- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 29, 2010

A bipartisan, congressionally mandated defense panel on Thursday challenged the Pentagon to broaden its focus beyond counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq and expand the Navy to deal with threats from rising powers in Asia.

The report by the independent panel, headed by former White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry, calls for the U.S. military to shift its long-term focus to five areas, ranging from “radical Islamist extremism and the threat of terrorism” to confronting “an accelerating global competition for resources.”

The panel report also said U.S. maritime power should be increased to deal with “the rise of new global great powers in Asia,” an indirect reference to China’s growing military and political power. It said the U.S. military must prepare for the “continued struggle for power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East” and “persistent problems from failed and failing states.”

In reviewing the Pentagons Quadrennial Defense Review strategy, the panel, in recommendations made public on Capitol Hill, also said that the United States should merge the budgeting process for the military, intelligence and foreign-assistance spending.

To beef up U.S. maritime power in Asia, the report calls for expanding the Navy from its current fleet of 282 ships to 346 ships.

“In order to preserve U.S. interests, the United States will need to retain the ability to transit freely the areas of the Western Pacific for security and economic reasons,” the report said.

“The United States must be fully present in the Asia-Pacific region to protect American lives and territory, ensure the free flow of commerce, maintain stability and defend our allies in the region. A robust U.S. force structure, one that is largely rooted in maritime strategy and includes other necessary capabilities, will be essential.”

“The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition and force structure,” the report said.

The recommendation for a bigger Navy is at odds with the policies of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has questioned the need for building up naval forces because they currently are unrivaled by any challengers.

“This latest QDR continues the trend of the last 15 years,” the report stated in an introduction. “It is a wartime QDR, prepared by a department that is focused - understandably and appropriately - on responding to the threats America now faces and winning the wars in which America is now engaged.”

However, the independent panel said instead long-term planning is needed in the five areas.

Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed the independent panel’s critique of the current Pentagon QDR.

Mr. Skelton said Mr. Gates “rightly in my opinion, focused his effort on winning the wars we are in today.”

“But we cannot do that at the expense of preparing for the future, and there, I am concerned that the QDR came up a bit short.”

Mr. Skelton’s GOP counterpart on the committee, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, also praised the report.

“While it has become en vogue to bemoan the militarization of foreign policy, I think the report gets the balance correct,” Mr. McKeon said. “You rightly state that ‘the last 20 years have shown, America does not have the option of abandoning a leadership role in support of its national interests.’ Military decline is not an option.”

The Obama administration has recently asked the Pentagon to make cuts to some key weapons systems.

Asked about the report, Mr. Gates said on Thursday it has some “important contributions.”

“They’ve made some suggestions that I think we need to follow up on,” he said.

John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security and a member of the independent panel, said he thinks the most important recommendation of the panel is the recommendation to make changes in the national-security planning and budgeting systems.

On the naval buildup, Mr. Nagl said: “Given the rising powers in Asia, we are going to have to continue policing the global commons and maintaining freedom of the seas.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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