Washington: To counter China’s growing military might in the Pacific, Pentagon is considering establishing a permanent naval task force in the region, according to a media report.
The plan also includes creation of a military operation for the Pacific that would enable the US defense secretary to allocate additional dollars and resources to the China problem, the Politico reported citing people familiar with the pre-decisional plans.
Lara Seligman, writing in Politico said that these two initiatives, which are not yet finalized, would add muscle to President Joe Biden’s tough talk on China.
The naval task force would be modelled on a construct NATO launched in Europe leading up to and during the Cold War, the Standing Naval Forces Atlantic, the people familiar with the discussions said.
The squadron was an immediate reaction force that could rapidly respond to a crisis but spent most of its time steaming around the region, participating in scheduled exercises and making goodwill port calls. Six to ten ships from multiple NATO nations — destroyers, frigates and auxiliaries — were typically attached to the force for up to six months.
The European task force allowed those nations to “maximize their influence at sea and to specialize their investments simultaneously,” said Jerry Hendrix, an analyst for consulting firm Telemus Group and the author of “To Provide and Maintain a Navy”.
He noted that an effective Pacific task force would also include European allies such as Britain and France, who are increasing their Pacific naval presence, as well as Japan and Australia.
The proposed initiative would be a “deterrent because it demonstrates a unity of effort in countering Chinese excessive threats to the concept of a free sea and free trade with their large territorial sea claims,” Hendrix said.
It’s not yet clear whether the task force would involve only US ships, or include other nations’ militaries as well, the people said, informed Seligman.
Officials working on China policy at the Pentagon are also considering establishing a named military operation for the Pacific, which would create a formal planning process for the defense secretary and provide additional budget authority and resources for the effort, sources said.
The Pentagon has not yet briefed Capitol Hill on the plans, a source told the Politico.
The discussions grew out of work by the Pentagon’s China Task Force, which Biden commissioned in March to examine the department’s China-related policies and processes.
The group, led by Ely Ratner, the nominee to serve as the Pentagon’s top Indo-Pacific policy official, recently completed its work and presented recommendations to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, wrote Seligman.
A defense official, responding to a request for comment, stressed that none of the plans stemming from the China task force are finalised.
“We are looking at a number of proposals in the Indo-Pacific and across the Department, to better synchronize and coordinate our activities,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss pre-decisional plans. “However, as the Secretary said, now is the time to get to work, there are many details and specifics still to be finalized.”
Based on the work of Ratner’s task force, Austin issued a directive last week initiating several department-wide efforts to better address the security challenges posed by China as the United States’ “number one pacing challenge.” But officials declined to provide any details, saying that many of the initiatives are classified.
It will send a signal that the new US administration is serious about cracking down on Beijing’s military build-up and aggressive behaviour in the Pacific region.
The news comes as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) leaders are increasingly aligning themselves with Washington’s confrontational stance on Beijing, reported Politico.
Four years after former President Donald Trump made countering China a top foreign policy priority, NATO allies this week declared Beijing a security challenge and said the Chinese are working to undermine global order.