US Focus Towards Asia Will Benefit India

The US military’s new focus on the Asia-Pacif­ic region, as enun­ci­at­ed by Defence Sec­re­tary Leon Panet­ta, is wel­come and will aid in India’s efforts to con­tain Chi­na, secu­ri­ty experts say, adding that this country’s navy should devel­op the capac­i­ty to oper­ate in areas afar as the Pacif­ic Ocean.

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“This was in the mak­ing for a long time. After the col­lapse of the War­saw Pact, the Atlantic is a dead duck and with the pow­er cen­tre shift­ing from the west to the east, the Asia-Pacif­ic region is going to be the cock­pit of pow­er for the next 50 years,” for­mer navy chief Admi­ral Arun Prakash said.

“So, how should India react? Each coun­try should react if its sov­er­eign­ty and secu­ri­ty is impinged. This not so in this case. There­fore, we should wel­come it. We are wor­ried about the rise of Chi­na. This will help us in the con­tain­ment process in the long run,” Prakash, who is a mem­ber of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­so­ry Board, added. Speak­ing in New Del­hi on Wednes­day, Panet­ta detailed the US’ “rebal­anc­ing” itself toward the Asia-Pacif­ic region.

“In par­tic­u­lar, we will expand our mil­i­tary part­ner­ships and our pres­ence in the arc extend­ing from the West­ern Pacif­ic and East Asia into the Indi­an Ocean region and South Asia,” he said, adding that India would be a “lynch­pin” in imple­ment­ing this strat­e­gy.

In prac­ti­cal terms, that means that the US would be mov­ing 60 per cent of its mil­i­tary assets, prin­ci­pal­ly war­ships, air­craft and troops, to the Asia-Pacif­ic-Indi­an Ocean region.

This would enable the US “con­front more than one ene­my at the same time. Let’s say some­thing hap­pens in North Korea and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the Strait of Hor­muz. We have to be pre­pared to con­front both,” Panet­ta said.

Retired Com­modore C Uday Bhaskar, advis­er to the South Asia Mon­i­tor por­tal, echoed Prakash’s views.

“If you have the capac­i­ty, then you oper­ate in a cer­tain area. We should acquire the capac­i­ty to oper­ate in the Pacif­ic Ocean. One shouldn’t be sur­prised about the plans the US and Chi­na have for the Indi­an Ocean. Sur­prise would go against the rhythm of what world pow­ers do,” said Bhaskar, a for­mer direc­tor of the Nation­al Mar­itime Foun­da­tion. “Instead of say­ing ‘Don’t come here’, you should show your abil­i­ty to go out­side your domain,” he said.

The navy has for long desired to trans­form itself into a blue water force. How­ev­er, in spite of being the only navy in the region stretch­ing from Israel in the west to Japan and Chi­na in the east to oper­ate an air­craft car­ri­er, with two more on the way, and a pletho­ra of sub­marines, both nuclear and con­ven­tion­al, destroy­ers, frigates, corvettes and oth­er ves­sels, it essen­tial­ly remains a coastal force.

How­ev­er, the navy does par­tic­i­pate in bilat­er­al and mul­ti­lat­er­al exer­cis­es as far away as off Japan and once in the Atlantic. Its ships also reg­u­lar­ly drop anchor at for­eign ports on good­will vis­its.

Gul­shan Luthra, edi­tor of India Strate­gic defence jour­nal, had anoth­er take on the issue, say­ing the US move would make India unhap­py but there was lit­tle this coun­try could do about it. “It’s bound to cause unhap­pi­ness in India but there’s lit­tle we can do about it,” Luthra said.

What was now wor­ri­some, he said were reports that the US was attempt­ing to acquire berthing facil­i­ties in the Bangladesh port city of Chit­tagong.


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