An independent review assessing the Obama administration’s plans to move national security resources toward Asia and away from the Atlantic has criticised the Pentagon, saying it insufficiently explained how it would shift military forces to the region and how the government would sharpen its focus on rising security challenges across the Pacific.
The 110-page unclassified study, buttressed by a secret annex, also warns that plans for an Asia-Pacific emphasis have not been squared with increasingly tight budgets.
While the assessment does not declare the new Asia strategy to be an emperor with no clothes, it recommends that more must be done to persuade Congress to support and finance the new strategy.
The administration announced plans early this year to pivot from Iraq and Afghanistan to focus national security resources on the Asia-Pacific region. As part of a broad Congressional scrutiny into national security policy for the region, a bipartisan trio of senators backed a provision in the defense authorisation bill for an independent critique of President Obama’s overall Asia-Pacific strategy. The review, conducted by the centre for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan policy institute in Washington, found that the Defense Department “has not adequately articulated the strategy behind its force posture planning, nor aligned the strategy with resources in a way that reflects current budget realities.”
The debate over what the Obama administration hopes will be a signature foreign policy realignment will resume on Wednesday, when the two main authors of the study, David J. Berteau and Michael J. Green, appear before a House Armed Services subcommittee. Two Pentagon officials, Robert Scher, the deputy assistant secretary for plans, and David F. Helvey, the acting deputy assistant secretary for East Asia, are also expected to testify. Senate hearings are expected later.
The senators who pushed for the assessment – Carl Levin of Michigan and Jim Webb of Virginia, both Democrats, and John McCain of Arizona, a Republican – issued a statement on Friday noting the need to match strategic goals to spending constraints.
“This is particularly important as support for the resourcing of major overseas initiatives, in the current fiscal environment, will depend to a significant extent on a clear articulation of US strategic imperatives and the manner in which the investments address them,” the senators said. They emphasized that Congress needed to be reassured that “force planning and realignment proposals are realistic, workable and affordable.”
In assessing the military rebalancing proposals, the study notes that “current US force posture is heavily tilted toward Northeast Asia, to Korea and Japan, where it focuses properly on deterring the threats of major conflicts on the Korean Peninsula, off Japan, and in the Taiwan Strait.”
However, the study points out that the stakes are “growing fastest in South and Southeast Asia,” as proved by potentially destabilising actions by China as it tries to extend its sovereignty in the South China Sea and over island territory in the region.
“The top priority of US strategy in Asia is not to prepare for a conflict with China,” the study said. “Rather, it is to shape the environment so that such a conflict is never necessary and perhaps someday inconceivable.”
The study calls for one or more additional attack submarines in Guam; the deployment of a second Marine Corps amphibious ready group in the region, which would reduce the number in the Atlantic by one; and the bolstering of missile-defense systems.
Since the new Asia-Pacific strategy was officially announced in January, the Pentagon has sent top officials as emissaries, the most recent being Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, who had a 10-day swing through the region.
“I think that what our partners and allies in this region are looking for is confirmation that the United States is serious and concrete about shifting a great deal of our emphasis from the places we have been – of necessity – preoccupied for the last decade, namely Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Asia-Pacific region,” Carter told the American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon’s internal news service, as he was flying home last week.
Previously, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told Asian security officials in Singapore that the United States was committed to enhancing its military presence in the region despite budget constraints.
The Navy, Panetta said, will reassign its forces from an even distribution between the Atlantic and the Pacific to 60 percent in the Pacific. These shifts will be amplified by an increase in military exercises with allies and partners in the region, he said.
In a cover letter to Congress for the study, which was made available on Friday, Panetta pointed out that the refocus on Asia was about more than just military power.
“United States strategy calls for rebalancing defense, diplomatic and economic resources toward the Asia-Pacific region,” Panetta wrote. “Essential to this strategy are our efforts to strengthen alliances and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific to advance a common security vision for the future.”