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Deterring Chinese aggression through strategic U.S. alliances and partnerships

On April 7th, 2021, Dr. James Anderson gave a webinar presentation titled, “How to Best Leverage U.S. Alliances and Partnerships against the PRC,” to discuss U.S. alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region and how they can bolster U.S. deterrence against a more aggressive Chinese presence.

Dr. Anderson is the former Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. In 2018, Dr. Anderson was sworn in by the U.S. Senate as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. Prior to his most recent Pentagon service, he served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Marine Corps University and Dean of Academics at the Marine Corps War College.

Dr. Anderson’s main argument can be summarized in his following remarks: “In contrast to the PRC, we the United States, have tremendous advantages now with the allies and partners we have cultivated over many administrations and many decades. These ties are based on values and interests. They are deep, and they are sustained. Now, all that said, they also require maintenance… They are necessary, though not a sufficient condition for success with respect to our competition with the PRC. It is one big factor, [but] there are other variables, some of which are certainly outside of our control.”

Dr. Anderson goes on to note that, “As strong as these relationships are now, these alliances and partnerships can be stronger still in the months and years ahead.”

The three main talking points set forth for discussion by Dr. Anderson were: (1) Some observations about the Indo-Pacific region, (2) A discussion of our interest and security interest in the region, and (3) A framework for how to think about maximizing, leveraging, and optimizing allies and partners.

The Indo-Pacific region

Dr. Anderson addressed the “tyranny of the distance” between the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific region and how it imposes “significant limitations in terms of travel time, jet lag, and other issues.”

There are five nuclear powers that are of great concern to U.S. national security in the Indo-Pacific region: Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Contested situations that have flared up in recent years have involved the Northern Islands of Japan with Russia, the Senkaku Islands with Japan and China, and border clashes between China and India. The U.S. has taken a keen interest in these territorial disputes and the threat that each conflict poses to stability.

Dr. Anderson also noted that there is no “NATO-like structure” in the Indo-Pacific region to deter adversarial threats (e.g., China).

U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific region

In his second talking point, Dr. Anderson stated that we have a clear interest in the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region. He noted that “We have a variety of treaty partners and defense alliances,” including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia. The U.S. also has a security alliance with Japan. The ability to have military forces in the Indo-Pacific region is critical to U.S. national security. On the one hand, China has only one defense alliance (with North Korea), while the U.S. has numerous alliances in the region.

Optimizing U.S. partnerships in the region

Dr. Anderson finished his lecture with his third point relating to U.S.-partnership/alliance frameworks in the Indo-Pacific region. He noted, “The scale of activities that we engage with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, and frankly around the world, is vast.” The activities involve: “Key Leader Engagements (KLEs), Foreign Military Sales (estimated at $55 billion per year), and Experimenting in Exercises (EiE).”

Dr. Anderson stated that “information sharing” and “building partnership capacity” are vital and should continue to be nurtured to ensure U.S. interests abroad are attended to and protected, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. It is worth noting that partners and alliances are heavily sought after by a bipartisan consensus in Washington D.C.

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