In nod to Asia ally India, US military renames its Pacific Command

The Pentagon renames its oldest and largest military command to reflect the growing importance of the Indian Ocean in US strategic thinking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 12:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 10:54pm

The US military has renamed its Pacific Command the US Indo-Pacific Command, in a largely symbolic move underscoring the growing importance of India to the Pentagon.

US Pacific Command, which is responsible for all US military activity in the greater Pacific region, has about 375,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to its area of responsibility, which includes India.

“Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability,” US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in prepared remarks.

“In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command,” Mattis said.

He was speaking during a change-of-command ceremony. Admiral Philip Davidson was assuming leadership of the command from Admiral Harry Harris, who is US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to South Korea.

“To our allies here in the Indo-Pacific, you will have no better ally,” Davidson said.

“To our partners, I look forward to advancing our partnership in a way that serves our mutual interests. To our friends, our friendship is rock solid. We must continue to work together. Peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific relies directly on these bonds.”

The renaming does not mean additional assets will be sent to the region at this time, but rather recognises India’s increasing military relevance for the United States.

In 2016, the United States and India signed an agreement governing the use of each other’s land, air and naval bases for repair and resupply, a step toward building defence ties as they seek to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.

Recent years have seen China emerge as a major regional power.

In 2017, it opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti and has strengthened ties with several regional countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

And Beijing is pursuing its “Belt and Road” global infrastructure initiative that invests in Southeast Asian countries but which US critics say is based on “predatory” economics.

“The Indo-Pacific has many belts and many roads,” Mattis said.

The United States is also keen to tap into India’s large defence market. It has emerged as India’s No. 2 weapons supplier, closing US$15 billion worth of deals over the last decade.

Mattis has been pushing for a waiver for countries like India, after Trump signed a law last year which said that any country trading with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors would face sanctions.

“I think India and the relationship with the United States is the potentially most historic opportunity we have in the 21st-century and I intend to pursue that quite rigorously,” Davidson, the incoming head of the command, said last month.

However, experts said the name change would mean little unless it was tied to a broader strategy.

“Renaming PACOM is ultimately a symbolic act … (it) will have a very limited impact unless the US follows through with a significant array of initiatives and investments that reflect a wider aperture,” said Abraham Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia under President Barack Obama.

Reuters, Tribune News Service and Agence France-Presse