- Rebalancing US Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific ed. by Carnes Lord and Andrew S. Erickson
Can the United States rely on its land bases, major naval surface combatants, and above all, its fleet of formidable nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to sustain a forward military presence in the Asia-Pacific region in the coming decades? This is the key question for Carnes Lord and Andrew Erickson, the editors of Rebalancing US Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific. For nearly seven decades, US strategy in the Asia Pacific has remained relatively constant: to maintain a robust forward and active presence coupled with bilateral alliances to ensure peace, stability and prosperity. Since the end of the Cold War, however, East Asia’s regional strategic template has become progressively more complex and multifaceted with the confluence of unresolved historical legacies in traditional flashpoints such as the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Straits, territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas as well as a range of non-traditional security challenges such as energy and cyber security.
Above all, however, it is China’s increasing power projection capabilities embedded in the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) growing technological developments, including long-range precision-strike assets, that is gradually redefining the regional military balance and subsequently US strategy. In particular, China’s asymmetric “counter-intervention” concepts and weapons technologies, designed to deny the American military and its allies the freedom of action in China’s “near seas” by restricting deployments of US forces into theatre (anti-access) and denying them freedom of movement there (area denial), amplify the magnitude of strategic and operational challenges for US commanders in the region. In this context, Lord and Erickson argue that the current constellation of US forward bases in East Asia — “main operating bases” with a permanent US military presence, “forward operating sites” maintained by a relatively small US support presence for temporary deployments and “cooperative security locations” designed for contingency use with little or no permanent US presence — will become increasingly vital, yet paradoxically vulnerable (p. 9). [End Page 146]
The question of the long-term strategic effectiveness of America’s forward presence in the region is analyzed in detail through select case studies of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. Chapter One, by Andrew Erickson and Justin Mikolay, focuses on the increasing geostrategic importance of Guam as a “sovereign anchor of American force posture in East Asia” with a potential “to play a key supporting role in military operation across the region” (p. 17). Here, the authors map the diverse factors, situational advantages as well as challenges that both enable and constrain the deployment and basing of more US ships and submarines. On one hand, for example, Guam allows for a rapid response to regional contingencies by reducing transit times for submarines and other pre-positioned naval and air power assets. On the other hand, however, Guam’s Naval Base requires “significant infrastructure and equipment upgrades” (p. 20) to support US forces in the region, and perhaps more importantly, mitigate the increasing risks and vulnerabilities to China’s precision-strike missiles. Guam therefore represents a key benchmark for basing resource allocation and development necessary for the United States to retain its Asia-Pacific leadership in the future.
In Chapter Two Toshi Yoshihara explores the strategic ramifications of China’s increasingly sophisticated arsenal of conventional ballistic missiles for the US forward presence in Japan and US-Japan defence cooperation. This chapter is noteworthy as it analyses not only Chinese strategic assessments of the importance of US naval bases in Japan, but also how these bases fit into the PLA’s evolving missile strategy and doctrine. In his analysis, Yoshihara draws upon key publications closely affiliated with the PLA, including the Academy of Military Science and the National Defense University. He concludes that “Washington and Tokyo will encounter a more complex geometry of deterrence with the emergence of a robust Chinese theater-strike capability” (p...