more drills and training exercises, and deploy more U.S. troops and ships into the region.
The plan may signal to Asia that the U.S. remains committed to the region as it faces a rising China and a stronger, nuclear North Korea — two major security concerns.
The plan, known as the Asia Pacific Stability Initiative and initially put forward by Arizona Senator John McCain, has the support, in principle, of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Admiral Harry Harris, head of U.S. Pacific Command.
“This initiative could enhance U.S. military power through targeted funding to realign our force posture in the region, improve operationally relevant infrastructure, fund additional exercises, pre-position equipment and build capacity with our allies and partners,” McCain told Harris in April.
During the hearing, Harris indicated that he has the ability to “fight tonight” if necessary, but additional assets, such as submarines, would significantly improve the U.S. military’s capabilities in Asia.
The Trump administration is still developing its policy for the Asia Pacific.
“The Asia-Pacific is a top priority for the United States, and the Department is committed to ensuring that U.S. forces are as capable and ready as possible to face the evolving challenges in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross told reporters. The Department of Defense “supports in principle” the Asia Pacific Stability Initiative.
“I don’t understand all the details in Senator McCain’s plan, but I support the themes that he outlined and the importance he assigned to that region,” Mattis explained during a recent congressional hearing. The Secretary of Defense has previously called out China for “shredding trust in the region” and warned North Korea that any provocation that poses a legitimate threat to the U.S. and its allies will be met with an “overwhelming response.”
It is unclear how the plan will secure funding or how it will play into the new administration’s broader policies for the region. Another obstacle may be China, which could perceive the move as a form of containment, as was the case with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” and the recent deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea. So far, the Trump administration has been hesitant to challenge China, be it on trade or in the South China Sea, in order to secure Beijing’s assistance reining in a hostile North Korea.
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