A routine flight of a UH-60 Black Hawk over Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. [Image: Pfc. Daniel Proper, 25th Infantry Division, US Army / US Indo-Pacific Command Photo Library / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

The 2021 Global Posture Review Highlights an Enhanced Focus on the Pacific Islands

The Pacific

In late November, the Department of Defense (DoD) released the results of the 2021 Global Posture Review (GPR). The GPR helps to strengthen decision-making processes, improves the DoD’s global capabilities, and informs the draft of the upcoming National Security Strategy (NSS). It guides actions to deter adversaries, work with partners, and where to focus engagement, ultimately ensuring that these decisions are in line with the United States’ strategic objectives, values, and resources.

The review comes at a crucial transition point for United States’ defense posture as the withdrawal from Afghanistan marks an end to America’s longest war. The DoD is slated to invest $66 billion in the Indo-Pacific in FY 2022. In line with the Trump Administration’s NSS, the GPR identifies the Indo-Pacific as a priority region. The review directs further cooperation with regional allies and partners to deter adversaries, maintain access to the global commons, and lead a stable and open international system. Initiatives in the Indo-Pacific will be primarily targeted at contributing to regional stability and deterring potential threats from Chinese military aggression and North Korea.

The United States and the Pacific Islands share a common history of valor and sacrifice in the region during World War II. The GPR identifies Pacific Island Countries as priority partners in the Indo-Pacific and directs the US government to reinforce these deep ties. Initiatives in the Pacific Islands focus on enhancing infrastructure and force interoperability through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). The PDI is targeted at improving the posture and readiness of US troops in the Indo-Pacific to counter aggression, specifically the People's Republic of China (PRC), and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific. Included in the PDI is funding for the development of integrated air and missile defenses for Guam and a radar system in Palau.

In addition to the Guam Defense System, over $1.7 billion in PDI funding is requested for the Pacific Islands. A further $1.63 billion is requested for US territories and the Freely-Associated States to enhance the US Indo-Pacific Command’s distributed force posture and enhanced training facilities. These island nations and territories fall within the PRC’s first and second island chains and are key locations to project power, deter adversaries, and respond to regional crises.

Beyond the US territories and the Freely-Associated States, the GDI requests a further $114.4 million to fund investments in other Pacific Island Countries and greater Oceania. These investments are focused on alternative training facilities and opportunities to enhance dispersed air power. Funding is also requested for the Oceania Fusion Center, an initiative that provides Pacific Island Countries a forum to address common challenges like Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, climate change, and transnational crime.

Pacific Island countries are critical to the national security of the United States and our regional allies and partners. The Pacific Islands are likely to be the focus of future national security strategies, as the Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are up for renewal in 2023 and 2024 and the PRC’s increased coercive economic and political measures in the region. The 2021 Global Posture Review and the Biden Administration’s Interim National Security Strategy recognize this and push for renewed meaningful engagement with our Pacific Island partners.

Lily Schlieman is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a Master's Student at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa in Pacific Island Studies and Ocean Policy.