By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Today China’s naval forces join rival states in the largest international maritime exercise in the world (June 26 to August 1). This will mark its first in a rather intimately shared military gaming and training experience.
For five weeks, China and the U.S. will be two of 22 states to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). Thailand’s participation would have made 23 states but has been suspended due to a recent military coup. The 22 state participants are up from RIMPAC 2010, in which only 14 states were involved and 2012 saw 22. China was previously excluded.
RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th series of exercising that began in 1971. This year, RIMPAC 2014 will see: “49 surface ships, 6 submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate. Units from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the People’s Republic of China, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom and the United States will participate” (Source: http://www.cpf.navy.mil/rimpac/2014/).
According to the Associated Press: “The Chinese ships are the missile destroyer Haikou, the missile frigate Yueyang, the supply ship Qiandaohu and the hospital ship Peace Ark. Chinese forces include two helicopters, a commando unit and a diving unit, a total 1,100 personnel.”
According to the Associated Press: “U.S. Navy chief Admiral Jonathan Greenert said last year RIMPAC allowed participating forces to practice high-end ballistic missile defense, surface and anti-submarine warfare in simulations and live-fire missile and torpedo exercises.”
There will also be “cross-decking”- which is the practice of liaison officer exchange who will board other states’ ships.
The purpose of the joint exercises are to ensure the “foster and sustain’ relationships and “ensure the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.”
Proponents of joint military exercises, including with more aggressive states, believe they improve standards in cooperation, military transparency and build better military-to-military relations between countries.
Opponents argue that joint military exercises are not always a win-win. In this case, the critics are worried China will benefit the most from more experienced navies and is just using the exercises to peer into the competition’s warships. Moreover, they are sure to point out that each state’s national interest calculations are seen as more meaningful than any potential military diplomacy and short-term joint exercises.
RIMPAC’s objective is not necessarily reducing tensions or heavy peace-building; although it is not in any way a provocative. Instead, RIMPAC is an attempt to put into practice what pure diplomatic efforts for clear regional military-to-military communication standards have failed. It is hoped that states will come out of RIMPAC with a better way of avoiding conflict.
Ongoing regional joint military exercises with the participation of China and rival countries like China, Japan, the Philippines and Brunei, for example, might prove more effective in generating inclusive cooperative maritime security models within Asian waters over time; perhaps more than annual exercises or events are needed.
In addition to more joint training and cooperation, more innovative civil diplomacy will be required to resolve long standing territorial disputes. RIMPAC could be a conceptual force multiplier, but if it stands alone, strong gains are not enough for regional stability.