By Linda F. Hersey
Inside Defense/Inside Washington Publishers
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — “Peace is war without bloodshed for China” is how Naval War College Professor James Holmes described that country’s position toward rules-based order and international law that hold sway in the South China Sea and across the Indo-Pacific.
“Control is how you win,” Holmes told a standing-room-only crowd at the Sea Air Space conference Monday at a panel discussion examining maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. “It is all about what we intend to do, rather than how we will interact, with friends or foes in our way.”
Calling strategic competition “a curious beast,” Holmes said the stakes in the South China Sea could hardly be higher. He said China is conducting a cumulative campaign of small-scale tactical actions — unrelated in place and time — that wear down adversaries “bit by bit.”
Panelists at the conference Monday afternoon answered the question: How can the military’s sea services, with their allies and partners in the region, counter China’s maritime insurgency to support a free and open Indo-Pacific?
Speakers included Navy Vice Adm. Eugene Black; Coast Guard Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson, and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Simon Doran.
Black said “to deter aggression” it is critical to “consistently operate maritime forces forward.” He noted that it is a rare day that U.S. forces are not speaking and operating with allies and partners across all waters and regions.
“The manifestation is that in crisis when ships meet, they come together and they operate,” Black said. “We can join, exchange signals, operate together and support each other logistically.”
“That to me gets to the heart of what we do every day,” he continued, noting the strength of NATO in the Pacific region. “It is a remarkable group of like-minded nations,” he said. Black noted that “no one would have predicted the reaction of the NATO alliance” to the threat by Russia toward Ukraine. “I am heartened and excited for what the future holds,” he said.
Black said the presence of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard assures the free flow of goods and services across the region.
The United States announced plans late Monday to expand four new sites in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan, Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, Balabac Island in Palawan, and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan.
“In addition to the five existing sites, these new locations will strengthen the interoperability of the United States and Philippine Armed Forces and allow us to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including natural and humanitarian disasters,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said at a press conference.
Singh said that the U.S. is not seeking “permanent basing” but rotational forces for regional readiness and to support combined training and disaster response.
Doran said China’s military operates in a way that pushes their maritime claims to exhaust its neighbors — “not just by breaking rules but to normalize the deviancy.”
Doran underscored the importance of government solutions and working in concert with allies and partners to optimize opportunities, abilities, and solutions.
Tiongson noted the Coast Guard is global. He said the White House strategy on the Indo-Pacific region specifically highlights the growing Coast Guard presence to enhance maritime security through advising, training and building partnerships.
“We need to focus on seeing present challenges through the eyes of our partners,” Tiongson said. “We need to be right there where they need us.”