Obama reveals ‘leaner’ US defence strategy

President announces deep budget cuts but calls for more presence in Asia-Pacific and vows to preserve US military power.

Obama''s new military policy

Barack Obama, the US president, has rolled out a new defence strategy to shrink the country’s armed forces at a time of tight budgets, but also promised to maintain his country as the world’s dominant military power.

“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 told a news briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday.

Emphasising the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region, where there is growing rivalry with an increasingly
assertive China, Obama also said the military would remain vigilant in the Middle East.

US troops last month completed their withdrawal from Iraq, which was invaded in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, and are winding down their presence in Afghanistan.

“We’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region,” he said.

“As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the end of long-term, nation-building with large military footprints – we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces.”

Reliance on unmanned drones

Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, said: “We are going to see a shift after more than 60 years of the US being very concerned about security issues in Europe with an eye on the former Soviet Union.

“Even though the US is not going to leave NATO, it is going to be shifting much of its security posture away from Europe and more towards Asia Pacific region.”

Alexander Huang, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, told Al Jazeera that the new US defence strategy would definitely have an effect on Chinese-US relations.

“The new focus on Asia-Pacific is targeting China for sure and the Chinese leaders would definitely understand that,” he said.

How the new US defence strategy impacts Europe

“Some sectors in Beijing may see this move as the US viewing China as an enemy, which will further complicate relations between the two.”

Huang said that over the last few years China had greatly improved its capability in anti-access and aerial denial, “which is a direct challenge to the US forces in the Western Pacific”.

Jordan said: “We are also going to see much more reliance on unmanned drones used both for surveillance and for attacks because it doesn’t take nearly as many people to operate drones and to carry out those sort of missions as it does to have a full-scale ground force taking part in some sort of military action.”

South Korea on Friday said that it supports the new US defence strategy, claiming it was a clear signal of US commitment to the region.

“The US defence ministry will put boosting economic and security benefit of the Asia-Pacific region as its first priority, and will recognise South Korea and other allies as the core nations for security in the Asia-Pacific region and strengthen security cooperation,” said Kim Kwan-bin, deputy minister for National Defence Policy at the South Korean Defence Ministry, during a news briefing in Seoul.

Ron Matthews, from the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told Al Jazeera that the defence strategy announced by Obama was not something fundamentally new.

“This is a policy which has been progressing over the last two or three decades,” he said.

“What we’re looking at now is the recognition of the difficulty of financing war on a global scale, and rationalising down-sizing their forces.”

Regarding the US focus on Asia Pacific, he said: “What you’ll be looking at is the Americans seeking to expand the technology gap which they have and enjoy already against China, and other emerging nations, that also are seeking to pursue this new type of doctrinal warfare.

“If you consider that in Asia-Pacific where, in the future, the majority of trade and national income is going to be generated, then the Americans have a responsibility to project their sources of energy and trade, along with their allies, and they’ll do this by focusing much more on naval and air capabilities, rather than land-based forces.”

Restore balance

Obama, focused on boosting economic growth and curbing stubbornly high US unemployment as he fights for re-election in November, said that ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was an opportunity to rebalance national spending priorities after a decade of conflict.

Noting the defence budget had witnessed “extraordinary” growth after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, Obama said that pace of spending would slow but continue to grow.

“I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand, that we can keep our military strong, and our
nation secure, with a defence budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined,” he said.

Obama has already earmarked defence budget cuts of $489bn over 10 years. The defence budget faces an additional
$600bn in cuts after Congress failed to agree to broad deficit reduction after an August 2011 debt ceiling deal.

The president’s budget proposal for 2013 will be published in early February.

“Some will no doubt say the spending reductions are too big; others will say they’re too small,” Obama said.

“After a decade of war, and as we rebuild the sources of our strength – at home and abroad – it’s time to restore that balance.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies