The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has submitted a notification to Congress as it prepares to roll out a new maritime capacity-building initiative for Southeast Asian states near the South China Sea. With that notification, the United States will soon begin implementing the so-called Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) which was initially announced in June 2015.
While U.S. defense officials have remained tight-lipped on the exact details of MSI with a congressional notification pending, its goal is to build regional capacity to address a range of maritime challenges through various means such as improving regional maritime domain awareness, expanding exercises, and leveraging senior-level engagements. Even though MSI is significant both for the five main Southeast Asian states involved – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – and the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific more generally, it is also facing a number of challenges as it gets underway.
The most distinguishing component of MSI relative to other capacity-building initiatives of its ilk, those familiar with the initiative say, is its focus on enhancing regional maritime domain awareness (MDA) and moving towards establishing a common operating picture (COP). Put simply, Washington is working with Southeast Asian states to improve their ability to detect, understand, react to, and share information about air and maritime activity in the South China Sea, eventually leading to a common and regularly updated picture so that the nations concerned are on the same page.
MSI itself originated initially not from DoD, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) led by John McCain who has long been a key voice on Asia security policy. It has since been adopted by DoD, and was first publicly unveiled by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter at the Shangri-La Dialogue – Asia’s premier security summit – in Singapore in June 2015 (See: “US Launches New Maritime Security Initiative at Shangri-La Dialogue 2015“).
“Today, I am pleased to announce the DoD will be launching a new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. And thanks to the leadership of the senators here today and others, Congress has taken steps to authorize up to $425 million for these maritime capacity-building efforts,” Carter said in his remarks.
MSI has since been officially incorporated into DoD’s Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy which was released last August. Within the DoD’s overall U.S. regional maritime security strategy, MSI falls into the broader category of maritime capacity-building – one of the four so-called “lines of effort” – with the other three being strengthening U.S. military capacity; leveraging military diplomacy; and strengthening regional security institutions.
Source: America’s New Maritime Security Initiative for Southeast Asia: A look at the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative as it gets underway, The Diplomat, Apr 2, 2016