China, not war on terror, will be the new big focus in Pentagon planning in the years ahead.
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Jan 12
America will no longer remain mired in grinding counterinsurgency campaigns like Afghanistan and Iraq; instead, it will reshape its military for the challenge posed by an emerging great power rival: China.
That was the key message yesterday from US president, Barack Obama. Flanked by his military commanders in full dress uniform, America’s commander-in-chief unveiled the Pentagon’s new defence strategy in a made-for-television performance in Washington. With a re-election campaign looming and with Republicans painting Obama as weak on defence, the US president talked up his military successes --- including the killing of Osama bin Laden; the degrading of Al Qaeda; the Libya campaign; and the end of the Iraq war --- before announcing sweeping budget and manpower cuts.
“We’re turning the page on a decade of war,” said Obama before releasing the new strategy that committed the Pentagon to save half a trillion dollars in expenditure over the next decade through measures like reducing the army’s size from 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers.
Even while announcing this “peace dividend”, the Pentagon indicated its next big threat. “We will of necessity rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific region,” says the new strategy document (italics in original). Without naming China, the target area is identified as “the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.”
India is key to this new focus. Besides expanding “networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific…. United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region,” the strategy states.
America’s new strategy relies on significant military contributions from partner countries like India, while seeking to be their “security partner of choice.”
“Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence and advisory capabilities,” says the document (italics in original).
The strategy specifies that the US will “maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.” This refers primarily to China’s anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, in which anti-ship ballistic missiles like the purpose-built Dong Feng 21-D, attack submarines, anti-ship mines and swarms of small vessels, attack US aircraft carriers that approach China’s coast in a war, such as a Chinese operation to “liberate” Taiwan.
Entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” the new strategy dilutes the US military’s requirement to be capable of fighting two major wars simultaneously. Such a capability was already in question given the Pentagon’s difficulty in sustaining the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns together. The new strategy mandates a one-and-a-half war capability, specifying that “Even when U.S. forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region, they will be capable of denying the objectives of –– or imposing unacceptable costs on –– an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”
“Our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats,” Obama said.
To maintain a range of capabilities, the downsizing military will rely on a “Joint Force” that will retain its accumulated expertise and corporate abilities for mounting a range of missions, including those that do not appear probably at present. If the need arises those elements will be quickly expanded, drawing on the all-volunteer military as well as the National Guard and the Reserves.
Driving the new national defence strategy, says The New York Times, are three realities: “the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran.”
This big picture restructuring goes hand-in-hand with newer, less manpower-intensive strategies that are already being implemented at the theatre level. In Afghanistan, for example, where the troop drawdown will no longer permit the manpower-intensive counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that Obama had announced in December 2009, the US Army has already shifted in all but name to a strategy of “Advise and Assist”. This will see the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take the lead in COIN operations, with the US forces confining themselves to training, advising and enabling roles. Instead of manpower intensive brigade deployments, the US forces will operate in 12-16 person teams, living and functioning with Afghan units. According to The Long War Journal, a blog that closely follows military events in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US 170th Brigade in Northern Afghanistan has already shifted to an “Advise and Assist” role. This year, most US forces plan to follow suit.