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Obama’s Defense Strategy Emphasizes Asia, Cybersecurity

Obama’s Defense Strategy Emphasizes Asia, Cybersecurity
President Barack Obama speaks about the revamped U.S. military strategy as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, listens, at the Pentagon on Jan. 5. Photo: Rich Clement/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama presented a revamped U.S. military strategy for an era of budget cuts that pledges to emphasize Asia and space and cyber capabilities while preserving missions such as defeating al-Qaeda.

The new strategy outlined today calls for investments in cybersecurity to defeat electronic attacks, in expanded space-based intelligence platforms and for “developing a new stealth bomber.” At the same time, it raises the possibility that U.S. “deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force” and says the U.S. presence in Europe “must evolve,” without providing specifics.

“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 today in an appearance at the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an introduction to the strategy review that future U.S. forces “will be smaller and leaner” while more “technologically advanced.”

Republican lawmakers, in e-mailed statements, criticized the strategy from different angles -- as cutting too much, doing too little to root out waste or putting the U.S. nuclear deterrent at risk.

‘Retreat from World’

Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama has packaged “a retreat from the world.”

“An honest and valid strategy for national defense can’t be founded on the premise that we must do more with less, or even less with less,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon and lawmakers must act to end cost overruns and “the waste, inefficiency, and ineffective programs that result from an overly consolidated military-industrial-Congressional complex.”

Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services panel on strategic forces, said the strategy would lead to cuts in U.S. nuclear forces “at the same time Russia and China are modernizing and growing their forces and Iran and North Korea’s illegal programs continue to develop unchecked.”

$450 Billion Reduction

The review was presented by Obama, Panetta and Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was commissioned last year to determine strategic choices for the U.S. military as it faces $450 billion in additional reductions through 2021, including about $261 billion through 2017.

The Pentagon strategy says “terrorist access to simple nuclear devices poses the prospect of devastating consequences for the United States. Accordingly, the Department of Defense will continue to enhance its capabilities, acting with an array of domestic and foreign partners, to conduct effective operations to counter the proliferation” of weapons of mass destruction by nations such as Iran and North Korea.

One goal is “an active, whole-of-government effort to frustrate the ambitions of nations bent on developing WMD, to include preventing Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” the report finds.

While specific cuts won’t be detailed until Obama’s budget proposal is released next month, the report today signals coming cuts in personnel and changes in priority.

War, Deterrence

The new strategy departs from standing doctrine calling for forces sufficient to fight two almost simultaneous major wars, calling instead for the capacity to fight one major war while deterring a second confrontation.

“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,” the review finds.

U.S. forces “will have a global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East while still ensuring our ability to maintain our defense commitments to Europe and strengthening alliances and partnerships across all regions,” Panetta said in his introduction to the strategy.

Obama said in November, during a visit to Australia, that “reductions in U.S. defense spending will not -- I repeat, will not -- come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific” region.

Panetta said in a November speech that “even as we enhance our presence in the Pacific, we will not surrender our status as a global power and a global leader.”


Any Pentagon trade-offs “in one area” to beef up the Pacific “will bear consequences in another,” MacKenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, which opposes major cuts in defense spending, said in advance of the report’s release.

“As DoD squeezes U.S. force posture in Europe, including bases, it will have a direct impact on the military’s ability to respond to future conflicts like the no-fly zone in Libya, rapid response in Afghanistan post-9/11, and treating the wounded out of Iraq the past decade,” she said in an e-mail. “There are no consequence-free decisions.’”

Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon Comptroller under George W, Bush and now an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the Pentagon needs to explain clearly any modification in strategy to avoid sending the wrong message to Iran or North Korea.

“Suppose there is a threat from Iran and threat from Korea,” he said. “What are we going to do? Ignore Iran or ignore North Korea?”

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