Fri, Aug 03, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Study criticizes Pentagon over plans to shift focus to Asia-Pacific

By Thom Shanker  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

An independent review assessing the Obama administration’s plans to move national security resources toward Asia and away from the Atlantic has criticized the Pentagon, saying it insufficiently explained how it would shift military forces to the region and how the government would sharpen its focus on rising security challenges across the Pacific.

The 110-page unclassified study, buttressed by a secret annex, also warns that plans for an Asia-Pacific emphasis have not been squared with increasingly tight budgets.

While the assessment does not declare the new Asia strategy to be an emperor with no clothes, it recommends that more must be done to persuade Congress to support and finance the new strategy.

The administration announced plans early this year to pivot from Iraq and Afghanistan to focus national security resources on the Asia-Pacific region. As part of a broad congressional scrutiny into national security policy for the region, a bipartisan trio of senators backed a provision in the defense authorization bill for an independent critique of President Barack Obama’s overall Asia-Pacific strategy.

The review, conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan policy institute in Washington, found that 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.”

The debate over what the Obama administration hopes will be a signature foreign policy realignment will resume Wednesday, when the two main authors of the study, David Berteau and Michael Green, appear before a House Armed Services subcommittee. Two Pentagon officials, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Plans Robert Scher, and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia David Helvey, are also expected to testify. Senate hearings are expected later.

The senators who pushed for the assessment — Democrats Carl Levin and Jim Webb; and Republican John McCain — issued a statement Friday noting the need to match strategic goals to spending constraints.

“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 US strategic imperatives and the manner in which the investments address them,” the senators said.

They emphasized that Congress needed to be reassured that “force planning and realignment proposals are realistic, workable and affordable.”

In assessing the military rebalancing proposals, the study notes that “current US. force posture is heavily tilted toward Northeast Asia, to South Korea and Japan, where it focuses properly on deterring the threats of major conflicts on the Korean Peninsula, off Japan and in the Taiwan Strait.”

However, the study points out that the stakes are “growing fastest in South and Southeast Asia,” as proven by potentially destabilizing actions by China as it tries to extend its sovereignty in the South China Sea and over island territory in the region.

“The top priority of US. strategy in Asia is not to prepare for a conflict with China,” the study said. “Rather, it is to shape the environment so that such a conflict is never necessary and perhaps someday inconceivable.”

The study calls for one or more additional attack submarines in Guam; the deployment of a second Marine Corps amphibious ready group in the region, which would reduce the number in the Atlantic by one; and the bolstering of missile-defense systems.

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