In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Trump administration on Thursday renamed the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command. The move is also reflective of the growing importance of the Indian Ocean in US strategic thinking. Henceforth, the storied US Pacific Command, or PACOM, which was formed after World War II, will be known as the Indo-Pacific Command. Soon after coming to power, the Trump administration had renamed the Asia Pacific as Indo-Pacific and identified India as one bookend of the region
The renaming reflects the existing geographic coverage of the command and the acknowledgement of the increasing connectedness between the two oceans — Pacific and India —, but also, more broadly, the process of India’s re-entry into the US government’s “Asia” orbit.”
Formerly known as United States Pacific Command, it is a unified combatant command of the United States Armed Forces responsible for the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It is the oldest and largest of the unified combatant commands.
Its commander, the senior U.S. military officer in the Pacific, is responsible for military operations in an area which encompasses more than 100 million square miles, or roughly 52% of the Earth’s surface, stretching from the waters off the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India, and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
The Commander reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Defense and is supported by Service component and subordinate unified commands, including U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Forces Japan, U.S. Forces Korea, Special Operations Command Korea, and Special Operations Command Pacific.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is critical for “a region open to investment and free, fair and reciprocal trade, not bound by any nation’s predatory economics or threat of coercion, for the Indo-Pacific has many belts and many roads.”
Also, renaming the combatant command is strategically significant, in that it reflects a recognition within the U.S. government that East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region are gradually becoming a single competitive space. It’s also shrewd marketing — a way of reaffirming to New Delhi and to the rest of the world that India is, and ought to be, an indispensable role of the future Asian order.
The US move comes in the wake of a series of measures by China that have raised tensions in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims over the area. The US also rejects China’s claims of ownership of the area.
However, the effectiveness of an Indo-Pacific defence and security strategy and US-India cooperation will still depend on the level of discussion and coordination across combatant commands and bureaus.