Friday, May 2, 2014

MISO and the Pivot to Asia

Much has been said about the President’s “Pivot to Asia”. The President himself has finished his recent tour to Asia, where on April 28, 2014 he addressed Filipino and US Armed Forces at Fort Bonifacio. Among other things the President was there “to reaffirm the enduring alliance between our two countries.  I thank President Aquino for his partnership and the deeper ties that we forged yesterday.”

I’ve been a dedicated Asiaphile since my first Chinese food experience in Brooklyn during the 1950s. Over the years I’ve continued to study and visit Asia in military, commercial and private capacities. I maintain that the bandwidth of people and cultures is much greater in Asia than it is in Europe.

Asian philosophy, with its long range perspective, often runs at odds with the Western penchant for instant gratification. Consequently when a sitting US President visits an Asian ally and meets with their military, notice must be taken.

An often underplayed aspect of MISO is the interaction of one nation’s military with another’s. Those of use who have had the honor and pleasure of working with allied nations are well aware of the kinship that runs between military personnel.

Working with other militaries pays big dividends. First of all, you learn a lot about each other as people. You also learn about the style and culture of the allied force. Sometimes you learn that officers of the same rank in particular exhibit extraordinary similar behaviors, without regard to the color of their uniform.

Back in the olden days I commanded the 12th PSYOP BN. We were an Asia focused unit. This meant our soldiers worked exercises in Korea, the Philippines, Japan and Thailand. One of the long running Exercise is Balikatan which, coincidentally, started today in Visayas (see: Other exercises such as Yama Sakura in Hokaido, Japan tool place in less hospitable weather – during winter.

It would make logical sense to assume that these long running, historic exercises would continue to be funded and support. But what about other mil to mil contacts? What about engaging countries that we have historically not worked with very much such as Malaysia or Indonesia? Would these contacts have to be large scale and formal, or would simple short-term visits, mobile training teams and exchanges work? Or should we save our money?

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