March 20, 2013

Cronin: Pacific Pivot Will be Difficult to Execute

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The U.S. defense strategy rolled out in January 2012 placing a renewed emphasis toward Asia and the Pacific is “less than desired, more difficult to execute than we think,” says a defense analyst.

Dr. Patrick Cronin, senior adviser and senior director of Asia Pacific Security Programs at the Center for a New American Security, told an audience March 20 at the Expeditionary Operations Symposium sponsored by the Defense Strategies Institute that, despite the military power of the United States in the region, “political constraints are all over the region” and the United States seems to have an “inability for us to pull together our capability” to influence events.

Citing the case of North Korea’s advances in developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems, “We can’t even squeeze a rogue proliferator,” he said.

Cronin said that China is testing the boundaries, “pressing up against our allies and friends,” and asserting its own rules in violation of accepted international law and norms.

He cited China’s disputes with Vietnam regarding the Paracel Islands, with the Philippines regarding Scarborough Shoal and with Japan regarding the Senkaku Islands as examples of its push to dominate politically the first island chain beyond the Asian mainland. China has said that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea does not apply in some of these disputes.

In the case of the Senkakus, Cronin said, the United States transferred authority over the islands to Japan when nearby Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. Japan claims to administer the uninhabited islands. China also claims to administer them, paying fishermen to fish in the adjacent waters and then sending authorities to arrest them, thereby asserting its authority over the islands.

“Neither China or Japan wants a war,” Cronin said, “but there is the possibility of a miscalculation.”

Cronin predicts more incidents in the future in the form of challenges to the U.S. concept of freedom of navigation.

China is “trying a lot of different strategies right now,” he said, and seems to be saying to the region, ‘You can discount the Americans right now.’”

China finds the United States weakest in the South China Sea.

“Four [Littoral Combat Ships forward-deployed to Singapore] are not going to send a shudder to China,” Cronin said, but noting that the agreement to deploy them to Singapore “locks in a U.S. presence” in the South China Sea.

He said that “China thinks we’re rebalancing too much, [but our] allies want us to do more. Our allies and partners want strategic clarity. Our budget insecurity will lead to greater ambiguity.”