Strategy Groups Enhance Pacom’s Regional Understanding, Engagement
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
HONOLULU, Jul. 30, 2012 As U.S. Pacific Command implements new strategic guidance focused on the Asia-Pacific region, its commander, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, is tapping into a pool of expertise within his headquarters here to enhance the command’s engagements in the region.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, on his first visit to China as Pacom commander, June 27, 2012. DOD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Carl N. Hudson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Pacom is the only U.S. combatant command that includes strategic focus groups within its command structure. Then-Pacom commander Navy Adm. Robert Willard stood up the four groups in 2009 as part of a commandwide emphasis on strategic thinking to enhance operational planning.
"This is what combatant commanders across the globe should be attending to," Willard told reporters at the time. He pointed to the need for more focus on aligning the command with national strategies and policies and on understanding the strategies and policies of regional counterparts. Today, these four strategic focus groups advise Locklear and his senior staff on key areas within the theater engagement strategy.
One group focuses on ways to mature the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship. Another concentrates on developing the U.S strategic partnership with India, a nonaligned nation that is a rising military power and economic powerhouse.
Another group explores ways to strengthen the five U.S. alliances in the region – with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines — and to advance other partnerships in the Asia-Pacific.
The fourth focus group concentrates on the North Korean threat and plans for a U.S.-South Korean military response, if required.
William McKinney, director of strategic focus group that focuses on North Korea, described the groups as “in-house, mini think tanks” that provide in-depth analysis to help Locklear shape decisions on strategy, policy and plans.
Unlike regular desk officers whose schedules can get overwhelmed by the details of day-to-day current operations, strategic focus groups concentrate on the big picture, McKinney explained. “We have the luxury of having the ‘white space’ and the time to, as Admiral Locklear says, ‘think big,’” he said.
That entails everything from reading published reports to determining what a particular country is doing and why, and identifying the strategic implications of those actions.
The teams also help Pacom leaders understand the cultural context of how U.S. messages or actions will be interpreted.
“By studying that region, that country and that culture, strategic focus groups are able to provide some of the cultural understanding to our senior leaders and decision makers who need to understand how certain actions are going to be perceived in that country, or how certain actions are likely to be reciprocated,” said David Dorman, director of the China SFG.
Those perspectives, explained Army Col. Michael Albaneze, the India SFG director, provide Locklear insights that help guide his decisions in light of opportunities as well as challenges in the region.
While not duplicating what other staff sections do, the strategic focus groups help to put those functions into context, he said.
“The idea is to look at issues more from a perspective of that country’s interests,” Albaneze said. “What are its understandings and its strategies and its policies? And how might they relate back to the United States, and more specifically, on the military-to-military relationship, and how we engage with them?”
The groups are small – typically just five or six members – and bring a broad array of backgrounds to the mission.
Dorman came to Pacom from Capitol Hill, where he worked East Asia policy issues as a senior staffer. After his initial introduction to China in the early 1980s as a Marine security guard, he went on to earn a doctorate in international security studies, with an emphasis on China.
McKinney retired from the military as a Korea foreign area officer, spending 15 of his 30 years of service in South Korea, with six of those years as the defense attache. He also got unique experience during three years in North Korea as the U.S. representative for the Korea Energy Development Organization.
Albaneze spent 11 months at the India National Defense College in 2009 before joining the Pacom staff.
Their staffs reflect mixed disciplines as well, with backgrounds in political-military affairs, strategic plans and policy, security assistance, operations and intelligence, among other fields.
“It really makes a lot of sense, because each discipline is going to provide its own perspective,” said Albaneze. “And our job is to try to put all that together and give [Locklear] a sort of ‘what does that all really mean to you, and what is the impact of that?”
Dorman, whose China SFG includes a wide range of specialists, some with experience in the country as attaches, called the diversity of his team’s resumes one of its greatest strengths.
“We have people who have all worked China issues in one capacity or another, but coming from extremely different directions,” he said. “And the benefit of that is that it gives us a perspective on China that no one has ever had before.”
As the United States and South Korea prepare to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice next year, McKinney expressed hope that insights he and his focus group provide will help Pacom deal with continuing challenges on the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile, Dorman and Albaneze said they’re optimistic that the kind of deep understanding their teams provide can help Pacom work toward closer U.S. engagement with their focus nations.
The relatively new U.S. military relationship with India is slowly maturing, although not as quickly or as consistently as some would like, Albaneze conceded. “But if you look at it from the long term,” he said, “you have a lot of mutual interests and converging interests about stability and increased economic growth and countering terrorism. And when you put all those things together, it gives us the potential to be hopeful to look into the future.”
After recently traveling with Locklear on his first visit to China as Pacom commander, Dornan said he feels certain that the U.S.-China military-to-military relationship will move forward.
Dorman credited Locklear with exhibiting during that visit the exact kind of understanding it will take to open doors in that direction – and with no strategic focus group coaching. On meeting his Chinese counterparts, Locklear’s first words were to acknowledge two milestone accomplishments: China’s submersible deep-sea dive to 23,000 feet in the Marianas Trench on June 30 and China’s first successful manned docking in space 12 days earlier.
“These were moments of supreme [Chinese] national pride, and he walked in and congratulated them,” Dorman said. “Those were his first words: ‘We are proud of you.’”