What's happening at the
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 00:11 | SYDNEY
Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 00:11 | SYDNEY

Two further notes on Obama's speech

By

COMMENTS

21 November 2011 12:00

First, an observation from a colleague concerning the paragraph dealing with North Korea:

Indeed, we also reiterate our resolve to act firmly against any proliferation activities by North Korea. The transfer of nuclear materials or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies. And we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action.

Note that the emphasis is solely on proliferation, not North Korea's own nuclear capabilities. My colleague wonders if this is sloppy drafting or a deliberate omission. If the latter, is the US indicating that it can get used to the idea of North Korea having nuclear weapons, as long as it doesn't proliferate?

State Department policy statements suggest the US is still committed to denuclearisation; here's East Asia head honcho Kurt Campbell speaking in March:

The verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is the core objective of the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, is an essential ingredient to the Asia-Pacific region’s long-term success and to our own security.

Pretty emphatic, though it doesn't rule out the possibility that Obama wants to place less emphasis on denuclearisation as a policy goal.

Second, last week I cautioned that the rotation of US Marines through Darwin could be read in one of two ways, depending on whether the new deployment was merely a redistribution of existing US forces in the Asia Pacific, or a reinforcement. In reply, the respected and influential maritime strategy blog Information Dissemination said emphatically that it was a redistribution, in part because the US is just not building enough ships.

Obama's speech did not really clarify this issue. Here's the relevant passage (emphasis added):

...here is what this region must know.  As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority.  As a result, reductions in U.S. defense spending will not-I repeat, will not-come at the expense of the Asia Pacific. 

My guidance is clear.  As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.  We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace.  We will keep our commitments, including our treaty obligations to allies like Australia.  And we will constantly strengthen our capabilities to meet the needs of the 21st century. Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in this region.  The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.

Indeed, we're already modernizing America's defense posture across the Asia-Pacific.  It will be more broadly distributed-maintaining our strong presence in Japan and on the Korean peninsula, while enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia. Our posture will be more flexible-with new capabilities to ensure that our forces can operate freely.  And our posture will be more sustainable-by helping allies and partners build their capacity, with more training and exercises.

If you maintain capability in one part of the region and enhance it in another, that's a reinforcement overall. But given China's growing capability in Northeast Asia, Obama's suggestion that the US will essentially stick with what it has in that part of the region implies that US capability there will decline in relative terms. So that's effectively a redistribution.

And yet, Obama also says 'we will constantly strengthen our capabilities to meet the needs of the 21st century'...

Photo by Flickr user Official US Navy imagery.

You may also be interested in...