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Research Questions

  1. Which partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific have the willingness to support U.S. operations there?
  2. Does the nature of the conflict affect that willingness?

The study described in this report assessed the potential for the United States to receive support in air component capabilities from partners and allies in the event of a major combat contingency in the Indo-Pacific. A companion report focuses on technical and operational considerations associated with partner and allied support: whether they have the capability and capacity to support U.S. air operations in a major conflict. This report focuses on the geopolitical side of the equation: whether partners and allies have the willingness to support U.S. operations. Capabilities alone do not equal warfighting outcomes; the partners and allies must be willing to join the United States in the conflict.

The authors identified 12 countries for the focus of the analysis, representing a mix of U.S. treaty allies, significant regional players, and countries with specific air component assets potentially important to a contingency. These countries are Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The authors then defined four potential scenarios for high-end conflict against which they assessed as these countries' possible contribution: a conflict over Taiwan, a second Korean war, a maritime conflict in the South China Sea, and a major stability operation on the Korean Peninsula following a collapse of North Korea.

Key Findings

  • Australia and Japan have significant security interests at stake in major Asian contingencies. But both will face political (and, in the case of Japan, legal and constitutional) hurdles to participating in wars that do not directly engage them at first.
  • South Korea values the U.S. alliance but has little interest in being a cobelligerent off the Korean Peninsula.
  • The authors found little evidence that, unless directly attacked itself, Thailand is willing to endanger its security by offering military aid to the United States.
  • Several other regional countries—notably India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam—have very strong traditions of nonalignment and display no evidence of being willing to volunteer to join a war that does not directly involve them.
  • New Zealand and the Philippines have few air assets to devote to a major fight and strong incentives to remain aloof from distant wars.
  • Various factors will affect final choices of these partners, such as the degree of Chinese belligerence between now and the crisis, degree of U.S. commitment, and political changes in other countries in the region.

Recommendation

  • The Air Force would likely make the most progress by focusing on efforts designed to enhance (1) deeper interoperability across the board with Australia and Japan, (2) local self-defense capabilities (as opposed to distant power projection capacity) of partners and allies, and (3) partner capability and ability to operate with the United States more broadly—but only in very narrow air systems (typically not combat aircraft) and with the goal of joint activities only in such scenarios as stability operations or humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned and sponsored by Headquarters U.S. Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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