In East Asia, the cancelled Persian Gulf carrier deployment is likely being viewed as a strategic opportunity by China and North Korea. Recent U.S. moves suggest Washington’s diplomatic rhetoric about a “Pivot to Asia” outweighs its political will to underwrite a large and capable military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Regional countries like Vietnam and Singapore that support a robust U.S. presence in Southeast Asia to balance China’s rise now once again face the prospect of having to hedge their bets between the U.S. and China—a calculation that inevitably bends the regional power balance in Beijing’s favor. Furthermore, the perception that the U.S. lacks both the funding and political resolve to support forward military deployments also risks catalyzing further destabilizing actions by North Korea, which recently tested its third nuclear device.
Risk perception has changed permanently due to U.S. political short-sightedness and isolationist impulses that overlook the impacts of budget decision-making beyond its borders. Even if a budget deal is reached relatively soon, the fact that Washington has, for short-term political reasons, elected to significantly alter U.S. military posture in a region that provides roughly 30% of the global oil supply, lowers confidence in U.S. security guarantees around the world.
And unlike financial markets that tend to forgive mistakes and problems relatively quickly, the international security arena has a much lower margin of error and the U.S. may pay a much steeper foreign policy price for making maritime power projection subject to short-term political whims. The naval power underpinning the maritime Pax Americana that has existed for much of the period since World War II has been a global fixture that endured economic ebbs and flows.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The perception of waning U.S. naval power will serve as an impetus for other regional powers with global interests to assume a more active role in protecting commerce bound for their shores. In such an environment, maritime frictions run an elevated risk of flaring into conflict in Asia, where historical grievances have smoldered for decades, and becoming confrontational further afield in places like the Indian Ocean region and Persian Gulf.
Signals of wavering U.S. security commitment to the Persian Gulf are also likely to embolden Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional influence. A little over a year ago the U.S. Navy was able to simultaneously deploy the USS Carl Vinson, USS Abraham Lincoln, and USS Enterprise carrier strike groups in and near the Persian Gulf to deter Iranian provocations amid a period of heightened tensions. Now, if a similar scenario were to unfold, the Pentagon would not have the assets in place to make such a timely show of force. Three carriers make an exponentially larger impression on an adversary than one does, and the weakened position Washington has put itself inwill unnerve U.S. regional allies and give Iran a freer hand to test U.S. resolve in ways that could potentially risk armed conflict.