Eight of the world’s 10 largest armies are in Asia as well as three major flashpoints — Korea, Taiwan and Kashmir — and major center for terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy. There are also large strategic oil deposits, shipping lanes and important economic and industrial centers to be worried about. Defense chiefs of Asian-Pacific nations hold an annual meeting to discuss security and military matters that affect the region.

In February 2012, Reuters reported: “Asian military spending will top that of Europe in 2012 for the first time in centuries, a global defence survey by the London-based International Institute said, pointing to high regional economic growth and an increasingly ambitious China. With China's military spending - an estimated $89 billion in 2011 - roughly doubling every five years, other growing Asian states were also funnelling money into their military programmes, the report said. Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, India and other nations in the region are also increasing their forces, particularly naval craft. [Source: Peter Apps, Reuters, March 7, 2012]

"There's no doubt we are seeing a major shift," John Chipman, IISS director-general John Chipman told Reuters on the sidelines of the report's launch. "What we see in Asia is just about every kind of strategic challenge - from 19th century style territorial disputes to economic rivalry and potential new nuclear weapons states ... We need to manage that." Diplomatic effort and confidence-building measures were necessary to stop disputes between a variety of Asian powers in the South China Sea and elsewhere - together with other regional and economic rivalries - from escalating, he said.

Southeast Asia is one of the few places in the world, where defense budgets have increased since the end of the Cold War. The growth is spurred by fears of China's influence in the region, the need to protect economic and industrial zones, and territorial conflicts in the South China Sea over the Spratly Islands. In recent years as their economies have boomed, countries in Southeast Asia have spent large amounts of money on weapons and defense hardware. So much money has been spent its has triggered a local arms race.

Military Activity in Asia

In April 2012, after India tested a new missile, Thanong Khanthong wrote in Thailand’s: “Yesterday India displayed its defence prowess by successfully test firing a new long-range missile. It demonstrated that the country has joined the league of nuclear powerhouses. "This launch has given a message to the entire world that India has the capability to design, develop, build and manufacture missiles of this class, and we are today a missile power," said VK Saraswat, head of India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which developed and manufactured the missile. Most international news agencies reported that India's new missile is capable of delivering a one-tonne nuclear warhead to anywhere in rival China. [Source: Thanong Khanthong, The Nation (Thailand), April 20, 2012]

But would China be a real target of India's missiles in the event of wider regional or global conflict? China sought to play down the missile threat from India. Liu Weimin, a spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said China and India are not rivals but cooperative partners. China believes the two countries should "cherish the hard-won momentum of sound bilateral relations" and "make active contributions to regional peace and security", Liu said in a briefing in Beijing. India and China might be facing off as traditional rivals in this region, but it does not necessarily follow that they would go to war against each other in any future global conflict. Both India and China have populations of more than 1.2 billion each. In the event of a conflict in the Middle East between Iran and Israel, China is certain to back Iran, as judged by its political stance so far.

So is Russia, another global nuclear power, which has warned Nato over its possible war plan against Iran. India's position on the Israel-Iran conflict is ambiguous, but it is more likely that it would want to join the Sino-Russian "alliance" to support Iran should the diplomatic conflict degenerate into a war. If this were the case, India's missiles would not be aimed at targets in China, as widely reported by the international wire services.

China has also beefed up its defences. Yesterday it announced a plan to hold a joint military exercise with Russia. "The joint exercises will strengthen the naval forces' ability to jointly confront new regional threats and demonstrate their confidence to maintain peace and stability in the region and world," Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, said in a statement on the Defence Ministry website. The drills will focus on joint maritime defence and protection of navigation, and will involve 16 Chinese ships and two submarines, and four vessels from Russia's Pacific Fleet, as well as Russian warplanes and naval infantry, the statement said.Apparently, China's joint military exercise with Russia is a response to the Philippines' military cooperation with the US and Vietnam. The US is hoping to contain China by installing a base in Australia, and by strengthening naval cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam.

North Korea is a wild card in this global conflict. Its recent rocket/long-range missile test was a failure, though it caused widespread concern among countries in the region, particularly South Korea and Japan. Though the US and United Nations have condemned North Korea's actions, the pariah state has vowed to carry out similar tests again.

Asia-Pacific Defense Budgets 'To Outstrip N. America By 2021'

In June 2013, AFP reported: “Defense budgets in the Asia-Pacific region will overtake the United States and Canada by 2021, according to a study by respected analysts IHS Jane’s. Weapons spending in China and other Asia-Pacific countries is expected to rise 35 percent above its 2013 level to $501 billion by 2021, outstripping North America, the “Balance of Trade” study concluded.[Source: AFP, June 25, 2013]

India was the world’s biggest importer of arms in 2012, showing a giant leap of 70 percent since 2008, from $3.1 billion to $5.3 billion. But while spending in Asia rose, it fell back in Western Europe where exports were sharply down — its 34.5-percent share of the export market in 2008 fell to 27.5 percent in 2012. “Two things are happening: Budgets are shifting east and global arms trade is increasing competition,” said Paul Burton, senior manager of IHS Jane’s DS forecast.“This is the biggest explosion in trade the world has ever seen.”

China is reducing the amount of arms it imports as it improves its own production capabilities. But while China’s exports have doubled since 2008, it is being outpaced by South Korea, which leaped 688 percent, putting it into the global top 20 with $753 million. While China’s sales are predominantly to its regional neighbours, South Korea is increasingly succeeding in open, or competitive, markets.

“In terms of the quality of production, it is a mixed picture,” Ben Moores, senior forecasting analyst at IHS Jane’s, told AFP. “China do(es) fairly well in exporting to their regional neighbors, but in open markets like the Middle East they are just not in the market. “But it is a very different story for South Korea, which is exporting a range of equipment and selling to countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which are both very open.”

China's Military Rise Forcing Asian Defense Splurge

In February 2014, AFP reported: “China’s growing military might is forcing its neighbors to ramp up their defense spending, the London-based IISS think tank said. Asian defense spending in 2013 was 11.6 percent higher than in 2010, in real terms, the IISS said. The largest absolute spending increases in the past year were in East Asia, with China, Japan and South Korea accounting for more than half. China now spends around three times as much as India on defense, and more than neighbors Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam combined. [Source: AFP, February 4, 2014]

“These outlays are fueling heightened military procurement in a region replete with conflicting territorial claims as well as long-standing potential flashpoints,” said IISS director-general John Chipman. “Not least because of the Asia-Pacific’s central place in the global economy, the rapid pace of capability development and the potential for accidental conflict and escalation will continue to be of concern.” The experts said that even when Beijing’s military spending catches up with Washington’s, it will take decades after that for its capabilities to match the United States. Furthermore, Western powers may be able to retain their skills and abilities with smaller forces, which would push any crossover date further into the future.

Giri Rajendran, research associate for defense and economics, said that assuming China can maintain its current economic growth rates, China may be able to match US spending in the “mid to late 2030s”. “Even if they start ramping up to a rough parity in the late 2030s, it will still be 20 to 30 years before you start approaching military parity,” he said. The United States remained by far the world’s biggest defense spenders in 2013, with a budget of $600.4 billion, the report said, followed by China ($112.2 billion) and Russia ($68.2 billion). Japan was seventh ($51 billion), India ninth ($36.3 billion) and South Korea 11th ($31.8 billion).

The IISS said Asian states were now developing and procuring advanced military equipment that used to be the sole domain of the West and Russia. Christian Le Miere, the IISS naval forces and maritime security expert, said: “Territorial disputes, specifically maritime disputes, are certainly a driver of increasingly competitive military procurement in Asia. “While they are the focus of many security concerns in Asia, they could more theoretically be seen as an outlet for the tensions being created by the rise of China.”

American Military in Asia

The United States has traditionally had a strong presence in Asia. The Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, has 330,000 personnel, including military bases in Japan and South Korea. As of 2011, the United States had 80,000 troops in Japan and South Korea and an additional 10,000 in the rest of East Asia. More than 12,000 U.S. troops are afloat in the Indian and Pacific Oceans around Asia. at any given time. The U.S. 7th Fleet maintains a strong presence in the Malacca Strait area. The USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier group patrols full time.

In some ways the U.S. presence is not what it was. U.S. bases in the Philippines were closed in 1992. Singapore is regarded as the regional hub for the Seventh Fleet but it only has 150 Navy and Air Force personnel (1999) based there. In 2012, according to Reuters, the United States has said it will move additional military resources to Asia, including marines to Australia and combat vessels to Singapore. Beijing has condemned such plans, accusing Washington of being unnecessarily belligerent.

Bernard Loo wrote in the Straits Times: “The US Pacific Command comprises about 300,000 personnel, 100,000 of whom are forward-deployed. Including Guam and everything else westwards, USmilitary forces remain fairly impressive. At the forefront is the 7th Fleet, comprising one aircraft carrier, two Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers, five Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Perry-class frigates, two Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, the USS Essex which is the only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship, and threeamphibious support vessels. Its home port is Yokosuka, Japan. [Source: Bernard Loo Straits Times, June 16, 2006]

“US Air Force deployments are divided primarily between Japan and South Korea. The 5th Air Force is stationed in Japan, deploying F-15s and F-16s of the 18th and 35th fighter wings as well as air-refuelling and airlift platforms dispersed around Kadena,Misawa and Yokota. The 7th Air Force, comprising the 8th and 51st fighter wings, is stationed in Osan and Kunsan in South Korea.

“The strategic bombers of the 35th Wing, 13th Air Force, are stationed at Guam Finally, there are the US Army and Marine Corps units, principally the 9th Theatre Army command in Japan, the 8th Army command stationed in South Korea, the 3rd MarineExpeditionary Force comprising the 3rd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and the administrative centre of the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), located at Torii Station, Okinawa.

“While most of these units are administrative cells, they also provide surge capacity to quickly put a substantial number of combat personnel into the region when the need arises.East of Guam, the 3rd Fleet, centred around five carrier battle groups and five amphibious- ready groups, is home-ported at San Diego. In Alaska, there is the 11th Air Force, comprising the 3rd and 34th fighter wings. There is also the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, comprising the 1st Marine Division and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Although on the eastern Pacific, these military assets cannot be discounted from deployment in the western Pacific.

U.S. Rebalance to Asia-Pacific Gaining Steam, Pentagon Chief Says

In June 2013, Reuters reported: “The U.S. military will devote more air power, ground troops and high-tech weaponry to the Asia-Pacific region as it moves ahead with a strategic rebalance, the U.S. defense chief said. In remarks laying out his vision for regional security, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assured allies and partners at the annual Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore that the United States was fully able to continue its strategic pivot to the region despite budget constraints at home. "It would be unwise and short-sighted to conclude ... that our commitment to the rebalance cannot be sustained," he said in prepared remarks, noting the United States represented 40 percent of global defense spending even under the "most extreme budget scenarios." [Source: David Alexander, Reuters, June 1, 2013]

Hagel sketched out some of the region's thorniest security issues, including North Korea's effort to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, competing territorial claims in the seas around China and disruptive activity in space and cyberspace. While noting U.S. concerns about cyber intrusions linked to the Chinese government and military, Hagel underscored his belief that resolving many regional security issues would require closer cooperation between Washington and Beijing.

"Building a positive and constructive relationship with China is ... an essential part of America's rebalance to Asia," he said. "While the U.S. and China will have our differences ... the key is for those differences to be addressed on the basis of a continuous and respectful dialogue." Earlier Hagel said cyber threats posed a "quiet, stealthy, insidious" danger to the United States and other nations, and called for "rules of the road" to guide behavior and avoid conflict on global computer networks.

New Push for the Military Side of the Asian Pivot?

In August 2013, Chua Chin Hon wrote in the Strait Times, “US officials have been emphasising their intention to rebalance within Asia, going beyond merely shifting resources and attention from Iraq and Afghanistan towards the Pacific region in general, as outlined in the original policy. This new push will specifically see Washington increase its security, economic and diplomatic collaboration with South-east Asia, a region where the US is “especially underweighted”, according to former US national security adviser Tom Donilon. [Source: Chua Chin Hon, Strait Times, August 28, 2013 ^]

“US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel gave the most detailed outline yet of this move, particularly on the security front. Addressing a gathering of top defence officials at Malaysia’s Institute of Defence and Security in Kuala Lumpur, he announced that the Pentagon is seeking a 50 per cent increase in its funding to support foreign militaries and training in Southeast Asia. He also spoke at length about the US roping in more regional countries, including Malaysia, in its military exercises. And in remarks sure to get Beijing’s attention, Hagel noted that Washington could sell more weapons and further share military expertise with Asean countries, with the eventual goal of “moving towards co-production and co-development of new platforms with our closest partners”. “This will allow us to share American technology and expertise which will further deepen our security partnerships,” he added. “We are currently working with Japan and Singapore on these kinds of initiatives, and we are looking to expand this important engagement with other countries in the region.” ^

“From Kuala Lumpur, Hagel travelled to Jakarta where he demonstrated that his remarks about closer security cooperation with Asean weren’t throwaway lines in a long speech. With his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro by his side, Mr Hagel announced that the US will, for the first time, sell a fleet of eight Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia. The US$500 million deal comes about two years after the US agreed to provide Indonesia with 24 refurbished F-16 jets. “Providing Indonesia these world-class helicopters is an example of our commitment to help build Indonesia’s military capability,” said Hagel. ^

“Prior to his visit to South-east Asia this week, Washington and Manila have also been talking up the prospects of expanding the US military presence in the Philippines, citing the need to help maintain freedom of navigation in the region. This rebalancing within Asia, or a “pivot within the Asia pivot policy” as some have called it, will be welcome by most Asean countries, even if many of the same doubts surrounding the original policy will remain. For one thing, can Washington sustain its focus in South-east Asia while Egypt and Syria descend further into chaos? Second, can the Pentagon maintain its ambitious engagement programmes given the deep cuts to its budget over the next decade? ^

“This purported new phase of the US rebalancing strategy raises interesting new questions as well. The obvious one is whether the increased emphasis on Southeast Asia would entail a strategic scale-back in military assets based in Japan and South Korea, where the bulk of US forces in the region are located. Hagel and Donilon have given assurances on separate occasions that America’s alliances with South Korea and Japan remain the “cornerstones” of its regional security policy. But it’s no secret either that US military bases in both East Asian countries have become political headaches with no easy relief in sight. ^

“If more Southeast Asian countries can be persuaded to host US troops and military assets on a rotational basis, it might yet provide Washington with a compromise solution via the well-known “places, not bases” strategy. Under this strategy, the US merely seeks access to the host country’s naval facilities, for example, instead of running a full-fledged base. The Philippines, which hosted major US military facilities until the early 1990s, is an obvious option. Washington’s warming relations with Myanmar and Vietnam make for interesting possibilities in the future. ^

“A bigger question is whether the growing militarisation of South-east Asia is necessarily a good thing. While a legitimate argument can be made for the upgrading of the region’s less advanced militaries, such as the Philippine and Indonesian armed forces, a sharp influx of new weaponry will only heighten concerns about the already tense territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving China and several Southeast Asian claimant states. Others, however, will argue that this is the inevitable response to an increasingly powerful and assertive Chinese military. ^

American Military in Japan

There are 58,500 Americans working for the American military in Japan (2003). These include 14,000 sailors whose home ports are in Japan and 28,900 servicemen in Okinawa. There are also large numbers of American servicemen nearby in South Korea.

An LDP member once described American policy towards Japan as little more than making Japan into an “aircraft carrier” for the U.S. In the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty the U.S. promises to protect Japan and defines the U.S.’s commitment to protect Japan . In return the United States gained access to much of the eastern Pacific. Agreements between Washington and Tokyo in 1996 and 1997 allow the United States to use Japanese commercial and military air fields in the event of a crisis or war.

American soldiers have to abide by a midnight to 5:00am curfew and are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages off base except at off-base residential districts. The soldier’s salaries of around $1,200 a month are so small in expensive Japan that when they go out on dates with local girls, the girls often pay.

Many of the ships and aircraft in the U.S. Seventh Fleet — which is made up of 50 to 60 warships, 350 aircraft and 60,000 sailor and marines — are based in Yokosuka, a U.S. Navy base in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo and Yokohama on Tokyo Bay.

Other non-Okinawa bases include: 1) Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, home of the U.S.’s 5th Air Force, comprised mostly of C-130 transports; 2) Atsugi Air Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, home to F/A-18s and a site for aircraft carrier take off and landing drills; 3) Camp Zama in Kangawa Prefecture, headquarters of the U.S. Army in Japan; and 4) Iwakuni Air Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, home to Marine F/A-18 -fighters and helicopters.

Japan is contemplating participating in joint military exercises with the U.S. and South Korea. In December 2010, Japan and the United States conduct their 10th joint operation and military drills together. The operation involved 45,000 personnel from the U.S. and Japanese militaries. The South Korean military for the first time observed the drills.

In July 2011, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force would held joint military drills with the U.S. and Australian navies in the disputed South China Sea, apparently aiming to restrain China's increasing maritime ambitions. The exercises were held near Brunei near waters claimed by China.

Sympathy Budget

The “sympathy budget” is a term used to describe payments by the Japanese government for things like Japanese staff employed at U.S. military bases and other expenditures that help American forces in Japan. These expenses are about $2.2 billion a year, with most of it going to labor expenditures.

The United States pays about $40 billion to keep troops in Asia. The United States reportedly pays 88 percent of the cost of keeping an American presence in Korea but only 50 percent of the costs in Japan. Some sources report that Japan pays 70 percent of the cost, but that figure excludes troop salaries.

The Japanese government shells out $4 billion to subsidize 94 military based located on Japanese soil. About $3.3 billion of that covers the cost of labor, utilities, facility improvements and land rental; and the remaining $700 million is for tax exemptions.

Why the U.S. Military is in Japan

In January 2010, Japan and the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of their alliance that began with the signing of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The anniversary was not celebrated with any great fanfare and in fact occurred at a time when relations between the two countries was being tested over the controversy surrounding the Futenma air base.

On the presence of American troops in Japan, Joseph Nye, a professor of international relations at Harvard, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “What the troops provide you is a security guarantee which is credible. Japan is faced with both China and North Korea as nuclear powers and of course Russia. Japan needs an American guarantee if it doesn’t wish to develop its own nuclear weapons. How do you make that guarantee credible? You make that credible by having American troops in Japan. Anyone who attacks Japan — North Korea for example — is going to kill Americans as well as Japanese.”

On why it was necessary to have the troops in Japan rather than some other place Nye said, “If you took all the marines off Okinawa and put them in Guam, they’re going to be less efficient if there’s a problem in North Korea, for example. It’s that much farther away. So from a military efficiency point of view, there would be some loss.”

Japan-U.S. Relations As Japan Adapts Military to Chinese Threat

Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Given its limits, Japan’s strategy for now appears for it to become a fuller military partner of the United States, which maintains 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Japanese planners now speak of a division of labor between the two militaries, in which a more robust Japan carries a greater load in areas like anti-submarine warfare, freeing up the Americans to focus elsewhere. The December guidelines also call for “integrating” Japanese and American forces by sharing command centers and intelligence. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 28, 2011]

Analysts say Tokyo seeks to bind the two militaries together in order to keep the United States engaged in East Asia, and from becoming too distracted by its financial crisis and war in Afghanistan. “Japan is strengthening itself as an alliance partner,” Richard J. Samuels, an expert on Japanese security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the New York Times “while also hedging against the day when U.S. capabilities might slip below U.S. commitments.”

“Indeed, Japan seems to have reached a new consensus about the need to remain close to the United States, even while strengthening itself,” Fackler wrote. “The governing party, the left-leaning Democrats, briefly experimented with pulling away from Washington under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who in 2009 called for taking Japan closer to China, and clashed with Washington over an air base in Okinawa. However, his successor, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, has worked to regain Washington’s trust. China also inadvertently pushed Japan back toward the United States in September, when Beijing’s heavy-handed pressuring of Tokyo to release a detained Chinese trawler captain surprised and angered many Japanese.

United States Military in South Korea

The United States has 37,000 troops in South Korea, including a full combat division stationed near the DMZ. Another 47,000 troops and 13,000 sailors are based nearby in Japan. More reinforcements can come from bases in Guam, Hawaii and Alaska and on aircraft carriers. The main mission of the American military is to help South Korean troops protect their homeland from North Korea aggression but their presence also is part of a strategy to keep the entire East Asia region stable. At its height, the United States had 100,000 troops in South Korea and missiles with nuclear warheads.

U.S. forces in South Korea have a budget of $10.6 billion. The United States reportedly pays 88 percent of the cost of the American presence in Korea, but only pay 50 percent in Japan. U.S. Army soldiers reside in a number of bases scattered around South Korea. A large number are based near the DMZ. A large number of sailors are based on ships docked in Pusan. The servicemen stay primarily in their bases and on their ships but they do venture out quite a bit. When they do venture out it is often to small towns that grow up around the base that often have restaurants with American food and bars with bargirls. The American military pumps some money into the South Korea economy.

U.S. has deployed top-of-the-line Apache helicopters, Paladin Howitzers that global positioning system to locate targets, top-of-the-line M1-A2 Abrams tanks, Cobra attack helicopters, first class night-vision equipment. Some of the Apache and Cobra helicopters have laser guided smart bombs,

In 1991, the United States announced the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed abroad, including about 100 based in South Korea. In 1994, the U.S. sent patriot missiles to South Korea to help the country protects its airfields and ports from North Korean missiles. In 2003, an upgraded version of these misiles, the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system, was deployed along with ATMS Block 1A missiles, with a range of 200 miles and capable of hitting most targets in North Korea. There has been some discussion of deploying “bunker buster” bombs that can be used against North Korean armaments protetected in deep bunkers and tunnels.

United States Military Strategy and Deterrence on the Korean Peninsula

Large numbers of American troops were originally positioned along the DMZ as a “tripwire” — with the understanding that the United States would counterattack North Korea if it ever attacked South Korea . The thinking was this would make North Korea think twice about attacking. Later many of the U.S. soldiers along the DMZ were pulled back to positions further away from the DMZ to keep them out of range of North Korean artillery. In the event of war the United States would rely more on long-range strategic bombers.

"The Koreans spell deterrence against North Korea U-S-A," one Pentagon official told the Wall Street Journal. The South Korean defense establishment believes that presence of the U.S. military is an effective deterrent against a North Korean invasion, which enables South Korea to focus on Japan as a long term rival and build up a sophisticated arsenal of modern weapons to ward them off.

If the U.S. military were to leave it would probably be a big mistake. The North Koreans could claim victory and put more pressure on South Korea. South Korea would have to pour much money and resources into its own defense. The stability of all of East Asia would be upset. See North Korea and American Presence in Korea, North Korea.

United States Military in the Philippines

The United States and the Philippines signed a mutual defense treat that obligates the United States to help the Philippines in cases of major threats. The American military bases in the Philippines were the key to American presence in the southern Pacific and Southeast Asia. United Nations bases in the Philippines were key to projecting American power throughout Asia. Both bases were key logistical hubs during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

The United States had a major naval base at Subic Bay and a major air force base at Clark Air Force base. Clark Air Force base (50 miles north of Manila) was home to U.S. military personnel and their families and covered almost 34,000 acres. It was used in supply operations in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Subic Bay (50 miles west of Manila) was the home of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. It had a huge ship maintenance and repair station that included three dry docks. Employing upwards of 41,000 workers, it covered 45,000 acres and contributed $1 billion a year to the Philippine economy and generated 79,000 jobs in the region. The last American ships and sailors left in November 1992.

Subic Bay was a Spanish naval base until it was taken over the Americans in 1898. They made it into the largest military base outside the United States. It created jobs for 13,000 people, including club owners, tour operators tattoo artists, restauranteurs and estimated 27,000 bar girls and prostitutes. Most of the 200,000 people that lived nearby in Olongapa and the surrounding area depended on it some way for the for their livelihood.

Bickering over minor matters and a rising sense of nationalism led to the vote in the Philippines Senate in 1991 to evict more that 20,000 American troops from Subic Bay and Clark, which were officially closed in 1992.

U.S. Military in Southeast Asia

In January 2012, Adm. Robert Willard, the chief of the Pacific Command of the U.S. military, said the United States wants a greater military presence in Southeast Asia but does not seek additional bases. He also admitted at the U.S. Forces deployed in Japan and South Korea are “biased” toward Northeast Asia.

U.S. Navy ships dock in Singapore. U.S. Troops are stationed in northern Australia. The U.S. government wants to station troops in the Philippines but not reopen bases there and beef up its presence in the South China Sea.

As parts of its plan to step up it presence in Asia, the United States is looking to regain access to (but not take control of) bases in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam it was forced to leave decades ago. Craig Whitlock wrote in the Washington Post: “As the Obama administration revamps its Asian strategy in response to a rising China, the U.S. military is eyeing a return to some familiar bases from its last conflict in the region — the Vietnam War. In recent weeks, the Pentagon has intensified discussions with Thailand about creating a regional disaster-relief hub at an American-built airfield that housed B-52 bombers during the 1960s and 1970s. U.S. officials said they are also interested in more naval visits to Thai ports and joint surveillance flights to monitor trade routes and military movements. [Source: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, June 22, 2012*]

“In next-door Vietnam, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta this month became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the naval and air base at Cam Ranh Bay since the end of the war. Citing the “tremendous potential here,” Panetta enthused about the prospect of U.S. ships again becoming a common sight at the deep-water port. The Pentagon is also seeking greater accommodations in the Philippines, including at the Subic Bay naval base and the former Clark Air Base, once the largest U.S. military installations in Asia as well as key repair and supply hubs during the Vietnam War. *

The U.S. military either abandoned or was evicted from its Southeast Asian bases decades ago. Amid concerns about China’s growing military power and its claims to disputed territories, however, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have cautiously put out the welcome mat for the Americans again. U.S. officials said they have no desire to re-occupy any of the massive Southeast Asian bases from last century. Nor do they have the money to create new ones. So they’re looking for permission to operate from the old installations as guests, mostly on a temporary basis. *

The objective of the United States Pacific Command, in the words of a Pacific-based Marine general, must be "military multilateralism on steroids." This is not just a question of our future training with the "Sings" in Brunei, of flying test sorties with the Indian air force, of conducting major annual exercises in Thailand, or of utilizing a soon-to-open training facility in northern Australia with the approval of our alliance partners. It's also a matter of forging interoperability with friendly Asian militaries at the platoon level, by constantly moving U.S. troops from one training deployment to another. [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, Atlantic Monthly, June 2005]

United States Military in Singapore

After the United States lost it bases in the Philippines in 1992, Singapore stepped in, allowing U.S. ships to use their port facilities. Lee Kuan Yew, long regarded as a rigid anti-colonialist, invited the U.S. to use military bases in Singapore but warned Washington not be a "supreme sheriff" in Asia.

Singapore is regarded as the regional hub for the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet. The United States has 200 Navy and Air Force personnel based there. In 2001, Singapore opened a special facility designed for U.S. aircraft carriers. Around 100 U.S. ships pass through Singapore every year.

The United States conducts annual military exercises with Thailand and Singapore. United States special forces have provided training to government forces in things like tracking down political opponents, mounting surprise helicopter attacks, employing "close quarters" urban combat techniques and improving their killing efficiency. A $1.4 billion deal for 18 F/A-18 Hornets was jeopardized by the Michael Fay canning issue. Singapore sent troops, an Air Force plane and a Navy ship to Iraq.

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in Atlantic Monthly: “The country is, despite its small size, one of the most popular and helpful in the Pacific. Its ethnically blind military meritocracy, its nurturing concern for the welfare of officers and enlisted men alike, and its jungle-warfare school in Brunei are second to none. With the exception of Japan, far to the north, Singapore offers the only non-American base in the Pacific where our nuclear carriers can be serviced. Its help in hunting down Islamic terrorists in the Indonesian archipelago has been equal or superior to the help offered elsewhere by our most dependable Western allies. One Washington-based military futurist told me, "The Sings, well – they're just awesome in every way." [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, Atlantic Monthly, June 2005]

American Military Forces in Thailand

The United States has just a small force—30 air force, 10 navy, and 29 marine corps personnel— stationed in Thailand. but the two countries have longstanding military relationship. A long-standing ally of the United States, through the Cold War and Vietnam War era, Thailand signed numerous bilateral defense and mutual security agreements between 1950 and 2003. In 2002 Thailand received Foreign Military Assistance from the United States in the amount of US$3 million; in 2003 it received US$3.7 million; in 2004, US$3.4 million; and in 2005, US$1.4 million. Most Thai military equipment is from the United States, the United Kingdom, and China.

The United States army and Thai army conduct regular joint military exercises together. Cobra Gold is annual series of wars games involving the United States and Thailand that has been conducted since 1982. It is a big deal, involving thousands of troops. It sometimes involves other countries in the region. More than 13,000 troops from the United States, Thailand and Singapore participated in the exercise in 2003.

Thailand is important to the U.S. military as a “foreward positioning” base, where U.S. forces can store equipment and use when they need to. Utapao Air Base (145 kilometers south of Bangkok) fulfills that purposes. During the Vietnam War it was used to launch B-52 raids on North Vietnam. It was utilized in a limited fashion by U.S. warplanes traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars there. It is also believed that captured al-Qaida suspects were brought there for interrogation.

The U.S. military has provided some help to Thailand’s anti-drug campaign. U.S. special forces trained a crack Thai anti-drug unit known as task Force 399. The American government has sold the Thais two Black hawk helicopters, the latest night vision equipments and provided them with satellite photos of drug production areas. Between 1965 and 2000, more than $800 million in foreign aid was given to Thailand to combat drugs.

U.S. Navy Boosts Its Presence in Southeast Asia

The United States is seeking to boost its naval presence in the South China Sea and seas off Southeast Asia because of territorial disputes there and aggressive actions taken by the Chinese there. In April 2013, AFP/CNA reported: “A U.S. warship designed to fight in coastal areas arrived in Singapore for its Southeast Asian deployment, underlining President Barack Obama's new strategic focus on Asia. The deployment of the USS Freedom comes at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula and as China publicly flexes its naval muscle in the South China Sea, where it has competing territorial claims with some Southeast Asian states. [Source: - AFP/CNA, April 18, 2013]

US Navy officials said the Freedom, a new class of vessel called the littoral combat ship (LCS), sailed into Changi Naval Base in Singapore, a long-standing US ally that assists in logistics and exercises for forces in Southeast Asia. The ship, the US Navy's first LCS which is designed to fight close to the shore, will be deployed for the next eight months in the region, where it will participate in naval exercises and visit other ports.

Regional security expert Ian Storey said the Freedom's deployment signals Washington's commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation in the region, which hosts some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. "The forward deployment of these ships is part the US pivot, rebalancing away from Iraq and Afghanistan and towards Asia," said Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. "It demonstrates to US allies and friends that it is committed to maintaining a strong presence in the region to ensure stability. In naval terms, it also underpins the US' commitment to ensuring freedom of navigation," he told AFP.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last year that Washington will shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a new strategic focus on Asia, where China is an emerging power. China is embroiled in a maritime dispute with four Southeast Asian countries -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing claims nearly the entire sea, including areas much nearer to the other claimants. Manila and Hanoi have been the most vocal in criticising China over alleged heavy-handedness in enforcing its claims.

While not a claimant, Washington has said it has an interest in the area to ensure freedom of navigation. "We plan on spending most of our time here in Southeast Asia. This will be Freedom's neighbourhood for the next eight months," said US Navy Commander Timothy Wilke, the ship's commanding officer. "We are eager to get out and about, work with other regional navies and share best practices during exercises, port visits and maritime security operations."

Singapore has agreed to the rotational deployment of up to four LCS. This means the vessels will not be permanently based in the country and crews will live aboard during ship visits. Euan Graham, a maritime security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said Beijing "is obviously cautious about any enhancement of the US military presence around the South China Sea". But he added that China also understands that Freedom's presence is "not a major step-change in the naval balance in the region". China however would be keen to learn about the performance of the ship, a versatile vessel that can be used for surface warfare as well as to hunt for mines and submarines and is suitable to maritime regions like Southeast Asia, Graham said.

While analysts point to USS Freedom's tour of duty in Southeast Asia as proof of more American muscle in a region prone to territorial conflicts, Adelman called it a "new chapter" in an "increasingly important part of the world". It's also another chapter capturing close ties between the US and Singapore. "Here in Singapore, the United States continues to have the assets to do what we've always done, which is partner with our friends and important allies here. And I think the USS Freedom is 'Exhibit A' to our continuing commitment to security here in Southeast Asia," said Adelman.

Cobra Gold

Cobra Gold is the name of multi-nation military exercise in Southeast Asia. In January 2013, the U.S. Marine Corps reported: Service members from every branch of the U.S. military will join military members from throughout the Asia-Pacific region to participate in exercise Cobra Gold 2013 (CG 2013) in February in the Kingdom of Thailand. CG 13 is the 32nd iteration in a series of recurring multinational and multiservice exercises hosted annually by the Kingdom of Thailand and developed by the Royal Thai and U.S. militaries. [Source: U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, January 18, 2013]

“Thailand and the United States have been treaty allies since 1833, and our long-standing alliance is built on shared values and is a key example of America’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific region,” said Brig. Gen. Richard L. Simcock, the U.S. Pacific Command-designated executive agent senior representative for CG 13.

The exercise is the largest multinational exercise in the Asia-Pacific region with approximately 13,000 participants from seven full participating nations and many observer nations. "Cobra Gold is an excellent opportunity to develop effective solutions to common challenges, advance military-to-military relationships, and build upon international partner relationships while exercising the diverse capabilities of U.S. Pacific Command forces,” said Simcock, who is also the deputy commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.

The exercise will consist of a staff exercise, various senior leader engagements, a field training exercise and humanitarian and civic assistance projects. Full participating nations in the exercise include the Kingdom of Thailand, the United States, Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia... During the field training exercise, forces will conduct training including flight operations, amphibious training, and various training events that will enhance small-unit tactics and the ability to operate as part of a multinational team. The humanitarian and civic assistance projects include construction projects, various community health engagements and medical assistance programs.

United States, China and the Military

In the 1970s China and the U.S. were united by their hostility toward the Soviet Union. U.S. President Ronald Reagan once alarmed the nation with thee statement "a billion Chinese armed with nuclear weapons."

The U.S. threatened to use force against China in 1995 when China threatened Taiwan to keep shipping lanes in South China Sea open. One American analysts told his Chinese counterparts, according to Newsweek, "You should understand, this issue in the final analysis has nothing to so with Taiwan. the issue is U.S. credibility around the world."

Beijing has criticized the United States for selling arms to Taiwan. China is also against ABM style missile defense partly because it could be used as a shield to provide a defense for Taiwan. China has joined Russia condemning the United States missile shield plan. China was not pleased by the placement of American bases on China’s doorstep in the Central Asian states of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

United States View of China as a Military Threat

In September 2009, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that China’s increasingly advanced weaponry could undermine U.S. military power in the Pacific. “Investments in cyber and anti-satellite warfare, anti-air and anti-ship weaponry and ballistic missiles could threaten Americans primary way of projecting power and helping allies in the Pacific,” he said. “When considering the military-modernization programs of countries like China we should be concerned less with their potential ability to challenge the U.S. symmetrically “fighter to fighter or ship to ship — and more on their ability to disrupt our freedom of movement and narrow our strategic options.”

The annual report on China issued by the U.S. Defense Department in 2009 stated that the potential for miscalculation and misunderstanding was growing to both sides and improved communications was need to avoid trouble. A major quadrennial Pentagon report issued in February 2010 stated that Washington welcomed a strong and prosperous China but it was concerned about a “lack of transparency and the nature of China’s military development and decision-making process raise legitimate questions about its future conduct and extensions within Asia and beyond.” It added that the U.S. approach to China “must be multidimensional and undergirded by a process of enhancing confidence and reducing mistrust in a manner that reinforces mutual interests.”

In November 2007, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said. “I don’t consider the China at this point to be a military threat. I have concerns with a variety of military programs they have under way. I have concern with the lack of transparency.” A report by two arms control advocacy group stated that the United States overstated the China’s nuclear build up and threat to justify building a new generation of weapons. it has “embellished” China’s long range missile capabilities, for example, to justify the pursuit of a missile defense system.

A Pentagon report issued in 2001 but made public in 2006, characterized China as a threat and said that it has the “greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States” and that “a major or emerging power could choose a hostile path in the future” — an apparent reference to China. It also said, “China continued to invest heavily on its military, particularly in its strategic arsenal and capabilities designed to improve its ability to project power beyond its borders.”

The conclusions were reiterated by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he said in June 2005, “Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why the growing investment?. The Chinese government has rejected the reports saying it was not a threat and its military build up was strictly for defensive purposes.

Decisions by the U.S. military in Asia — namely basing more long-range bombers in Guam, adding a sixth aircraft carrier ro the Pacific fleet, and revamping its military presence in Japan — are seen as responses and preparation for a militarily strong China in the future.

The United States objects to Chinese sales of weapons technology. In January 2005, the United States placed penalties on eight Chinese companies for providing Iran with technology that it can use to improve its ballistic missiles.

Increasing American Military Presence in Asia

In January 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama said that the U.S. Would increase its military presence in Asia while reducing the overall size of American forces. Reuters reported: Obama unveiled a defense strategy that would expand the U.S. military presence in Asia but shrink the overall size of the force as the Pentagon seeks to reduce spending by nearly half a trillion dollars after a decade of war. [Source: David Alexander and Phil Stewart, Reuters, January 5, 2012]

“Cyberwarfare and unmanned drones would continue to grow in priority, as would countering attempts by China and Iran to block U.S. power projection capabilities in areas like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz. The shift in focus to Asia comes amid increasing concern at the Pentagon over China's strategic goals as it begins to field a new generation of weapons that American officials fear are designed to prevent U.S. naval and air forces from projecting power into the Far East. "We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia-Pacific," Obama said, "and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region."

Craig Whitlock wrote in the Washington Post: The administration has denied that its resurgent interest is designed to contain China, which has alarmed many neighbors by making expansive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China and East China seas. U.S. officials said their primary goal in Asia is to maintain stability by ensuring freedom of navigation and free trade with the world’s fastest-growing economies, including China. [Source: Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, June 22, 2012]

But analysts said the U.S. strategic pivot and fresh basing arrangements are necessary to reassure allies that Washington will maintain its Asian security commitments and remain an effective counterweight to China, despite looming defense cutbacks at home. “This is a long game and a long-term trend,” said Patrick M. Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank with close ties to the administration. “They’re doing the best they can with what they have, and what they have is considerable. The problem is whether it is sustainable, and that’s what everybody in the region is asking.”

American to Shift 60 Percent of IT Navy to Asia-Pacific

In a speech in June 2012 in Singapore U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said The Pentagon will move more Navy warships into the Asia-Pacific region so that by 2020, about 60 percent of the fleet will be assigned there as part of a new strategy to increase U.S. presence in Asia. "It will take years for these concepts, and many of the investments we are making, to be fully realized," Panetta said. "But make no mistake, in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way, the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region." [Source: AP, June 1, 2012]

AP reported: “Panetta acknowledged that some see the increased presence of the U.S. in the region as a direct challenge to China. But he rejected that view, saying that a greater U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific will benefit China and improve regional security. The increased U.S. naval presence in the Pacific will allow the U.S. to boost the number and size of the military exercises in the region in the next few years and to plan for more port visits over a wider area, including the Indian Ocean. Last year, the U.S. military participated in 172 exercises in the region involving 24 counties.

“Currently, the Navy has about 285 ships, with roughly half assigned to each coast, but that total may decline a bit as some ships are retired in the coming years and may not be replaced. The current fleet includes 11 aircraft carriers, with six assigned to the Pacific. But those numbers are slated to go down later this year, dipping to 10 carriers, with five assigned to Pacific ports in San Diego, Washington state and Japan. Panetta, however, said he intends to go back to having six carriers in the Pacific in the coming years. And he said the Pacific will also eventually host a majority of the Navy's cruisers, destroyers, submarines and littoral combat ships, which operate in close to shore.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2014

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