Personal interactions at all levels underpin U.S. military-to-military relations with nations around the world, but these require care and Navy Adm. John M. Richardson tended to these relations during a recent trip through the Pacific.
The chief of naval operations visited the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand to ensure that military contacts remain “a vibrant channel.”
“Sailors are defined by the maritime environment, and our culture is very strong,” Richardson said during an interview. The navy-to-navy relationships, he said, are like a keel that other relations can build upon.
The sea is a dangerous place and mariners of all countries will aid anyone beset on the sea, the admiral said. Richardson believes that helps create a bedrock that military leaders can use as a starting point to relations.
The Pacific is Key to American Prosperity
The Pacific is key to American prosperity and a center for American interests. All Pacific nations “are in the business of prosperity,” the admiral said.
“We want our nations to thrive. We want our people to thrive. We want to lift people out of poverty. We want economies to be vibrant,” he said.
Since the end of World War II, Asia has realized economic benefits from the free and open community.
This did not happen by accident. The U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command allowed the area to develop in security. Over time, the nations created a rule set or order to enable the nations to invest in their citizens and infrastructures. Ninety percent of the commerce in the region and outside it move across the seas. “Those transits have to have some rules,” he said. “The rules-based order that everyone talks about – the international Law of the Sea, access to markets — is very important and enabled the rise in global prosperity. To enforce that order, you need security.”
The countries of the region need navies to secure their access to markets. “In the region, some can secure their territorial waters, some can secure their exclusive economic zone,” he said. “It is proportional to their ambitions.”
“For a global nation, you need a global navy [and] that’s what the U.S. Navy is,” Richardson said. “We need a global navy to secure the rules-based order in a global economy.”
But it’s too big a job to do it alone. Even the United States Navy needs partners. “A big theme of the trip was to work bilaterally, multilaterally through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” he said. “Let’s work together as a team because the job is too big for any one nation.”
The region is dynamic, and new partnerships are forming all the time, he said. The United States has excellent one-on-one relations with many of the countries in the region or with interests in the region. The multilateral part of this effort is developing. Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia work together to fight piracy, for example, and U.S., British and Japanese ships are exercising together right now.
U.S. forces are working with the Philippines against violent extremism and to allow the country to better patrol its waters. “There is an emerging partnership with Vietnam, a growing partnership with India,” Richardson said. “We stopped in Indonesia in recognition of the importance of that country — such a huge Muslim democracy. Djakarta has 25 million people by the sea. There are 5 million people who commute into the city daily. Seeing it gives you an appreciation of the vibrant population. It is an important nation for us to be strengthening our partnership with.”
Partnering With Indo-Pacific Nations
The United States wants to continue to work with nations of the region and deepen cooperation among them. “Part of our message in the region is that the United States remains a Pacific power,” he said. “We’ve been present in the Pacific … and we have many vital interests in the region. We are going to continue to secure those interests, and to help secure the interests of all our partners and allies, as well.”
China is a major force in the region, the admiral said. “Everybody wants to work with China, but there is a desire to work with a China that is cooperative and a participating member of this rules-based order, and certainly a China that is not threatening,” Richardson said.
In each country he visited, allies asked about incidents at sea – the most recent being the unsafe incident where a Chinese ship passed way too close to the USS Decatur.
He discussed the code for unplanned encounters at sea — the CUES program — and said that provides an operational arrangement for behavior with the Chinese.
CUES is a nonbinding agreement that provides safety procedures as well as basic communication and maneuvering instructions for naval ships and aircraft to follow during unplanned encounters at sea.
“It was very clear the Chinese navy did not behave consistently with the protocols of CUES in that encounter, and we would hope for a return to good order and discipline as soon as we can,” he said.
“We’re operating in the same seas,” the admiral continued. “It looks like the ocean is big and it is, but you encounter each other on the sea. You pass each other and these operational arrangements are helpful to prevent some sort of miscalculation or human error, which could quickly escalate and become a worldwide thing, just because of the availability of information and how fast it travels.”
Richardson called for the Chinese to return to CUES as it has served well in managing encounters at lowest risk.
“The United States has no problem with a peaceful, constructive China becoming a global power,” he said. “This sort of competition has been going on for years. That’s the sort of competition we look forward to. It is when it get coercive that we have problems. China doesn’t seem to have a high regard for the current rule set or high regard for sovereignty — the sort of things that have been fundamental to the current success.”
All of the nations the admiral visited advocated for more information sharing. All were asking what the U.S. Navy can share in maritime domain awareness. “That helps everybody secure what they need to secure — their territorial seas or their exclusive economic zones,” he said. “Many are looking to exchange people — training. PME, crew exchanges, staff exchanges. There are varying degrees of desire to buy technology that would be interoperable with U.S. Navy.
Allies like Australia or New Zealand have mature military relations with the United States, but even those relations need attention. “I think there is a lot of optimism in Indonesia about U.S.-Indonesia relations,” he said. “The Philippines has long alliance with us and such warm and close people-to-people ties between us that works well.”
The admiral will return to the region in the near future to continue military-to-military contacts with the nations of the region.