Earlier this month, the United States and South and Southeast Asian states kicked off this year’s iteration of the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) exercises. The drills put the spotlight on ongoing efforts by the United States and Southeast Asian countries to boost maritime security collaboration within the wider Indo-Pacific region.
As I have noted before in these pages, SEACAT is one of a series of multilateral exercises that the United States carries out with Asian countries, including those from Southeast Asia. The exercise, which began as “Southeast Asia Cooperation Against Terrorism” in the post-9/11 period back in 2002, was subsequently renamed in 2012 to reflect the focus on advancing training among regional navies and coast guards in South and Southeast Asia to manage various challenges, including piracy and illegal smuggling.
Over the past few weeks, this aspect of U.S. defense ties with Southeast Asian states was in the headlines again with the holding of this year’s iteration of the SEACAT exercise. The exercise, which is in its 18th iteration, kicked off on August 19 and is to last until August 30. It features participation from a range of countries, including eight Southeast Asian states – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This constituted an increase from last year, with Cambodia an addition this year even amid continuing differences between Washington and Phnom Penh, which extend into the security side of ties.