Saturday, January 07, 2012

U.S. applies new strategy in Asia-Pacific region

By Wang Fengfeng | Xinhua

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a new military strategy that aims to strengthen the country's military presence in the Asia-Pacific region despite fiscal constraints, adjusting troop structure to a new era of austerity.

"We'll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region," he said at the Pentagon, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

The strategy directs the U.S. military to "rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region," asking it to rely on existing alliances and expand its networks to include emerging partners.

Maintaining peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and U.S. influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence, according to the strategy.

The Middle East is also taken into consideration. The strategy foresees that U.S. defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists and destabilizing threats, while emphasizing Gulf security and preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

It also says the United States will "continue to place a premium on U.S. and allied military presence in -- and support of -- partner nations in and around this region."

This rebalancing will occur at Europe's expense. The strategy calls for an "evolved" U.S. presence in Europe. It says European countries have become "producers" of security rather than "consumers." Meanwhile, the United States will also maintain engaged with Russia, as well as its Article 5 duty as a NATO member.

"The new strategic guidance nicely balances the demands for continued U.S. global leadership with the reality of fiscal constraints. It correctly reorients U.S. military forces towards Asia, while simultaneously preparing for potential threats from the Middle East," said Dr. Nora Bensahel, deputy director of studies and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington think tank.

This rebalancing doesn't mean the United States is giving up its military supremacy.

"Our military will be leaner, but ... agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats," Obama said.

The U.S. military should be able to ensure national security with smaller conventional ground forces, the U.S. president said. He vowed to get rid of "outdated Cold War-era systems" while investing in the capabilities needed for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as counterterrorism, among others.

Despite fiscal challenges, defense spending will continue to grow albeit at a slower rate, the president said, noting the country still ranks number one in defense spending. Its defense budget "continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined," Obama said.

The new strategy is likely to shift the emphasis from the Army to the Navy and Air Force as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. While the former military focus was fighting and winning two wars simultaneously, experts say that the military will now be focused on winning one war, while spoiling the military aspirations of another adversary in a different region of the world.

Yet speaking at a press conference Thursday, Defense Secretary Panetta said that the United States could still conduct two military operations at the same time.

"The nature of warfare today is ... as you engage, you have to look at how you do it, what forces do you use to be able to confront that enemy, what exactly is involved," Panetta said. "You could face a land war in Korea, and at the same time face threats in the Straits of Hormuz. We have the capability, with this Joint Force, to deal with those kinds of threats, to be able to confront them, and to be able to win. That's what counts."

Budget wars

The strategy foresees some 487 billion U.S. dollars of defense spending reduction in ten years. However, a Congressional "supercommittee" failed to reach a compromise on how to cut 1.2 trillion dollars in spending over the next ten years, meaning if Congress can't find a solution this year, a sequestration method would be triggered, splitting the cuts evenly between civilian and military spending.

Panetta has warned the Department of Defense would face "devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation's defense," should the sequestration take place.

Although Obama urged Congress to reduce the deficit in accordance with the Budget Control Act passed last year, the new strategy didn't mention how this would affect the military, should it come to pass.

Travis Sharp, Bacevich fellow at the CNAS, was critical of Obama's strategy.

"The Obama administration's new strategic guidance assumes that the Department of Defense will absorb 487 billion in cuts to its budget over the next decade. Yet that assumption does not match the current law of the land, sequestration," Sharp said.

He said if sequestration occurs, the Pentagon "will not be able to execute this new guidance." That would further reduce capabilities that provide insurance against uncertainty while preserving capabilities that protect against the most pressing threats facing the nation.

"The new guidance seems to identify ground forces and nuclear weapons as two 'insurance' capabilities that the Department of Defense might cut further if Congress doesn't undo sequestration," Sharp said.


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