President Obama’s Asia-Pacific Pivot: Security Implications
By Richard Pera
Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University
President Obama recently visited Asia for the fifth time in his presidency in late April. In a White House website video, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared, “The United States is a Pacific nation [and] the president himself is a Pacific president, having been born in Hawaii.” The website also indicated that visits to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines were intended to “underscore a continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region and commitment to [the president’s] vision of rebalancing to the world’s largest emerging region.”
The administration announced its “Asia-Pacific pivot” in late 2011. The new strategy reflects massive U.S. trade with China and other, thriving Asian countries as well as security requirements. Presumably, the pivot “to” the Pacific is “from” Europe and the Middle East, including costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that President Obama was willing to make the trip during an especially tense time along the Ukrainian-Russian border suggests he is willing to stay the course and, in fact, lean further into the pivot.
Security aspects of the pivot are extremely crucial. In addition to longstanding treaty relationships and a substantial military presence in Japan and South Korea, the U.S. has, in recent years, bolstered its presence in Guam, Singapore and Australia. Additionally, the Pentagon announced in 2012 that it would rebalance 60 percent of naval and air forces to the Pacific by 2020.
So, who is in charge of the military buildup in the Pacific? It’s the four-star commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), headquartered in Hawaii. The largest of the six geographic “combatant commands,” PACOM directs all U.S. military forces and operations stretching from California to India, an enormous swath of land and ocean space.
The current commander, Admiral Sam Locklear, USN, was recently quoted in Defense News (Jan. 15, 2014): “The region… is the economic engine that drives the global economy. [It] is becoming increasingly militarized and has no NATO-like security structure to prevent conflicts. And the rise of China’s military spending and capability is upending the status quo that took root after World War II.”
During a recent visit to the Pentagon, I had the opportunity to interview the Director of Intelligence of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (J2), Rear Admiral Paul Becker, USN. Admiral Becker’s previous assignment was as PACOM’s Director of Intelligence. During the interview, he recounted constant efforts to monitor a variety of military threats from “Hollywood to Bollywood,” including an increasingly powerful China and ever-unpredictable North Korea.
I asked Admiral Becker what the Asia-Pacific pivot will mean to U.S. capabilities and personnel. His answer was potentially instructive to American Military University students: “We should study the Asia-Pacific region more…Understanding the environment of Asia… is a growth opportunity. Those students that understand that part of the world will be well-served and in demand within the U.S. Intelligence Community and Department of Defense in the future.”
About the Author
Richard Pera has more than 30 years of Navy and intelligence community experience, having most recently served as director of the Defense Intelligence Resource Management Office of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, DC. Prior to joining DIA, Pera served in a variety of senior assignments, including director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance on the Navy Staff and director of global information acquisition at the Office of Naval Intelligence.
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