Friday, May 7, 2010

Western Pacific, Indian Ocean Now Strategic Center of the World

So says Robert Kaplan, influential (particularly inside the Pentagon) author and semi-resident at various Washington DC think tanks. We highlighted some comments from Kaplan the other day at a conference on security and climate change. On a conference call with reporters Friday discussing his new Foreign Affairs piece, “The Geography of Chinese Power,” Kaplan argued for shifting our strategic focus from the Middle East to WESTPAC. The key area to watch closely is the South China Sea, as important in the 21st century as the Gulf was in in the 20th.

Recently, I wrote up a paper from the Center for Naval Analyses, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?”, (.pdf) that said the U.S. Navy is on a downward glide path from today’s 286 ships to around 240 ships out around 2025. Planners face hard choices as to where and what to prioritize, it said. Given a shrinking fleet, one of the options the paper considers to maintain maritime dominance would require stacking carrier strike groups and supporting high end ships in WESTPAC, while the fleet base at Norfolk would become home for low end ships (LCS, JHSV, amphibs) and engagement, counter-narcotics/counter-piracy missions.