Home Civilian based defense Funding the Indo-Pacific Pivot – War on the Rocks

Funding the Indo-Pacific Pivot – War on the Rocks


In recent years, lawmakers from the Armed Services Committees of Congress have attempted to work with Republican and Democratic administrations to strengthen the position of the US military in the Indo-Pacific and address the challenge posed by China. Yet US efforts to truly align resources accordingly have been in vain since President Barack Obama’s administration first acknowledged that change was needed.

Most analyzes of thissay-do awayin US defense policy rightly points to inadequate investments in military equipment or inappropriate allocations of regional forces. However, focusing on other categories of the defense budget can help better target investments to the Indo-Pacific theater. Specific funding accounts in the defense budget reflect an overview of how the Department of Defense distributes resources among geographic combatant commands to strengthen relationships with regional partners. In these accounts, funding transfers to the US Indo-Pacific Command surprisingly occurred in the late 2010s and early 2020s, if they materialized. Unfortunately, such delays have consequences – the United States cannot engender trust and relies heavily on friendships with Indo-Pacific nations to defend its interests in the region.

To address this issue, I recently requested that annual Department of Defense budget documents submitted to Congress provide separate, region-specific funding exposures for security cooperation programs across the United States. US army. The United States is balancing the increased demand for resources in Europe with efforts to reassure Indo-Pacific partners that U.S. regional commitments remain strong. At this critical juncture, decision makers need to understand how different types of defense dollars are allocated across theaters. This will facilitate informed spending decisions and allow America to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific.

Count where it counts

The first area that legislators should pay more attention to is international security cooperation programs.. This account funds “activities aimed at enhancing the ability of partners to address common national security challenges and to operate in tandem with or in place of U.S. forces.” Specifically, it includes funding for institutional capacity building, training and equipment programs and the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative.

Established by the National Defense Authorization Act FY2016 (PL 114-92, Sec. 1263), the Maritime Security Initiative was originally created as a five-year program to address regional security issues in the in the Indo-Pacific and more specifically in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

In its fiscal year 2019 budget request, the Department of Defense also began reporting the contents of a new account through Section 333 of Title 10 of the United States Code. This covers a range of activities such as military intelligence operations and maritime and border security operations. Although the consolidation of these previously separate authorities under Section 333 had certain drawbacks – such as increased competition between geographic combat commands for funding of relevant activities – it also provided a new avenue of analysis. how US funding for security cooperation is distributed.

Figure 1

International Security Cooperation Accounts Program funds distributed by Global Combat Command. Source: Congressional Research Service.

Over the past three years, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has received approximately 21-26% of annual funding for international security cooperation programs, measured against all other geographic combatant commands and the costs of sustaining related global programs. A substantial and notable increase occurred between FY2019 and FY20 when US Indo-Pacific Command’s share increased from 16% to 26%, before reaching 21% in FY2021. This is a significant improvement. The overall account for international security cooperation programs grew by only $29 million in nominal terms in fiscal year 2020, for example, but the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s share jumped by more than $100 million. While encouraging, Washington should be concerned that policymakers have been discussing a pivot to the Indo-Pacific since at least 2011, but only saw real resource shifts from fiscal year 2016. with the establishment of the Maritime Security Initiative and again four years later in fiscal year 2020. Hesitant action is better than nothing, but it reflects emergency reactive attempts, not attention sustained over time that US partners should expect.

The second area lawmakers should focus on is the Regional Defense Scholarship Program, covered by Section 345. This authorizes funding for training and education opportunities for defense and security officials. higher and middle level in partner countries. It is crucial for building relationships and strengthening the ability of partner armies to respond to threats within their own borders.

Figure 2

Regional Defense Scholarship Program funds broken down by Global Combatant Command. Source: Congressional Research Service.

US Indo-Pacific Command’s share of this Section 345 funding hovers between 11 and 15 percent of all recipients, again including other geographic combatant commands (Figure 2). Typically, special consideration for Section 345 funding is given to Mongolia, Taiwan, and Thailand in the Indo-Pacific theater. Unlike funding for international security cooperation programs, there are no notable funding transfers to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command between jurisdictions or exercises.

Pentagon funding for overseas humanitarian, disaster, and civic assistance also does not reflect significant funding realignments to the US Indo-Pacific Command over the past four years (Figure 3). This funding supports the U.S. military’s participation in collaborative engagements with partner nations to enhance their ability to respond to humanitarian disasters and public health issues, thereby reducing their reliance on foreign assistance. Such funding advances military-civilian programs that complement military-military security cooperation efforts. During U.S. overseas disaster relief efforts, this funding supports military capabilities that are provided as part of the overall U.S. response, including logistics and transportation as well as search and rescue. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s share of this funding has hovered between 17 and 19 percent of the overall account since fiscal year 2019.

picture 3

Overseas humanitarian, disaster, and civic assistance funding broken down by Global Combatant Command. Source: Congressional Research Service.

The risk of unrealized potential

The most important questions for the future of the Indo-Pacific concern rhythm and timing. The types of interoperability and partner capacity building efforts that these accounts support help secure the United States’ position as the trusted partner of choice for Indo-Pacific nations and their militaries. China is well prepared to fill the gaps left by the United States, as Beijing’s recent dispatch of fighter jets to participate in a joint exercise with Thailand demonstrated. The underfunding of these accounts encourages American adversaries to establish a stronger and wider presence in the world.

If the budget for each of these accounts remains stable with inflation – or worse, shrinks – then the US Indo-Pacific Command has a case for receiving a larger share of each account. But that will still leave other geographic combat commands scrambling for the cash they need to compete with China’s growing influence. Because of Beijing’s global ambitions and reach, each of the Geographic Combatant Commands has a legitimate claim in each of these funding categories. Even if the budget for each account is increased in real terms — thereby increasing funding across theaters — Congress should still determine where each additional dollar will have the greatest impact.

As Congress turns to the conference — the annual effort to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act — two House provisions will be key in determining how to deal with these accounts and should be retained in the final bill. Section 1201 requires enhanced reporting on where and how dollars in many of these accounts are allocated. This also details the activities they support – such as the estimated delivery costs to complete all Department of Defense Section 345 training activities. I also supported section 1305, which directs the US Indo-Pacific Command to submit an annual report on opportunities to improve defense cooperation with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, including mutual visits, exercises, training and equipment opportunities. Both reports will provide critical information to Congress as policymakers seek to determine the adequacy of funding for these accounts and where improvements can be made.

The results of these reports should inform two decisions by lawmakers. First, we must commit to providing real and consistent funding increases to accounts that directly improve the United States’ ability to leverage and deepen relationships with partners and allies around the world. Second, we must ensure that these funding increases are distributed appropriately across theaters and prioritize the Indo-Pacific. America’s international partners remain one of its greatest strengths. We in Congress must ensure that we use all the tools at our disposal to deepen our work with other nations to ensure a more peaceful, prosperous and stable future.

Representative Rob Wittman represents Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. He is a deputy member of the House Armed Services Committee, a member of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and a member of the Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher W. England