On August 20, The Department of Defense released its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy.  Mandated by Section 1259 of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, the report outlines DOD’s strategy for maritime security in the region. On August 21, Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear briefed the press on the new document. Team AMTI commends its readers to the full report, but has also compiled a maritime strategy cheat sheet. Read on below for the substantive and visual highlights.

The new strategy begins by identifying U.S. maritime objectives in the Asia-Pacific region. These include:

  • Freedom of the Seas
  • Deterrence of Coercion and Conflict
  • Promotion of Adherence to International Law and Standards

U.S. objectives are explained and justified in terms of U.S. national interest. The geographic scope of these objectives stretches from the Indian Ocean, to the South and East China Seas, and into the Pacific for the purposes of the document.

The report identifies the fact that the security environment is rapidly changing, and doing so in ways that could challenge the stability of the region. These include:

  • Competing territorial and maritime claims. The report gives an overview of competing claims in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and Indian Ocean. It disaggregates competing claims into three groups:
    • Competing territorial claims;
    • Competing maritime claims;
    • Excessive maritime claims.
  • Military and maritime law enforcement modernization. The report gives an overview of maritime capabilities modernization in the region and compares the navies and coast guards of several regional states.
  • Maritime challenges. These include the expanded use of non-military assets to coerce other states, and the resort to unsafe air and maritime maneuvers. They also include the use of land reclamation on disputed features.

This security challenges section is noteworthy for its even-handedness. China is by no means the only claimant under discussion. The excessive maritime claims and military modernization efforts of other countries are scrutinized. This section also notes some positive developments toward regional dispute resolution, including the Philippines’ decision to seek arbitration under UNCLOS.

The report illustrates these security challenges with several useful graphics. These include a detailed map of all outposts in the Spratly Islands (note that this is counting the number of outposts and not the number of occupied features); charts that compare regional navies and coast guards; and a detailed timeline of construction and installation efforts by all claimants in the Spratly Islands.






Finally, the report identifies four different lines of effort that comprise the Department of Defense’s maritime strategy for the region. These include:

  • Strengthening U.S. military capabilities in the maritime domain. The United States is investing in new surface combatants (USS Ronald Reagan, USS America, DDG-1000 stealth destroyers) and complimenting these with the deployment of F-22, B-2, and B-52 aircraft. Many of the Department’s F-35s are also intended for Asia. DOD is basing an additional attack submarine in Guam, and investing in missile capabilities relevant to the maritime domain to allow for greater stand-off distances. Over the longer term, DOD intends to counteract A2/AD advances in the region through the Third Offset. The Pentagon is also enhancing force posture and presence in the region. Access agreements with Australia and the Philippines and a modernized presence in Guam are central to these efforts.
  • Building the maritime capacity of allies and partners. The Pentagon is improving interoperability, updating combined exercises, and helping partners to develop their own maritime domain awareness and security capabilities. These efforts include Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and India is identified as a partner in regional capacity building.
  • Using military diplomacy to reduce risk and increase transparency. The Pentagon pursues a military-to-military relationship with China based on three pillars: substantive dialogue through senior leader engagement; practical cooperation in areas of shared interest; risk reduction measures. These efforts have experienced positive momentum since 2012. Region-wide transparency efforts include the adoption of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) and Pentagon support for risk reduction in the East China Sea.
  • Strengthening the regional architecture. The Pentagon is buttressing its engagement with regional institutions, including ADMM-Plus, ARF, and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum. It is also deepening involvement with the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).

Want to know what some of AMTI’s favorite maritime strategists think about the new document? Check out our expert roundtable on the report.

About AMTI Leadership

Dr. Michael Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Executive Advisor to AMTI. Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS.