Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s new policy called the “pivot” to Asia from critics who say the shift is largely rhetorical and lacks a substantial program to build U.S. military power in the region.
“I believe, at a fundamental level, that the process of rebalancing is a substantial effort that will take years,” Mr. Campbell said during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
China, meanwhile, recently challenged the administration on the pivot. A Chinese official said during a meeting of American analysts that he was told by a senior Obama administration official that the entire pivot to Asia could be abandoned by the middle of the president’s second term in office. The Chinese official cited continued problems in the Middle East and lack of support from Congress.
China opposes the U.S. pivot and, in state-run media reports, has identified it is a covert effort to block growing Chinese hegemony in Asia.
Critics of the thus-far weak pivot policy argue that the Obama administration is refusing to lead in bolstering security in Asia and that the Pentagon is cutting its forces sharply and thus will not be able to provide security assurances to its friends and allies.
Additionally, conservative critics have said U.S. intelligence agencies suffer from “group think” on China that has prevented honest assessments of the threats posed by China's military and other aspects of the country’s modernization.
Mr. Campbell said diplomatically, U.S. aid budgets for Asia have increased and engagement in the region is “much more substantial than in the past,” mainly through high-level visits to regional meetings.
Regarding the U.S. military in Asia, Mr. Campbell said, “I can see very clearly a strong determination among the new generation of officers to recognize the growing importance of the Asia Pacific region.”
“Early indicators underscore the determination to work in this direction,” he added, citing recent speeches by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“I believe that the down payments have been made,” Mr. Campbell said. “I, at least, am confident that the United States understands the stakes and will make the appropriate investments over time.”
Defense officials critical of the administration’s failure to conduct a more muscular military buildup in Asia say the pivot is little more than a rebranding of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s “hedge” strategy designed to build up U.S. power in Asia. That strategy included shifting of naval forces to Asia so that 60 percent is in the region. Mr. Panetta recently announced the shift as if it were a new policy
After several weeks of pressure from Tokyo, the administration finally invoked the U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty to let Beijing know the United State would defend Japan in any confrontation over the islands.
Last week, the administration had no public comment on China’s threat to begin boarding and inspecting ships in the South China Sea in international waters largely claimed as Chinese maritime territory.
As for any military buildup, infrastructure development on the U.S. island of Guam – a key hub for a future U.S. military buildup – has languished.
The Pentagon’s new Air-Sea Battle concept makes Guam a key strategic military hub for operations in Asia and elsewhere by adding warships, submarines, strategic bombers and troops. But hardening the air and naval facilities has been slow.
“If you can’t make Guam a secure air and naval base, then there can be no Air Sea Battle,” said one defense official.
A group of 2,000 Marines is to be deployed on Australia, and four littoral combat ships will be deployed in Singapore. Analysts say the measures will not impress the Chinese.
“If we sent 10 ships and 20,000 Marines, that would get their attention,” said a second defense official.
One Chinese official recently was quoted by a U.S. official as calling the U.S. pivot a “hoax” because of the administration’s failure to back it up.
Meanwhile, pro-China academics are dismissing the pivot. They say it is not aimed at protecting U.S. friends and allies and freedom of navigation in Asia, but is merely a trade and diplomatic initiative with little or no military component because of the administration’s aversion to the threat or use of hard power.
U.S. fails on Russia POW search
A joint U.S.-Russia presidential commission set up in 1992 to resolve cases of missing U.S. troops is largely defunct, another casualty of the administration’s questionable reset policy with Moscow, according to prisoner of war activist and author Mark Sauter.
Mr. Sauter says there is evidence that U.S. Air Force pilots were taken to Russia during the Korean War and never returned.
“The U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs (USRJC), a presidential commission supported by the Pentagon, produced important information in the 1990s, but is now essentially defunct due to Russian foot-dragging and an absence of U.S. resolve,” he wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
Norm Kass, who once was a key official on the American side of the joint commission, said the Pentagon’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office failed to follow through on a Russia offer to restart POW cooperation in 2010.
“Why does the  work plan that was developed – by the way, at the Russians’ suggestion and with their full concurrence – continue to lie fallow even though it offers the only serious, agreed-upon way of moving forward?” Mr. Kass, former head of the U.S. Joint Commission Support Directorate told Mr. Sauter.
According to a Pentagon fact sheet, Russia disbanded its participation in the commission in 2006 and blocked access by U.S. analysts to Russian archives. Then in January 2010, the Russians restored U.S. access to the archives. Six month later, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree setting up the Russian side of the commission again.
“I’d like to ask President Obama one question: Ex-Soviet officials admitted they took our Air Force pilots to Russia, and experts on the president’s own POW-MIA commission agreed it happened. So why – more than a decade later – don’t we have those men or their remains home?” Mr. Sauter told Inside the Ring.
“The U.S. government remains committed to the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission,” she said in a statement, adding that the Pentagon POW office “supports the Commission and Russia has granted access to some of its archival records. Both sides have active Commissioners.”
China military report upgraded
A section of the legislation calls for adding language to the annual report on Chinese military power on “China’s asymmetric capabilities, including efforts to develop and deploy cyberwarfare and electronic warfare capabilities, and associated activities originating or suspected of originating from China.”
If contained in the final law, the Pentagon will be required to describe in detail China’s cyberwarfare and cyberespionage activities and “an assessment of the damage inflicted on the Department of Defense by reason thereof, and the potential harms.”
Also, China’s strategy and potential targets for offensive cyberwarfare would be added, along with details of “the number of malicious cyber incidents emanating from Internet Protocol addresses in China, including a comparison of the number of incidents during the reporting period to previous years.”
On China’s space activities, new additions to the annual report would identify the strategy and capabilities of Chinese space programs.
Also, for the first time, the Pentagon would include details on Chinese efforts to develop electromagnetic pulse weapons – the disabling electronic effect of a nuclear blast that China is thought to be developing as a dedicated weapon.
The Senate bill is seeking “a discussion of any significant uncertainties or knowledge gaps surrounding China’s nuclear-weapons program and the potential implications of any such knowledge gaps for the security of the United States and its allies.”
That provision was disclosed through a Georgetown University arms-control project studying China’s so-called Underground Great Wall that includes 3,000 miles of tunnels dedicated for nuclear weapons.
The legislation appears to be a response to the Obama administration decision to shorten the latest Pentagon annual report to avoid upsetting Beijing, which routinely protests the report for highlighting the threat posed by China's military.
The annual report was cut from 96 pages in 2011 to 56 pages last year, prompting protests from some lawmakers.