Asian maritime security issues will continue to be topical in Washington in 2015 and there will be a lot of D.C. chatter about events in the Indo-Pacific region. To make a difference and to produce favorable outcomes for the United States, however, some heavy lifting must take place in Washington.

The most important maritime activity in Asia is trade – the movement of resources and products on the sea that feed Asian economies, and, by extension, the global economy. There is no better way to enhance the U.S. position in that regard and to balance our re-balancing strategy to Asia (away from a too- heavily-weighted security focus) than to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. It makes sense economically and it will be a clear signal, in the region and beyond, that we are acting strategically.

Security will remain a much-watched aspect of re-balancing, but the re-apportionment of forces to the Pacific cannot remain the only compelling talking point. The shifting of forces from east to west is essentially complete and new capabilities that are perfect for the region are ready for increased production and deployment. The Navy’s TRITON high altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft are one such example. The consequential work of a meaningful rebalance is returning to fiscal discipline and enacting real reform that can set the course for an unambiguous, enduring and relevant U.S. security posture in the region. The following policy moves are fundamental to that end:

  • Avoid sequestration. This will be addressed in a few short months in the upcoming Budget Resolution. How much we spend on defense matters greatly, but more important is avoiding the blunt, inflexible cuts to programs that will define our military power and presence in the region.
  • Return to regular order. For the past few years we have departed from the proven process of addressing and overseeing budget priorities by considering the ends, ways and means of strategy and budgets. The leadership of the new Congress set this as an objective which will do much to inject coherence and predictability into defense and non-defense priorities.
  •  Reform procurement. The Senate and the House Armed Services Committees must deliver on their stated desire to take this on. Too much time and money is spent on getting relevant capabilities into the hands of America’s young men and women whom we send into harm’s way. For a nation that leads global innovation, this sclerotic procurement process must change dramatically if we are to take full advantage of our technological superiority. A companion piece to procurement reform must be a new approach to enabling easier transfer of technology to our allies and like-minded partners in Asia. Combined, both will enable more rapid deployment of winning capability and improved interoperability in the region. The first step should be to formally integrate the heads of each service into the acquisition process and hold them accountable for timely outcomes.
  • Reform military compensation. The top line of the defense budget gets attention but the budget is also being eroded rapidly from within because of the soaring cost of total compensation (pay, medical, retirement, etc.). Now is the time to devise a compensation scheme for this century that attracts the best and brightest in what is sure to be a very competitive employment market in the coming decades.
  • Make the Arctic a priority. The opening of the Arctic Ocean is significant because of new resource extraction and maritime activity there, both of consequence to Asian nations. As an Arctic nation, and soon to be chair of the Arctic Council, we must raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges in the High North, approach the Arctic as a national strategic priority and make appropriate investments to ensure a safe, secure and prosperous Arctic.

The above may seem detached from headlines of Asian maritime issues, but it is exactly what is needed to get our house in order, provide stability and coherence to the investments we must make now to remain an enduring and stabilizing force in the Indo- Pacific region.

About Gary Roughead

Admiral Roughead is an Annenberg Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  Prior to retiring from the U.S. Navy he was the U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations and a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.