Report: Maritime Security East of Suez


At the height of America’s postwar power, in the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. Seventh Fleet was able to sustain an unchallenged presence “East of Suez” to embrace the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Indonesian Straits, and the South and East China Seas as well as the Western Pacific. Today the U.S. remains the dominant maritime power in this vast area, especially in the region to the west of the Straits of Malacca. However, in the region closer to China, the growing power projection and sea denial capabilities of China’s military raises questions about the future ability of the United States to operate with immunity in an area China increasingly believes is part of its own patrimony. Although the United States has many allies in the region, especially Singapore, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and increasingly Vietnam, the trends in military spending and force deployments suggest the U.S. will have to increasingly rely on cooperation with allies if there is to be a balance against China’s maritime aspirations. The downside of this is that the U.S. must avoid being drawn into the many bilateral disputes between China and its neighbors and must try to play a conciliatory role rather than taking sides. This will inevitably mean that the U.S. will have to play a different role from the one it became accustomed to during its days as the undisputed hegemon. The U.S. will still remain the key policeman in the Indian Ocean and Gulf regions, but will have to adapt to a different role in parts of the Western Pacific and southeast Asian waters.

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