Hillary Clinton spoke at the United States Naval Academy on Tuesday, touching on relations with North Korea and China. In light of the failure of the latest DPRK test, these comments were of some interest. More important to my mind, however, was the extent to which Clinton adopted the Navy’s framework for thinking about US grand strategy in the Asia Pacific. I have a piece up at Foreign Policy arguing such:
But the delivery of this speech as part of the Forrestal Lecture Series at the United States Naval Academy was no accident. Clinton was not shy about connecting the Asian pivot with Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal and with the Navy, as the speech made clear that the primary responsibility for managing military affairs in the Asia Pacific region will fall on the Navy, with the U.S. Air Force presumably playing a significant supporting role. The critical insight came in discussion of the nature of U.S. Navy responsibility; Clinton lauded not the Navy’s combat capability in the manner of Alfred T. Mahan, but rather emphasized that the Navy helps shape the contours of political conflict in the Asia Pacific through a wide variety of means, not least direct contact with regional navies. According to Clinton, “each year U.S. Navy ships, and sailors and marines, participate in more than 170 bilateral and multilateral exercises, and conduct more than 250 port visits in the region. … This allows us to respond more quickly and efficiently when we have to work together with partners.” She invoked the partnership between the U.S. Navy and its Japanese counterpart, the Maritime Self Defense Force, in the wake of the Kobe earthquake as fruit of the multilateral policy. The U.S. Navy’s ability to conduct multifaceted relief operations in the Asia Pacific littoral (a capability that the Chinese Navy currently lacks) highlights the persistent utility of a U.S. leadership role; the U.S. Navy effectively makes itself an indispensible part of any major multilateral maritime operation. Clinton repeatedly invoked themes of maritime security as a positive-sum game, partnership building, freedom of navigation, and multilateral dispute resolution.