The utility of deterrence is to ensure restraint on adversaries’ undesired actions, specifically within the military domains. This restraint has been incorporated as a primary strategy in the United States Indo-Pacific policy since the Obama administration. In a study by the Rand on the United States national security policy; Michael J. Mazarr, the senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, argues that the United States is in immediate obligatory need of forcible deterrence since the Cold War ended.
The intra-regional military competition has a history in the Asia Pacific – such as the Sino-Japanese conflict in 1895 over South China Sea islands and the China-Vietnamese conflict. Yet, the deterrence stability in the region was sustained because the conflict remained confined to intra-regional actors. However, the United States’ Indo-Pacific shift in its foreign policy implemented through regional militarization and integrated deterrence strategy is causing deterrence instability due to ‘asymmetric advantage’, especially among intra-regional medium powers in the Asia-Pacific.
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Understanding the matter better
The deterrence policy in the Indian Ocean relies on the extension of military deployments adjacent to key sea lines of communication (SLOCs), and the maritime choke points This may be analyzed under Mearsheimer’s offensive-defensive lens where the United States integrated deterrence against China is a manifestation of offensive Realism for the U.S. strategic reassurance in China’s neighborhood. While on the other hand, China’s military assertiveness in the Asia Pacific and the strategic partnerships when analyzed since the post-World War era provide a more defensive outlook to deter the threats to its national integrity as in the case of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute and, significantly, for the security of SLOCs against possible disruptions by the United States via its regional policing partners and allies.
However, the medium powers militarization is based on an offensive-defensive bargain as in the case of Japan and Pakistan where both the states have opted for bandwagoning either with China or the U.S. under a defensive Realist mechanism; whereas India and Australia present a case of offensive Realism where they aim at pursuing greater regional ambitions.
These regional medium powers are operating to construct a strong security profile in the Asia-Pacific and in the Indian Ocean, in particular, in order to assume recognition as the state which is the instrumental regional partner of either the status quo or the revisionist stakeholder within the world order in the Indo-Pacific. However, in both cases, this undermining of the regional balance of power has implications for the deterrence stability in the Asia-Pacific.
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Unless it has been the status-quo and the revisionist power intervention for world order interests, the deterrence stability in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean is sustained, despite active regional disputes, due to being a regional affair. Taking the case of Japan, the Senkaku Islands were placed under the US administration in the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 -Article 3, and their administrative rights were later transferred to Japan in 1972.
Moreover, the US-Japan defense Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1960 was an offensive mechanism that signaled the United States integrated deterrence strategy against China in years to come. Therefore, Japan as the regional state does hold liability for pushing China, which is a global and a regional stakeholder as well, towards maritime militarization policy; thus impacting deterrence stability in the Asia-Pacific.
Similarly, Canberra is assertive in constructing the U.S.-led regional security architecture in the Asia-Pacific by promoting strategic interoperability mechanisms characterized by shared military capabilities development and exchange as also mentioned in Australian government defense and its foreign policy white papers 2016, 2017, and 2020. The AUKUS arrangement between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom and within it, the nuclear-powered submarines deal between the U.K. and Australia; and the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement are indicators of Australia-led multilateral militarization taking place in the Asia-Pacific.
The way forward
To counterbalance that, the China-Solomon Islands security pact, which indicates an addition in China’s foreign policy for constructing a regional security network, may be taken as a valid balancer for deterrence stability within the U.S. – China competition for world order in the Asia-Pacific; however, within the regional context of China-Australia power imbalance, this arrangement might disturb the regional deterrence stability. In fact, the SLOCs focus in the Indo-Pacific policy of the United States and the defense technology collaboration reveal that the U.S. is more interested in securing its economic interests against rising China either that be via integrated deterrence policy for free and open Indo-Pacific for trade or be it the war economy.
In the case of South Asia, the United States holds responsibility for authorizing India as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean and also for facilitating India in the development of offensive conventional military technology, specifically, of the next-generation weaponry that includes Submersible Ship Ballistic Missile Nuclear (SSBN), the nuclear power attack submarine SSNs, supersonic and the hypersonic missile defense system – the S-400, PAD and AAD BMD systems. This asymmetric advantage extended to India has to influenced India’s transforming strategic culture and aggressive posture, particularly towards Pakistan.
According to a Stimson study, India’s China-Pakistan Dilemma makes it vulnerable to the two-front military threat. Therefore, the Indian approach of a more offensive posture towards Pakistan and limited military punishment for China is unaffordable as it might lead to a collaborative or collusive military response from China and Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategy is more feasible in adapting to Indian Ocean strategic dynamics. Pakistan is developing tactical weapons perceivably for achieving enhanced deterrence stability in South Asia.
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Pakistan’s non-aggressive response to Brahmos’s launch from India indicates Pakistan’s resilience to transforming the strategic culture of India which is more like a revisionist aggressor in the context of South Asian security. At the same time, on March 9, the Brahmos missile launch into Pakistan’s territory lessens the credibility of the strategic behavior of India as a responsible nuclear state in South Asia where three nuclear powers lay adjacently.
The state of strategic stability in South Asia is already tenuous because there is no dialogue taking place, no risk reduction mechanism is there, no restraint mechanism, there is threat of targeting strategic forces, and there is a risk of escalation by misunderstanding mistakenly fired missile accidents as a pre-emptive strike. The dilemma caused by the Brahmos launch by India would result in a high alert of forces in the future for the immediate response which may lead to an accidental launch, hence causing deterrence instability in South Asia.
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The present state of Asia-Pacific order dynamics holds regional as well as global actors responsible for the regional deterrence stability. The regional states that include China, India, Australia, Japan, and Pakistan are primary stakeholders in restoring the status-quo of deterrence stability with no maritime militarization, extended deployments against regional powers, active confrontations, and increasing nuclearisation. Conflicts become more complex when externalized.
However, because regional security cooperation is also an externally driven agenda, therefore the U.S needs to discard its Cold War thinking when it comes to the Indo-Pacific strategy. The US-China management over Asia-Pacific security issues might be a workable relationship taking on board the Asia-Pacific regional medium powers as well.
The writer is working as a Research Officer at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.