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The Return of the USA to the Seas

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With the end of the Cold War, being the hegemonic power of the United States of America (USA) in international relations has led to the emergence of an Atlantic-centered order. The USA, which has established superiority over Asia in terms of ideological, military, technological, cultural and economic, has used its superiority to intervene in various parts of the world, either with its allies or alone, and has followed a policy of controlling the resources that will maintain its hegemony.

Continuing the aforementioned policies until the early 2000s, Washington experienced some challenges because of the emergence of new powers. While Russia, which weakened partially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, became stronger by adopting a policy based on the control of energy resources and military strength under the leadership of Vladimir Putin; China, located in the east of Asia, has achieved the ability to transform the global system and establish a Sinocentric order in the near periphery with its tremendous economic growth and the diplomatic and military power it has acquired.

From the point of view of the USA, the rise of revisionist countries led to new policy discussions. In this process, Washington’s intervention in Iraq in the Middle East and the Afghanistan operation in the center of Asia were subjected to various criticisms in the public opinion of the country and were among the issues that occupied the agenda of the ruling administrations. For this reason, the administrations of Barak Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have declared their intention to withdraw from both countries on various dates.[1]

Undoubtedly, there are different domestic and external reasons for the statements made by the US Presidents at certain intervals. However, in essence, the withdrawal of US troops from the middle of Asia points to an essential geopolitical strategy. From a military point of view, the geographical, demographic and logistical drawbacks of land wars both damage the international image of the USA and create a great cost. As a matter of fact, Founder of Stratfor, George Friedman’s article titled “Never Fight a Land War in Asia”[2] published in 2011 also points to this problem. Friedman described the inability of the USA to have devastating effects in wars dependent on land forces as the weakest aspect of the American international power

Based on this assessment, it would not be wrong to say that it is in the interests of the USA to withdraw its land troops from Asia. In point of fact, the process that started with the plan to strengthen the presence of the USA in the Asia-Pacific region and to direct its resources to the region in Obama’s “Address to the Nation”[3] speech on January 5, 2012, has increasingly continued today. The main argument of this analysis is that with these changes that will cause new military engagements and deployments, the USA will return to the seas, which makes it a superpower and where America is the strongest military power. Without any doubt, the unique power of the US Navy comes first among the factors that support this argument.

Today, as the only country that has the opportunity to float a fleet of warships in all the seas of the world at the same time, the USA, has maintained its superiority since World War II. Contrary to the uncertain elements that determine the winner of the land wars (human heroism, the breadth and depth of the geography, the local people being natural soldiers, etc.); the result of naval wars depend on technological superiority, tonnage capacity, logistical advantage, war experience, naval culture, command of the commons and personnel training. In terms of both the naval strategy shaped by the strategies of Alfred Thayer Mahan, known as the father of naval power, and the tonnage capacity used in the measurement of sea power, the USA seems to be unrivalled in the seas. The most vital element of this capability is aircraft carriers. According to data for 2020, the USA has 11 warships. This amount is more than the total warships of other countries.[4]

Another argument for the thesis that Washington will return to the seas is that the gravity of great power competition will shift from land to sea. The region that comes to the fore in this sense is the Indo-Pacific. The region is roughly composed of as many as 38 countries, accommodating 65 percent or 4.3 billion of the world population, and accounts for 63 percent of the world GDP. In fact, above 50 percent of the world’s maritime trade occurs in this region.[5]

As can be understood, the interest of regional and global actors in the Indo-Pacific geography has been increasing day by day. The region has been “securitized” systematically since the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s article titled “America’s Pacific Century”[6] in Foreign Policy Journal. The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy”[7] announced by Trump at the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit held in Vietnam in 2017 has also been a notable turning point in the US’s view of the region. In June 2019, the first official report titled ” Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region”[8], prepared by the US Department of Defense and clarifying America’s Indo-Pacific policies and the report titled “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision”[9] announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same year, provided the official base of this strategy.

The main purpose of the USA to adopt such a strategy is to implement the “Containment” strategy toward Beijing, together with the countries of the region by controlling China’s energy and trade traffic passing through this region.

Another argument is that the multinational dialogues that the USA has been involved in are subject to naval-based in recent years. In this sense, the most significant unity that stands out is Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the more newly AUKUS process. In this sense, the most significant unities that stand out are Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the more newly AUKUS process. While QUAD is a comprehensive diplomatic and security association covering the most powerful countries of the region (India-Japan-Australia-USA); AUKUS is an Anglo-Saxon based defence organization. While the Washington administration is trying to take steps to cover the spirit of the region via QUAD; It shows that the USA acts together with its traditional allies with AUKUS. The common goal of both structures is to restrain China, which demands more authority in the global system and ultimately tries to establish its World order.

Today, the elements of being a global power are in a structural change. The approach, which generally bases the balance of power in the world solely on military and economic capacity, has been gradually changing and being replaced by; supply chain security, technological superiority, quantum mechanics, autonomous systems, soft power, fusion energy and hypersonic systems. Countries wanted to dominate these areas are trying to control the Indo-Pacific zone, which is the center of trade and population mobility. Proceeding towards this goal, the USA, in its latest “Global Posture Review Recommendations” report, stated that it will increase its military presence in the Indo-Pacific region and will deploy permanent forces to some islands in the Pacific, giving the message that it is returning to the seas.

At this point, there are two things that should not be forgotten. First, as the importance of the Pacific Ocean gradually increases, the strategic geographical location and navy presence of the USA, which is located in the center of the Atlantic and the Pacific, will become stronger. Secondly, it is not the land forces enabling the USA to emerge victorious from World War II and to become the hegemon actor of the global system; it is naval and air forces. For this reason, in the future strategies of the USA; It would not be wrong to state that sea power theory will come to the fore instead of heartland theory.


[1] “The U.S. War in Afghanistan”, Council on Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-war-afghanistan, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022); Deb Riechmann, “Trump Reaffirms Plan to Withdraw All US Troops From Iraq”, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-middle-east-politics-35581f7ecfed0bbea789ee47e1658929, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022); “Barack Obama Announces Total Withdrawal of US Troops From Iraq”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/21/obama-us-troops-withdrawal-iraq, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022); “US Combat Forces to Leave Iraq by End of Year, Biden Says”, Aljazera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/26/biden-kadhimi-seal-agreement-to-end-us-combat-mission-in-iraq, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022).

[2] George Friedman, “Never Fight a Land War in Asia”, Real Clear World, https://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/03/01/never_fight_a_land_war_in_asia_99418.html, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022).

[3] “President Obama Outlines a New Global Military Strategy”, White House, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/01/05/president-obama-outlines-new-global-military-strategy, (Date of Accession: 11.01.2022).

[4] “How is China Modernizing Its Navy?”, China Power Project, https://chinapower.csis.org/china-naval-modernization/, (Date of Accession: 11.06.2021).

[5] Soumya Bhowmick, “The Indo-Pacific Economics: Inextricable Chinese Linkages and Indian Challenges”, Observer Research Foundation, https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-indo-pacific-economics-inextricable-chinese-linkages-and-indian-challenges/, (Date of Accession: 11.06.2021).

[6] Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century”, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/10/11/americas-pacific-century/, (Date of Accession: 11.06.2021).

[7] Donald Trump, “Remarks by President Trump at APEC CEO Summit”, US Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam, https://vn.usembassy.gov/20171110-remarks-president-trump-apec-ceo-summit/, (Date of Accession: 11.06.2021).

[8] “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region”, The Deparment of Defence, 2019.

[9] “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision”, U.S. Department of State, 2019.

Mustafa Cem KOYUNCU
Mustafa Cem Koyuncu, Karabük Üniversitesinde Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde Master öğrencisi olup Hint-Pasifik Bölgesi, ABD-Çin Rekabeti, uluslararası güvenlik, jeopolitik ve stratejik araştırmalar alanları üzerinde çalışmalar yapmaktadır. Karabük Üniversitesi’nde eğitimine başlamadan önce, Boğaziçi Üniversitesinde Lisans eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Özel sektörde yöneticilik tecrübesi kazanmasının ardından Cem, kariyerine ANKASAM’da devam etmektedir. Cem ileri seviyede İngilizce bilmektedir.