Panel Urges More U.S. Ships in Pacific for Pivot to Asia

U.S. Navy Vessel Fires Upon Small Motor Boat Off Coast of Dubai
The USNS Rappahannock. Photographer: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cale Hatch/U.S. Navy via Bloomberg

The Defense Department should move more ships to the Pacific and better define its strategy as it pivots toward Asia to counter a rising China, according to a report commissioned by the Pentagon.

The U.S. should deploy a second Amphibious Ready Group of ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific to meet the requirements of the Marine Corps, the report made public yesterday recommends. It also calls for stationing at least one additional attack submarine in Guam.

Congress required the Pentagon to obtain the independent assessment of U.S. Asia policy after President Barack Obama released a strategic plan in January that called for a “rebalancing” of military forces toward the Asia Pacific. The report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found the military’s force posture “is heavily tilted toward Northeast Asia, to Korea and Japan” to focus on threats on the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.

“As evidenced by recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea and throughout the Pacific islands, the stakes are growing fastest in South and Southeast Asia,” the Washington-based group said. “To be successful, U.S. strategic rebalancing needs to do more in those areas.”

The report also said the Defense Department “has not adequately articulated the strategy behind its force posture planning nor aligned the strategy with resources in a way that reflects current budget realities.”

Budget Cuts

That finding raises questions about whether the Pentagon is prepared to explain the need for increased resources in the Pacific when it’s facing as much as $1 trillion in cuts from planned spending over the next decade.

John Hamre, the center’s president and chief executive officer, likened the need for a clear strategy toward Asia to the “remarkably consistent defense policy” that guided the U.S. during the Cold War.

“We now need a comparable framework for the next 30 years in Asia,” Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accompanying the report.

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a joint statement, said the report “raises a number of issues that are worthy of further consideration.”

Noting the report’s call for a more clearly stated strategy, Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Jim Webb of Virginia and Republican John McCain of Arizona said, “This is particularly important as support for the resourcing of major overseas initiatives, in the current fiscal environment, will depend to a significant extent on a clear articulation of U.S. strategic imperatives and the manner in which the investments address them.”

Panetta, in his own written comments on the report, took exception to a few details, such as a recommendation to rotating fewer than 5,000 Marines to Guam. He said the Defense Department and the research group “are on common ground in understanding the key challenges to and opportunities for U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region.”

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