Europe and the Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific

Recently, I was privileged to speak at the Regional Seapower Symposium (RSS), a gathering of 39 Navy leaders from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America. RSS was a terrific opportunity to discuss common concerns and lessons learned from recent contingencies. Most importantly, the forum reinforced our commitment to each other and will inform the way we will operate together in the future assuring freedom of the seas and defeating smuggling, WMD proliferation and piracy. 

Security and prosperity around the world depends on reliable, safe and unhindered access to the sea, particularly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Arabian Gulf. To address our enduring interests in these regions, our Defense Strategic Guidance directed a rebalance of our national security efforts toward the Asia-Pacific, while placing a premium on presence in and support to partners in the Middle East. Our allies in Europe are essential to that rebalance in two ways.

First, Europe is a provider of security, and hosts a wide variety of U.S. forces. Recently, we have averaged about 10 ships in the European theater on any given day. This will grow to an average of about 13 ships by 2020 as Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) enter the fleet, and we homeport four destroyers (DDG) in Rota, Spain. The new JHSV and LCS will spend more time forward because their civilian or military crews rotate, swapping out at forward locations such as Souda Bay, Greece or Gaeta, Italy. JHSV and LCS will take the place of DDG, FFGs and amphibious ships we use today for Theater Security Cooperation missions. To defend Europe from ballistic missiles we maintain 2-3 at sea there; this requires 10 DDG in our ship inventory. The four DDGs in Rota, Spain, will take the place of those 10 DDGs we rotationally deploy today to Europe from the East Coast. Our new homeport in Rota and new ships such as JHSV and LCS will enable us to deploy more ships to the Asia-Pacific and other regions.

Second, we rely on European allies to operate with our forces, thereby expanding the capacity of the coalition. At the symposium we discussed insights from our shared operational experiences including Operation Unified Protector in Libya; Operation ATALANTA to stop pirates in the Gulf of Aden; and the recent International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Arabian Gulf. Each operation showed us the value of working with international partners and other government agencies to maximize our ability to have access to the maritime crossroads, especially in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East, and do our missions. 

These lessons will be important as we rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific. Our allies and partners outside the Asia-Pacific have significant interests there – for investment, trade, natural resources and manufactured goods. We will need to work with coalition partners from within and outside the Asia-Pacific to counter piracy, drug trafficking and threats to access in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

As the Defense Strategic Guidance states, “Europe is our principal partner in seeking global and economic security.” As we rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and maintain our presence in the Middle East we will depend on our European allies for continued coalition operations; access to “places” to rest, repair, refuel and resupply; and to be a source of ships, aircraft and maritime expertise to help keep the seas safe and secure.

Admiral, U.S. Navy

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