Revised 'Pivot to Asia' Strategy Not Likely to Reduce Military Involvement Around the Globe

By Dan Parsons
The year-old defense strategic guidance authored by the Obama administration is being rewritten in the wake of sequestration budget cuts that could wipe out $500 billion in military spending over the next decade. Senior military leaders, nonetheless, do not expect the revised strategy will reduce the armed forces' global presence.
Rear Adm. Rick Snyder told a March 19 meeting of the Precision Strike Association that the U.S. military is and will continue to be involved in regions that comprise nearly three quarters of the globe. He made these comments the day after the disclosure of a March 15 memo by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordering a 60-day review of the current strategy based on funding constraints.
“These will be the broader Middle East, South Central Asia, Asia, Africa and space and cyberspace,” Snyder said. But he acknowledged budgetary roadblocks to this expansive U.S. military posture. Not only does the Pentagon face draconian sequester cuts but the Defense Department has so far refused to lower its top line to reflect the reductions.
Still, the military is full steam ahead toward a plan to police the global commons, retain its “focus” on the Middle East, “rebalance” its resources to the Asia-Pacific and keep a wary eye on Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, he said.
David Ochmanek, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development, whose office was the primary coordinator of the 2012 strategic guidance, said the document was a “starting point” on which the U.S. military will bas its future structure and mission.
Efforts to thwart Al Qaida wherever the terrorist network rears its head will only broaden following the prescribed 2014 drawdown from Afghanistan, he said. Because Al Qaida affiliates have metastasized throughout the third world — notably northern Africa, previously stable Middle East countries, Southeast Asia and South America — the U.S. must form long-term partnerships with regional allies to curb their expansion, Ochmanek said.
Still, he acknowledged that the scope of operations required for global engagement on such a scale is an expensive proposition. Something has got to give if the U.S. is to maintain its globally deployed presence while spending considerably less on defense than it has for more than a decade.
“The most obvious approach is to adopt a more moderate strategy. That is always an option,” Ochmanek said. “No one wants to fool ourselves that we can do more with less. There is not slack in the force that would allow us to do that. Another option is to aggressively address our cost structure. We have a very expensive way of doing business.”
Retooling compensation for veterans and civilian employees while simultaneously undertaking comprehensive acquisition reform are in order, he said. Parroting a line used by nearly all Defense Department officials of late, Ochmanek declared that “affordability will be central to everything we do.”
That en vogue maxim is doubly true when A2AD and air-sea battle doctrine are taken into account, he said.
“I would say things are worse than you think,” he said. “A2AD means that in the future we’re going to have to pay for things that we used to get for free.”
Snyder called the 2012 guidance a “useful doctrine” that represents a first step to making “tough decisions” about how the U.S. distances itself from long-term stability operations while maintaining its stranglehold on Al Qaida and managing China’s rise in the Pacific.
“Things have changed again” in the ensuing 14 months since the guidance was issued, Snyder said. “We need to take a re-look … based on what we currently have, is that still valid, is that still germane?”
Snyder laid out what he said the Joint Staff considers the United States’ global military responsibility in its entirety, expanding the 2012 strategic guidance to include most of earth.
The strategic environment, in broad terms, is “complex, dynamic and uncertain” and includes “strategically significant actors” like U.S. peers Russia and China. The U.S. military will also have to deal with regional heavyweights like India, Indonesia and Turkey as well as “frail states” like Pakistan and Afghanistan and many in Africa, he said.
Catalysts of instability that are expected to increase in intensity in coming decades — climate change, globalization, rising demand for scarce resources — will affect all these areas, Snyder said. Transnational criminal organizations, piracy and the ongoing threat from terrorist organizations further complicate the future of U.S global military engagement, he added.
In Asia, conflicts will likely play out in a traditional military sense of peer-on-peer aggression and regional influence, he said. In Africa, the convergence of terrorism, political instability, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and competition for resources present a threat to U.S. interests there. The region annually loses 70,000 lives to natural disasters, another mission to which the U.S. military has committed itself in the region.
The U.S. will must also deal with the opening of the Arctic, caused by a warming climate melting sea ice. Several nations from Russia to India are interested in the natural resources that can be found under the sea floor there.
Perhaps the most pervasive and confounding future challenge to U.S. security, he said, is the proliferation of anti-access, area-denial weapons like cruise missiles.
Those weapons “provide our adversaries with low-cost solutions to undermine U.S. military dominance [whereas] … U.S. operational access in recent decades was essentially unopposed,” Snyder said.
As with the cyber domain, where neither the threat nor future capabilities are yet understood, the United States is taking on military endeavors that will require years of investment to control, he said.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock, Defense Dept., Navy

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy, War Planning

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