Issues Affecting the U.S. Military: Experience from a Field Trip

Introduction

The Armed Forces command staff set out for a six-days staff ride to Hawaii, USA between 8 and 14 June, 2014 and a six-days staff ride to The Republic of the Philippines between 15 and 21 June, 2014. In Hawaii, we visited PACOM HQ Camp, MARFORPAC HQ Camp, USARPAC HQ Fort Shafter, PACAF HQ, PACFLT, SOCPAC, and APCSS, East West Centre. The group also visited Cebu, Philippines at CENTCOM where we got a briefing on HADR operations.

During the ride, the military students obtained a lot of information regarding various issues affecting the military in their military environment. The ride offered an opportunity for the visitors to learn a lot of aspects concerning the political, strategic, economic factors affecting the military. I also learned about issues concerning identity, resources, legitimacy, and role of international law in military environment. This reflective report will focus on these key aspects and other crucial lessons received from the ride. The essay will also discuss the role of HADR operation in military disaster coordination. It will highlight some of the HADR operation issues encountered during the Haiyan disaster, the problems of disaster management, and the role of the UN and ASEAN to help in the Haiyan disaster management. The report will focus on the Borton’s framework of critical reflection which is a reflective tool that concerns with the three questions, What? So What? and Now What?

Role of US in the Rebalancing of Asia Pacific over Territorial Disputes

In the ride to Hawaii, we visited APCSS where we received relevant lessons concerning the military. I gained knowledge about how the US helps in the rebalancing of Asia Pacific over territorial disputes in the area. I learned about how the US is involved in the China/Japan dispute over Senkanku Island.

What?

When we first landed in Hawaii we visited the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) where we were received by the staff in the institution. We went to a hall used by the institution to hold conferences and workshops involving foreigners. The APCSS director Dan Fig Leaf addressed us in the hall and told us a lot of things concerning the operation of the APCSS on the security issues of the Asia Pacific Region. Leaf explained the history of the college, its purpose, mission and achievements.

We also got the chance to meet Brigadier General (Ret.) James Hirai of the US Army who is now the APCSS Deputy Director. We were later taken through a tour of the institution where we met students of various backgrounds and cultures. I remember sharing some ideas with a student with Japanese origin who had attended the college with the inspiration to improve the security problems of the Asia Pacific. I realized that we reasoned the same in various aspects, and I was motivated to remain focused on my military studies. We were also taken through the curriculum of the institution which focuses mainly on the interaction between US and the Asia Pacific in terms of security issues. Their syllabus contains a lot of lessons that teach students to appreciate the role of the US in rebalancing the Asia Pacific over territorial disputes. While the APCSS staff took us through their syllabus, I was keen to relate it with our own syllabus and the experiences we face at home in the Asia Pacific region. I also gave my own opinion about the role of the US in the security issues of the Asia Pacific as much as other members of our staff. I was happy for the progress of the US to rebalance the disputes of the US, but I was also furious about the over-indulgence of the US on international security. I questioned the content of the syllabus content of the university because I felt that the US institution was focusing too much on the issues of the Asia Pacific.

So what?

At the end of the event, I felt happy because I had gained a lot of knowledge about the role of the US as a rebalancing object of the Asia Pacific over territorial disputes in Asia Pacific. I also realized that I had misjudged the level of involvement of the US in security issues of the Asia Pacific. Indeed, the US is helping the Asia Pacific to resolve its disputes by acting as a neutral mediator between the disputing parties. The APCSS lessons include current trends and emerging issues such as the China/Japan conflict over Senkanku Island. I think these lessons enable students of Asia Pacific and non-Asia Pacific origins to understand the nature of the conflicts and be able to address the issue in terms of resource, strategic, identity, and legitimacy. The APCSS also provides lessons on international law which strengthen the legitimacy of USA’s engagement in disputes of Asia Pacific region. Therefore, I now feel differently from what I experienced at the time about the role of US in rebalancing Asia Pacific over disputes.

My confrontation and arguments against the involvement of the US in the conflicts of the Asia Pacific had some effects. For instance, it formed a platform for criticism and discussions which enabled me to understand the role of the US and the importance of international law in depth. The discussions I had with students of the college and lessons from the staff of the institution also had an impact on my understanding and attitude concerning the engagement of the US in the security issues of the Asia Pacific.

One of the positive aspects that have emerged for me in the visit to Hawaii is that I have learned to appreciate the role of USA in the security issues of Asia Pacific region. I have realized the efforts that the US has made in order to ensure that there is a good security for the people of Asia Pacific. I learned about the US-China Military Maritime Consultative agreement which has enhanced communication between Beijing and Tokyo; hence facilitating reconciliation and mediation for peace in the Asia-Pacific region. This has enabled me to understand the nature of relationship between the US and Asia Pacific as a peace oriented relationship. Furthermore, I can clearly now relate international law with the role of US in the security issues in China. International law advocates for the sovereignty of nations, but allows for military assistance from other allies. Considering the US as an ally of the Asia Pacific, I have realized that its engagement in the issues of Asia Pacific is legitimate.

Other students and staff were involved in the ride, and they also had their own feelings about the experiences we had in Hawaii. Even after our visit to APCSS, some of our members still considered the US as an intruder to the security issues of the Asia Pacific.  They felt that the territorial disputes of the Asia Pacific such as the China/Japan reclaim on Senkanku Island have been escalated by the involvement of the US.

Now What?

The ride to Hawaii has some implications for me and others in practice. The lessons we learnt from the trip have shaped the way I think about the role of US in rebalancing in the Asia Pacific territorial disputes. This enhances a good understanding of international relations and legitimacy of foreign engagements and military assistance during territorial disputes. This not only helps me to pass my studies but also enables me to contribute positively to the security issues of Asia Pacific.

After learning about the role of the US in rebalancing over the territorial disputes of the Asia Pacific, it makes a big difference if I choose to do nothing. In order to enhance faster reconciliation process between Asia Pacific nations which are fighting over territories, it is necessary to engage international bodies and foreign nations for advice and military support. I will therefore support the engagement of the US in the territorial disputes among various members of the Asia Pacific region. I will encourage my fellow school mates and other concerned people in the Asia Pacific to support the rebalancing efforts of US in the territorial disputes of the Asia Pacific.

After reflecting on the lessons learnt from the Hawaii visit about the US rebalancing efforts in the Asia Pacific, I can now take home a good lesson about the international law, legitimacy, identity and resource use. I have learnt that the international law plays a crucial role in defining how the international community should engage in the territorial conflicts of the Asia Pacific. The international community is allowed by the international law to offer military support and assistance to areas with wars but prevents them from undermining the sovereignty of such communities. In order to put the results of my reflections into actions, it is necessary for me to get help from my teachers and fellow students. They all need to understand that the role played by the US in the issue of the Asia Pacific rebalancing of territorial disputes is legitimate and requires support from all parties including military students in the Asia Pacific.

In order to face a similar situation in future, I need to study the concept of international law in depth. This requires me to obtain information from books of international law and military studies as well as internet sources. I also need to have relevant information about the attitudes and interests of the people in the places I want to visit beforehand. If a similar situation arises in future, I will modify my attitude because in the visit to Hawaii I was first negative about the role of US in rebalancing of territorial disputes in Asia Pacific but after learning the intentions of the US in APCSS, I can now appreciate the attitudes and interests of other international community in the peace and security of the Asia Pacific. I now know that the peace of the Asia Pacific is the peace of the world as a whole.

After changing my attitude towards the US involvement in Asia Pacific territorial conflicts, I have realized that I am different from others because I can put myself in the shoes of other people in order to understand their real intentions. Others of my classmates still do not understand why the United States has to intervene in the territorial disputes of the Asia Pacific. They tend to see the negative aspects of the US interventions without considering the benefit that the world can derive from such interventions.

Central Role of the ASEAN in the architecture

I have learnt that the international community is right to respond to China’s increasing pressure over their territorial claims in East and South China Sea. The East West Centre reflects great contributions made by the ASEAN in global politics, economy and security. It enhances collaboration, relations and understanding between the US and ASEAN communities.

What?

The purpose of reflecting on the role of ASEAN in the architecture is to focus on the knowledge and lessons gained while the group visited the East West Centre. It enables me to understand the centrality of ASEAN in the architecture of politics, economy and security of the global community.

In our visit to the East West Centre, our group met the director of the institution who welcomed us and gave us directions to various parts of the institution. We attended a workshop held in the institution and shared ideas with various members of the institution about the centrality of the ASEAN in the architecture of the global community.  I also met various students who paid key attention to our visit and shared ideas with them as well.

We spent three days in East West Centre visiting various facilities of the institution which provided a platform for us to obtain information about the centrality of the ASEAN. We visited the library and computer lab where we went through various catalogues, articles, journals, books, websites and other resources that gave us good information about the ASEAN. This enhanced our learning about the centrality of ASEAN in the political, economic and security issues of the global world.

In the visit to East West Centre, I also encountered Research Program, Education Program, Seminars Program, Pacific Islands Development Programs, and EWC Washington which offer various research and training programs about the ASEAN. Our group attended most of these programs in order to understand the importance of the ASEAN in the world economy. The authorities of the institution played their role well to welcome us to the institution and provided us with a good environment to learn and resources to get the necessary information.

On my part, I obtained documents from the database of the institution and read the information contained therein. I also participated in discussions and lessons during some of the workshops and seminars held in the institution. I also accessed the research facilities of the institution together with the regular researchers of the institution. I gained sufficient information by going through the research files and documents related to the ASEAN in the research facilities of the institution. I was happy for the experience and thanked the authorities of the institution for providing such facilities.

So What?

At the time of the visit to East West Centre, I felt excited about the wide range of information contained in the institution’s collaboration and research centres. I felt happy to be part of the group that got the chance to access information about the collaboration and relations between the ASEAN and the US. I also enjoyed the environment where we conducted our research. I felt comfortable using the resources of the centre and I was satisfied with the information I received in the centre.

Now after the event I feel like going back there to obtain more information which I did not get during the visit due to the limitation of time. I now understand that the ASEAN is an important region of the world. The research and interaction I received in the East West Centre has given me an opportunity to appreciate the role of the ASEAN region in world security, economy and politics.

Participating in the research activities, seminars and workshops had some effects in my understanding of the centrality role of the ASEAN in economic, political, and security perspectives of the world. It has also shaped my understanding and attitude about the involvement of the international community in China’s increasing pressure over their territorial claims in East and South China Sea (Ho, 2012). The discussions I was engaged in during the visit sharpened my research and understanding of key political, economic and security issues of the ASEAN.

Through cooperative study, research and dialogue in the centre, I have learnt that the ASEAN have contributed to the economic, security and political strength of the world. I have also learnt that the Western countries are highly interested and engaged in the political, economic, and security issues of the ASEAN because the ASEAN have a central role in the development of the world, which also benefits the West. I also learnt that the independence and sovereignty of the ASEAN is essential for the economic prosperity and security of the region. A lot of information about China’s increasing pressure over its territorial claims in East and South China Sea can be obtained in the research and education program facilities within the centre. In one of the research books I read the words of the Chinese president who said that China is committed to safeguarding its sovereignty and security, and defending its territorial integrity. This is related to the theory of international law which defines sovereignty as the ability of a nation to exercise independence in terms of political powers and engagements.

Now What?

These lessons and understanding about the role of ASEAN in the architecture have led to my development of knowledge about international security issues. For instance, I have learned that there is a diplomacy strategy of the US which focuses on the ASEAN region. The engagements of the US in various meetings and activities with the ASEAN indicate that the ASEAN is a strategic platform for the Western communities, especially Washington. The lessons I learnt also increased my understanding about the relationship between political views and resourcefulness of a nation. For instance, China has engaged in great reclaims of its land which shows that the country is focused on political views of its resources.

HADR Operation military Disaster Coordination

During our visit to the Philippines, we went to Cebu which is one of the island provinces of the Philippines. There is a US Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Cebu. The group held a lot of discussions with various intelligence groups from the US including members of the US Army. We talked to various members of staff in the command centre and from the discussions I realized that the US is highly concerned with the security issues of the Asia Pacific. We also got a briefing on the HADR Operation military Disaster coordination in Philippines. HADR stands for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief.

From our visit to Philippines, I realised that the HADR has engaged in disaster response capabilities in the ASEAN region. For instance, we were briefed about the Haiyan Response Efforts of HADR in Philippines. The disaster involved the landfall of Typhoon Haiyan. According to our briefing, logistic issues have improved since the intervention of HADR but the poor communications, power outages and the presence poor infrastructure in hard-to-reach areas has caused significant challenges in terms of coordination for disaster operations. I learned that there is need for increased planning in order to enhance the effectiveness of HADR disaster response. We also briefed that with the help of the ASEAN and the UN, disaster operations can be more successful in Philippines.

Conclusion

Our staff ride was an essential step to enhance learning in military studies. It has enabled us to gain a clear insight about the success of the ASEAN community through the involvement of the international community and other institutions such as HADR, CENTCOM, East West Centre and APCSS. Our visit enabled me to develop a new attitude about the engagement of the US in the security issues and territorial disputes of the Asia Pacific region. I have also learnt that the ASEAN have central role to play in the world political, security and economic issues. Furthermore, I understood that the international community should intervene in China’s aggressiveness to reclaim its territories of East and South China Sea because lack of peace in Asia Pacific will cause insecurity in the world and the strategic positioning of the western powers in Asia will be affected. Lastly, I learned that HADR disaster operations during the Haiyan disaster encountered certain challenges including lack of good infrastructure, lack of communication, inaccessible regions, and power outages. However, HADR and other UN and ASEAN institutions may help in overcoming such challenges.

References

Ho, B. (2012). ASEAN Centrality: a year of big power transitions. East Asia Forum. Accessed July 4, 2014 from http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/03/06/asean-centrality-a-year-of-  big-power-transitions/

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