Beating "Voldemort Syndrome"


Much has been made of Washington’s “pivot” to Asia since November, when U.S. Secretary of State Clinton announced it in Foreign Policy. We took this largely in stride in the sea services, namely the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. We never left the Pacific. And we’ve been present in force in the Persian Gulf – an inlet or bay in the Indian Ocean, as Indian geopolitical thinker points out – for over two decades, since the first Gulf War. Indeed, our combat power in Asia has been on the increase for nearly a decade, since the Bush administration decided to realign U.S. forces stationed overseas. One example: the U.S. submarine force started moving units to the Pacific in 2006.

Indeed, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard formally “pivoted” to Asia in 2007, when they published a Maritime Strategy titled A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. As the title implies, the Maritime Strategy stresses coalition building for a variety of purposes, from counterpiracy and counterproliferation to humanitarian and disaster relief. These are worthy missions. But the document’s drafters tucked away a couple of bloody-minded passages in the text. The first directs the sea services to remain capable of imposing “local sea control” in any navigable body of water on the face of the earth. The United States will do this by itself if necessary. Evidently it’s hard to give up the habit of ruling the waves, wherever those waves may be found.

But the second proclaims that the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard have fixed their strategic gaze on maritime Asia. They will stage “credible combat power” in two oceans – the Western Pacific and the greater Indian Ocean – for the foreseeable future. They intend to remain Number One in this grand “Indo-Pacific” theater. What this means is that the U.S. Navy will remain the two-ocean navy it’s been since 1940, when Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act – in effect creating one navy for the Atlantic and a second for the Pacific. But the second ocean is now the Indian Ocean. It’s more accurate to say the navy is pivoting from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Like any strategy, this one must be backed with forces. Otherwise, ambitious powers like China will set the terms for U.S. policy in Asia. Since the fleet is unlikely to grow in these difficult budgetary times, those forces will come from the Atlantic theater. For example, around 60 percent of the nuclear attack-submarine force now makes its home in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which holds responsibility for the Pacific and most of the Indian Ocean. That’s a rough indicator of how much of the navy will eventually concentrate in the Indo-Pacific.

However…this nautical pivot remains incomplete. As the old saying goes, it takes a while to turn a battleship. Permanently shifting vessels and aircraft is expensive, and it’s hard. It requires expanding base infrastructure, improving logistics and repair facilities, and moving families. It engages local and national politics – as anyone who’s ever tried to downsize or close a military base will tell you.

But the real impediment is intellectual, not material, or even political. For global powers like the United States, or Great Britain before it, it appears hard to set priorities and act on them. Think about the two passages I mentioned before – local sea control anywhere versus credible combat power in East and South Asia. I’m not sure navy or defense officials truly accept the need to refocus on Asia if it means accepting new risk in traditional theaters like the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. You’d think shedding old burdens would be a welcome thing, but it seems to contradict the logic of power politics. Commanders and their political masters hedge like there’s no tomorrow!

Latif Danishwar
November 23, 2012 at 12:12

ambitious plans and behaviors of China makes japan and South Korea to be under United States

April 27, 2012 at 15:52

I hope nobody start some miscalculations to start a conflict. Mahatma Ghandi said, If we will be following “An eye for an eye” -The whole world will go blind. LOL! I hope peace & prosperity will be in Asia now. Share the whole South China Sea or West Philippine Sea to the all countries beside it. Chinese can be our our big brother in Asia but China must be compassionate about it’s neighbors and treat as equal. As mostly Chinese Diplomat are saying about mutual respects and benefits. China will be the next Dominant player in the world the only thing I’m scared of was is it really for common good intention for all? Or it’s just for it’s own national interest?

John Chan
April 25, 2012 at 22:01

@Matthew Hall,
USA led Westpac has been bombing and killing around the world against anyone dares to show defiance against their exploitation, if USA is not a bully and a tyrant, who else is? USA is thousands mile on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and yet it is harassing China with 7 carrier battle groups and thousand war planes, and yet you accuse China is bully, blame the victim again? Practising “USA considers other nation’s resistance as aggression” in the public forum?

April 25, 2012 at 21:25

Thank you Prof. Holmes, by conincidence last week I finished reading yours and Toshi Yoshihara’s book Red Star Over the Pacific. I found many of the arguments compelling, but at the risk of asking a question on a message board you are not checking:

I was wondering whether you believe the current trends into global hawk UAVs, hypersonic / strike globally missiles and other technologies have any bearing on the ASBM v Aegis scenarios you lay out in the book? For how long will the US be relying on the Carrier platform? Are there not other ways coming online?

April 25, 2012 at 16:16

John Chan, according to you there is no method for the US to maintain its hegemony, so whatever you’re thinking on the subject is irrelevant.

April 25, 2012 at 16:03

not true, China is the one with the perception of rising, while US has the perception of decline.

In a fight should China lose, their perception will be damaged while the US’ perception of decline will take a turn for the better.

Your idea of mining the strait is the act of a true villain, and would ironically destroy China’s economy and any pretentions it had at being a regional power for decades to come.

April 25, 2012 at 15:57

@Richard- alright, but I don’t believe you’ve seen the US treat China as an adversary. Why honor ious given to an enemy? Refuse to honor them, watch China plummet. Order tariffs on Chinese made crap to and watch millions of Chinese starve while the rest eat American imported soy.

As for the second I agree, as China ups the ante so will the US, we are not even close to historical highs in defense spending. I believe the US will outdevelop and out innovate China any day of the week, you may think otherwise…

April 25, 2012 at 15:52

Mark, sometimes peace comes at too great a cost. Pacifism leads to slavery or death amongst thugs, and China is without a doubt the world’s largest thug state.

April 25, 2012 at 15:48

because the PRC is being very responsible in the South China Sea right? If you want us to have a foreign policy like China’s many hawks would be glad to agree. Iraq will be the least of your worries, we’ll have Canada as an enemy.

April 25, 2012 at 15:28

Manchuria belongs to Manchurians, Tibet to Tibetans, Mongolia to Mongolians, Xinjiang to its own independence, and Hong Kong to Britain.

Deal with it John Chan.

Matthew Hall
April 25, 2012 at 10:46

Well put. A bully only respects power. The U.S. must show China was it can and will do so China knows where and when to stop itself. Otherwise, like a bullying teenager, they will push and push until they destroy the world.

April 25, 2012 at 10:21

Sorry mark its not even an original idea havent you seen Dr Strangelove.

April 25, 2012 at 10:11

And how do we pay for all of this?

April 25, 2012 at 09:21

To: Mr. Han in disguise……….

Communist Party of China does not care if their people are dead or alive. They only care about CCP + PLA’s well being.

John Chan
April 25, 2012 at 08:08

Ryukyu islands belong to Ryukyu Kingdom; they do not belong to Japan which is an aggressor and suppressor of Ryukyu people.

Neither USA nor Japan have those fast, stealth, agile and antiship missiles ships, only China has them, it is called type-22.

April 24, 2012 at 22:29

Another excellent piece by Prof. Holmes. This is the sort of good writing and solid argument that makes The Diplomat an essential read. Some bits I liked:

“But the document’s drafters tucked away a couple of bloody-minded passages in the text.”


“It’s more accurate to say the navy is pivoting from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.”

Bingo — now I get it.

“Australia makes a logical staging point at the “seam” between the Pacific and Indian Ocean theaters.”

“The Seam” — first mention of this iconic idea?

“Admitting that China could be an adversary, and that we must prepare accordingly, poses a test of our character and resolve.”

Indeed. Finding the balance between approachability and toughness is a challenge for an individual, let alone two nations that hold one-third of humanity.

“…[S]mall U.S. Army or Marine units equipped with portable antiship missiles and stationed along Japan’s Ryukyu island chain could make the straits virtually impassable for Chinese Navy surface units…”


April 24, 2012 at 20:18

It is more convenient for us to keep our potential future adversary ambiguous,that way we don’t risk looking as poorly informed as Iraq made us look if the PRC dose not pan out as our boogie man this century. Acknowledging the growing rift between the US and the PRC and addressing it would be the responsible thing to do, however responsibility seem to be increasingly out side of the modern western democracy’s habits.

April 24, 2012 at 19:31

As far as the USA stay away from the humanistic principles of the founding fathers, sooner all later they will have to renegotiate the so called “world order” with China. China will not only be a military superpower but will also be a soft superpower with immense capacities in economic and CULTURAL diplomacy. I strongly believe that the Chinese will provide a new paradigm of change and progress based on their philosophical past. The only problem is internal, will China really make it and keep its tradition against western capitalism of mass consumption etc… it remains to be seen.

Now please do not accuse China of being vicious as far as I remember the “West” had almost wreked havoc to China during the “opium wars” and hadn’t for the Boxers to revolt with self sacrifice against foreign occupation, the great nation of China would have ended up like “American Indians”, this is to say massacred and violently christianized by Western imperialists.

International law has significance only when it involves countries or nations with Similar power, otherwise the weak suffer what they must and the strong impose their will.

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