Strategic shift to Asia-Pacific plays to Navy, Marine Corps strengths

The Defense Department is shifting strategy to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, as directed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in strategic guidance issued earlier this year, but for the Navy it’s a well-known area of responsibility taking on renewed importance, according to a panel of Navy officials who spoke April 16 at the Navy League 2012 Sea-Air-Space Exhibition.

What’s different now will be the increased importance of support to Navy fleet, Marine and Coast Guard forces as they provide crisis response, anti-piracy maneuvers and other crucial maritime functions amid dwindling budgets and a changing geopolitical landscape.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about our pivot toward the Asia-Pacific, and I’ll tell you we never left the Asia-Pacific. It’s been the Navy’s, Marine Corps’ and Coast Guard’s backyard for a long, long time. These are islands we’ve shed blood on, so we’re very familiar with it,” said Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. “So it’s not so much a return as much as it is a reorientation.”

The renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region also reflects changing priorities, such as presence in the Arctic and the preservation of U.S. trade in the region vital to the international economy.

Adm. Robert Papp, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, stressed the need for the United States to become part of the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea to ensure continuing strength in international trade, pointing out that failure to do so could become a security risk.

“We’re the only major maritime nation that has not acceded to the Laws of the Sea treaty,” Papp said, stressing the link between national security, fiscal security and maritime trade.

Amos and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert both echoed that idea in their remarks.

“Our founding father Alexander Hamilton, the first treasury secretary, foresaw that this country would depend on maritime trade for its existence, and he said we would never have political security until we had fiscal security. That fiscal security…is fueled by maritime commerce,” Amos said. “Ninety-five percent of our trade in this country comes via maritime routes – it’s a $700 billion proposition for this country. We depend on the maritime to keep our prosperity going.”

“A secure world is an economically viable world, and that helps us get to the root of the problem, which is a stagnant economy, perhaps worldwide,” Greenert added.

All three officials stressed the need for presence in the maritime theater as the Navy prepares for a new era of naval operations.

“We need a confident fleet, we need a proficient fleet and we need skill sets that are relevant. We need to operate forward – that is where our Navy has always been effective and where I believe we’ll be effective in the future,” Greenert said. “We need to be ready today for today’s challenges so we can respond today. These [tenets] are what I keep in mind as I prepare for the budget tomorrow. And they’re in line with the defense strategic guidance issued earlier this year.”

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