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Inside the Ring
PENTAGON SHIFTS EAST
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Thursday will put the official Pentagon stamp on a new U.S. strategy toward Asia. The strategy will solidify efforts to refocus on countering China’s growing arsenal of missiles, submarines, cyberweapons and other forces designed to push U.S. forces out of the region.
A senior U.S. official tells Inside the Ring that the strategy — produced in response to harsh defense budget cuts imposed by the Obama administration and expected deeper cuts from Congress — is focused on bolstering U.S. forces and alliances in Asia while seeking to maintain an effective military presence in the volatile Middle East.
According to the official, the strategy will try to force the military services to better use shrinking resources.
Those weapons and forces cutbacks mean that the United States will no longer be able to fight two regional conflicts at the same time, increasing the risk that when a war breaks out in, say, the Middle East, adversaries will use the opportunity to launch wars in other places such as the Taiwan Strait or the Korean Peninsula.
The strategy will call for fighting one major war while deterring a second with enough forces to dissuade an adversary from seizing the opportunity to strike while U.S. forces are preoccupied elsewhere.
To deal with the sharp decline in resources — people, weapons and money — the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force will be required to share forces to a much greater extent than in the past, according to the strategy report set for release at the Pentagon.
Regarding China, the strategy is an outgrowth of the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle Concept that was announced several weeks ago. The concept calls for a major program of air and naval systems that are designed to counter Beijing’s “anti-access” and “area-denial” weaponry.
Anti-access weapons, like China’s new anti-ship ballistic missile, are designed to keep U.S. naval and air forces far from China’s coasts. Area-denial weapons — surface-to-surface missiles and stealth aircraft — seek to prevent forward deployed forces, like those in Japan and Guam, from taking action against China.
The Pentagon is expected to cut $490 billion from defense spending over the next 10 years. An additional $500 billion could be added to that cut as a result of the congressional spending deal reached last year.
U.S. strategic missile defenses and an urgently needed strategic nuclear-modernization program are not expected to be targeted in the spending drawdown.
The strategy is being implemented amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s continuing refusal to halt its secret nuclear program that the International Atomic Energy Agency has said contains numerous elements related to building nuclear weapons and missile warheads.
Iran this week followed China’s example of seeking to deny access to international waters by U.S. aircraft carriers. Tehran said the carrier strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis should not return to the Persian Gulf after its recent transit through the Strait of Hormuz.
China's military last year objected to U.S. aircraft carriers transiting international waters in the Yellow Sea during exercises with South Korean naval forces.
Plans announced recently to deploy 2,500 Marines to a base on the northern tip of Australia, close to the increasingly volatile South China Sea, are part of the U.S. buildup in Asia, along with plans for building up military power on Guam and developing a new long-range Air Force bomber.
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About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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