pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Issues and Insights – Making Collective Deterrence and Defense Work in the Indo-Pacific

  • David Santoro

    President of the Pacific Forum

  • Brad Glosserman

    Deputy Director of and Visiting Professor at the Tama University Center for Rule Making Strategies and Senior Advisor for Pacific Forum



The Indo-Pacific security architecture is undergoing fundamental transformation to address rising challenges, most notably those posed by an increasingly confident, assertive, and capable China.

Pacific Forum has started a multi-year unofficial dialogue with experts and officials from the United States and key allies and partners to share views of this evolving regional security environment and identify common interests and concerns as well as areas of divergence. The inaugural Pacific Forum Defense and Deterrence Dialogue, which included participants from the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, took place in Tokyo on February 2-3, 2023. It was run at the Track 2 level, although diplomatic officials and military officers from each country also attended as observers.

Pacific Forum’s goal is to identify ways to shape this evolution to ensure that it meets U.S. national security needs, particularly integrated deterrence of, and defense against, regional adversaries—with China as the foremost concern. Responses to these changes have taken several forms. Bilateral alliances are being modernized. Other security relationships are being strengthened, such as those between Japan and Australia and Japan and the United Kingdom. There is also talk of new coordination among Five Eyes and other partners. In other cases, new initiatives have been launched, such as the Australia-United Kingdom-United States “enhanced trilateral security partnership” (AUKUS) or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Recent developments, such as the election of conservative Yoon Yuk-soul as president in South Korea, are hopeful signs of the revitalization of currently moribund defense and security arrangements, notably U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation. There is also reportedly talk of renewed interest in the Trilateral Security Dialogue that includes the United States, Australia, and Japan.

All these initiatives are designed to better compete with, deter, and, if necessary, defend against adversaries determined to rewrite the regional order in ways that align with their interests.

While the notion of an Asian equivalent to NATO is out of sync with regional needs (and there is broad recognition of that fact among key allies), current momentum could herald the emergence of an Indo-Pacific defense community reminiscent of the one created by trans-Atlantic nations after the Second World War. That community was forged to defend against the Soviet Union. Today, the nascent group in the Indo-Pacific is focused on China, although it is not the only threat. Understanding how regional governments see and rank those diverse threats is a critical step in ensuring that the new arrangements are most effective. One thing is certain: the current situation—in which there is no coordination mechanism among the existing and emerging arrangements—is not tenable in view of the mounting China challenge.

To succeed, this process must be nurtured. The United States must better understand the forces at play and the views driving national action, and it must work to ensure that those changes are effective to counter China and other challenges. Work is needed to understand how all these pieces fit together in a coherent regional deterrence and defense architecture, particularly to deal with strategic conflict. This is not easy. The above- mentioned initiatives and relationships are new and evolving. It is difficult to appreciate each on its own, much less the overlap between them, and their convergences and divergences. Plus, in some cases, governments are also focused on other ways to deter. DTRA’s chief concern is the warfighter, who must be prepared to address a range of threats that extends from “strategic” military problems (including those related to nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, conventional weapons, and other domains) to gray zone issues, but some regional initiatives also address other issues, notably climate change, vaccine diplomacy, and emerging technologies. It is critical that the United States understand how allies and partners see this menu of items and their goals and priorities, even as the focus of our proposed effort is strengthening regional deterrence and defense. Plainly, a cumulative, comparative assessment is critical because effective deterrence and defense demand a comprehensive analysis and there needs to be shared understanding of how these mechanisms can be coordinated to ensure that needs are met and that participating governments maximize and make the most efficient contributions.

From a U.S. perspective, building a collective deterrence and defense architecture in the Indo-Pacific is urgent and the only realistic way to compete effectively against China. As a landmark report from the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney has found, “a strategy of collective defence is fast becoming necessary as a way of offsetting shortfalls in America’s regional military power and holding the line against rising Chinese strength.”1

Failure to build an effective Indo-Pacific deterrence and defense architecture would shift the regional balance of forces to the detriment of the United States as it addresses the China challenge.