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Trust Cannot be Surged – Challenges of Naval Forward Presence

Open Panel

Abstract

“Forward presence” is one of the core missions of the U.S. Navy (USN) and an important tool of U.S. foreign policy to monitor and influence events. In reaction to the North Korean aggression in November 2010, forward USN forces carried out joint naval exercises with South Korea in the Yellow Sea, to show force, deter an escalation, and underline support. After the incident, some even called for an increased permanent presence in the surrounding waters. But it is increasingly difficult to maintain global presence, burdened with financial restrictions and the lowest number of vessels since World War II. While forward presence has been regarded as vital for peace and security the status-quo is endangered. This challenging situation fosters the fear that fewer ships, less presence, lower budgets, and increasing competition will ultimately lead to a loss in U.S. dominance over the world’s oceans. The current maritime geopolitical environment -- shaped fundamentally by the growing power of China and India, the rapid build-up of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, and the increasing strategic importance of the larger Indian Ocean region -- constitutes the new realities the U.S. faces. This paper addresses possible consequences of reduced U.S. forward presence. How can U.S. interests and power be protected? How can allies and friends be assured of U.S. support? Can the U.S. security umbrella in Asia be maintained? How can cooperation be fostered in the maritime sector? The paper begins with the evolution of forward presence and proceeds to discuss benefits and challenges especially pertaining to the Indo-Pacific commons. It further analyzes possible maritime cooperation with India and China, who together with the U.S. will in all likelihood determine the future geostrategic trajectories of the region.