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What Does Pacific Deterrence Initiative Foreshadow?

Mar 08, 2023
  • Fan Gaoyue

    Guest Professor at Sichuan University, Former Chief Specialist at PLA Academy of Military Science

The U.S. Pacific Deterrence Initiative — recommended by Dr. Eric Sayers, staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former special assistant to commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and promoted by Senator John McCain and others — was modeled after the European Deterrence Initiative of 2014. It was included in the National Defense Authorization Act in July 2020 and signed into law by President Donald Trump that December.

Eight years after the creation of the European Deterrence Initiative, the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out. So, what does the Pacific version of the initiative foreshadow now?

From fiscal 2021 to 2027, the Pacific Deterrence Initiative was allocated a total of $34.4 billion to do the following with the aim of maintaining the U.S. military advantage over China:

•  Modernize and strengthen the presence of the United States armed forces;

• Improve logistics and maintenance capabilities and the pre-positioning of fuel, munitions, equipment and other materiel;

• Carry out a program of exercises, experimentation, and innovation for the joint force;

• Improve infrastructure to enhance the responsiveness and flexibility of the United States armed forces;

• Build the defense, security capabilities, strength and cooperation of allies and partners;

• Improve the capabilities available to the United States Indo-Pacific Command.

Such huge military spending — on top of ordinary national defense investment — is sure to expand the U.S. military’s advantages in the Indo-Pacific region and strongly support its dominance in regional affairs. It compels countries in the region to respond and raise their defense budgets, thus triggering an arms race and escalating tensions in the region.

The PDI expands U.S. military advantages in the Indo-Pacific region and provides strong support for the U.S. to dominate Indo-Pacific affairs. Implementing the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the Trump administration deployed 60 percent of the ships, 55 percent of the army troops, two-thirds of the shipborne marines and 60 percent of the overseas tactical air forces to the Indo-Pacific region, including more than 2,000 combat aircraft, 200 warships and submarines and 370,000 military and civilian personnel.

In addition to the normal defense investment, the U.S. military in the region can also obtain $27 billion in earmarked funds through the PDI over the next five years — $9.1 billion for modernizing and strengthening its military presence; $1 billion for improving logistics and maintenance capabilities and pre-positioning equipment, munitions, fuel and materiel; $7.95 billion for military exercises, training, experiments and innovation; $6.82 billion for infrastructure improvements to enhance the responsiveness and flexibility of the U.S. forces; $2.17 billion for building the defense and security capabilities, strength and cooperation of allies and partners; and $131 million for improving capabilities available to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

All this will certainly enable U.S. forces in the region to have sufficient resources to do what they want. In February 2023, the U.S. announced it had obtained four new agreed locations in strategic areas of the Philippines and had allocated more than $82 million to complete projects in the existing five agreed locations.

The PDI prompts countries in the region to respond and raise their national defense budgets, thus triggering an arms race. Under the PDI the U.S. and its allies and partners trumpet the “China threat” theory and demand a substantial increase in budgets to improve the combat capabilities of their forces.

After taking office, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida changed Japan’s exclusively defensive posture, proposed to develop the ability to attack China’s missile launch bases and senior command organizations and deployed more than 1,000 long-range cruise missiles to its far-flung southwestern islands and the Kyushu region so that missiles can cover the eastern coast of China and the Korean region. Japan’s defense budget approved for fiscal 2023 was 6.8 trillion yen ($51 billion), an increase of 26 percent from 5.4 trillion yen the previous fiscal year.

South Korea’s defense budget for fiscal 2023-27 reached 331.4 trillion won ($265.1 billion), with an average annual growth of 6.8 percent. It also plans to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on Jeju Island (just 500 kilometers from Shanghai).

To “counter China’s growing economic and strategic impact in this region,” Australia has increased its defense budget by 8 percent in fiscal 2023 and will continue to increase it over the next few years. India’s defense budget in fiscal 2023-24 is 5.94 trillion rupees ($71.9 billion), an increase of 13 percent from the previous fiscal year. Facing the belligerent behavior of the U.S. and its allies, China and other peace-loving countries have been forced to increase their own defense budgets to get well-prepared.

The PDI increases the frequency of U.S. forces’ deterrence operations and escalates tensions in the Indo-Pacific region. Once included in its National Defense Authorization Act, the United States Indo-Pacific Command can obtain more money to implement deterrence operations. In 2022 the U.S. organized and implemented 87 deterrence operations in the region, including military exercises, freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs), and ship and aircraft close reconnaissance — five more than in 2020 (82), the worst year of China-U.S. relations.

The U.S. forces’ deterrence operations against China will inevitably pressure the Chinese military to take countermeasures. The more frequently the U.S. forces conduct such operations, the greater the risk of accidents, and the greater the tension in the Indo-Pacific region.

On Dec. 21, 2022, a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft intruded into the South China Sea to conduct close reconnaissance and was intercepted by a People’s Liberation Army Navy J-11 fighter jet, with the shortest distance between them being only 6 meters. A slight error could destroy the aircraft, which would trigger a military confrontation and threaten regional peace and stability.

The European Deterrence Initiative resulted in the Russia-Ukraine conflict eight years after its creation. Will the PDI lead to a U.S.-China conflict, Japan-China conflict or any other conflict in the days to come? Let’s watch it closely with high vigilance.

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