From the Western Coast of the US to the Eastern maritime borders of India, 52% of the total world surface area lies in India, and it has formed the single largest geopolitical region in the world, i.e., the Indo-Pacific region. This demarcation divides the Indian Ocean in half; if we consider the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in the Indo-Pacific, it encompasses an even bigger part of the world. In that case, it included almost all the littoral nations of Asia, Eastern Africa, and North Western America in this region.

Through its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US has laid out an alliance-based military plan for consolidating control over the maritime domain in this entire region, which, according to this declared strategy, is a key component of the “Containment of China” policy. 

The US maintains a considerable military presence in this region through naval and military aviation bases, with around 375,000 troops. Spread across the region, the US military maintains and uses 66 major military installations, and more are being built.[1] The US is looking to increase this military infrastructure in the region by building new military sites owned by the US or in allied nations.

Japan and South Korea have been housing US forces for many decades, and new facilities are being built in the Philippines and Australia. Under the Indo-Pacific strategy, the US has entered major strategic alliances with Australia, Japan, and India. Since 2020, the US has spent nearly $9 billion on developing new military infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, where China has been declared a peer competitor in great power competition.[2]

The geopolitical goals of the US became clearer when “The 2022 National Security Strategy” document was released by the White House which declared the Indo-Pacific region the “epicentre of 21st-century geopolitics”[3] and the “2022 National Defense Strategy” document, published by Department of Defense (DoD), specifically pointed towards the attempts by China to “refashion the Indo-Pacific region” as part of “the most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security.”[4]

US decision to rename the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) to Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in 2018 gave the first signs of changing US policy towards the region. Not only did this decision combine the Pacific and Indian Oceans under INDOPACOM, but it also increased the relevance of Indian IOR in global politics. This is where this new strategy of the US becomes an important strategic consideration for Pakistan from not only defence but also from a diplomatic perspective.

India is part of two strategic alliances of the US in the region, and both are poised to deter the rise of China in the South China Sea and its ingress into IOR through the so-called “String of Pearls” strategy.

QUAD and AUKUS alliances have dominant military components integrated within their respective scopes. The US is also mulling to expand both alliances by incorporating more regional allies like Japan and South Korea. All these US overtures are triggering a response from Beijing, which has created an environment described by multiple geopolitical experts as Cold War 2.0, taking place all along the Pacific rim of the Indian Ocean[5]. Another set of experts has described it as Hot Peace rather than a new Cold War. [6]

Beijing has responded to this US Indo-Pacific Strategy with a renewed military modernization drive. Consequently, in terms of the number of surface vessels, PLAN has become the world’s largest navy (USN is still the largest navy in terms of total tonnage), comprising three aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, large destroyers, countless frigates, and conventional attack submarines, and it is inducting more every year.

This maritime buildup competition from both sides is unfolding exactly how during World War II, US professor of international relations Nicholas Spykman predicted in his book during the last years of the war. He predicted a contest between the US and an Asian power to control the Eurasian Rimland (Littoral nations of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans) as global power dynamics would be decided by the fact who controls these lands.

He identified these regions as key geostrategy hotspots when he sketched the world’s geopolitical map and identified that the littoral nations of Eurasian Rimland will control global power dynamics. Interestingly, Europe and the Far East are part of the greater Eurasian Rimland, two key geostrategic regions where the US can prevail as a dominant military, economic, and diplomatic force.[7] Both India and Pakistan are part of Spykman’s rimland, and so are China and the entire Far East Asia. This explains the US’s interest in this part of the world.

For Pakistan, this rapidly unfolding great power competition scenario in the rimland is important from a maritime security perspective due to Indian involvement. India is building its blue water capabilities to be part of these grand strategic alliances, creating a balance of power crisis in the Arabian Sea (Part of greater IOR). Once acquired, India will certainly not keep these blue water capabilities at its eastern maritime border, which forms the westernmost border of the Indo-Pacific as per US classification.

The Indian Navy has taken many such steps in the Middle East and Africa (building listening stations, leasing foreign seaports, etc.), prompting Pakistan to contemplate ways to maintain the balance of power for peace to prevail.

Apart from India, the main protagonists of great power competition, the US and China, are Pakistan’s close strategic allies. Their enmity will drag the region into an arms race and put Pakistan in a difficult diplomatic predicament, prompting it to choose a bloc and lose either its net security provider (China) or its largest export destination (USA).

Geopolitical scenarios can unfold quickly in an age of growing regional integration and global power competition. Pakistan must reinvigorate ties with regional partners to take a collective stand and build sizeable military capabilities to protect its strategic interests.

End Notes:

[1] Nicastro. US defense infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific: Background and Issues for Congress. 2023.

[2] Nicastro.

[3] “National Security Strategy”, The White House, October 2022, p. 37.

[4] “National Defense Strategy”, Department of Defense, October 2022, p. 4.

[5] Zizek, Slavoj. “From Cold War to Hot Peace.” The Peninsula Foundation, March 27, 2022.

[6] Irigoyen, Antonio Nájera. “From Cold War to Hot Peace.” (2020): 1472-1475.

[7] Sempa, Francis P. “Nicholas Spykman and the Struggle for the Asiatic Mediterranean.” The Diplomat (2015).


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