New US defense strategt
The new U.S. defense strategy, as unveiled by President Barack Obama on Jan. 5 at the Pentagon briefing room, projects a leaner military that is ``agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats” with less spending and fewer soldiers for the coming decade.
It aims at maintaining global U.S. military superiority by setting its priorities on the Asia-Pacific region and Iran.
Contrary to Obama’s argument that ``the size and the structure of our military and defense budgets have to be driven by a strategy, not the other way around,” the new policy involves mandatory spending cuts of at least over $450 billion by 2021. The U.S. Army will drop to 490,000 soldiers from 570,000 and the Marines will lose about 10 percent of their current strength of 200,000.
Obama’s plan will avoid large military involvements like those in Iraq and Afghanistan to ``invest in the capabilities of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access.”
The U.S. focus on the Asia-Pacific that calls for close security cooperation with partners including India and allies including South Korea, Japan, and Australia was laid out by Obama’s speech at the Australian parliament last November. He then said, ``A U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region was a top priority” of his administration and ``the United States is all in” in the region.
Last week the U.S. President reaffirmed his commitment to the region, saying, ``We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia-Pacific and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region.” This major strategic shift is seen as a rebalance of strength to counter China’s increasing economic and military power and its growing assertiveness in the critical areas of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which can threaten the freedom of the sea lane for international trade.
Obama’s defense doctrine was premised on the extrications from Iraq and Afghanistan and the unavoidable spending cuts, and perhaps a political necessity to prove that his presidency would not weaken American security. The timing of the announcement was perfectly synchronized with the beginning of the presidential primaries of the Republican candidates, many of whom support a strong U.S. military.
In Beijing, the Global Times said China must not give up its security presence in Asia and it would pay a price if it retreats in the face of the new U.S. strategy. In Seoul, the defense ministry’s deputy for policy Lim Hwan-bin said U.S. officials allegedly had assured that the strategy would have no impact on U.S. forces in Korea.
Many pundits in Seoul agree that despite some concerns about the uncertainty of the new North Korean leadership under Kim Jong-un regarding its military behavior, Obama’s strategy would not have immediate impact on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang, in its New Year’s joint editorial, demanded withdrawal of U.S. forces from the South, without giving any hint of offensive bellicosity.
However, discussions of a few pertinent aspects of Washington’s military strategy drew public attention, including whether the strategy has dropped the concept of ``fighting two major wars” at the same time. The Pentagon’s review, titled ``Priorities for the 21st Century Defense,” made an ambiguous statement that the U.S. forces will ``fully deny a capable state’s aggressive objectives in one region…… while denying the objectives of an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”
The doctrine of fighting two wars had long been known as a plan during the Cold War. But there had never been a case to test whether the United States in fact had sufficient capabilities. South Korean analysts questioned if a major conflict breaks out in Iran and an ensuing war erupts in Korea, whether the United States would still be able to send additional 500,000 to 600,000 troops to the peninsula as planned in OPCON 5027.
The size of reinforcement, even if unrealistic or revised since it was first revealed in 1994, has a deterrent effect in support of the stated objective of the OPCON ― that the combined forces will push back North Korean aggressors beyond north of Pyongyang and destroy the North Korean regime as it is known today.
A more likely area of adjustment from the result of a smaller U.S. military with reduced budgets will probably be defense burden sharing. South Korea pays roughly 40 percent of the cost for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops in the amount of 750 billion won. It would not be a surprise if Washington were to ask Seoul to increase its share to 50 percent when the negotiation of a new SMA (Special Measure Agreement) takes place next year. The U.S. Congress has wanted this 50-50 sharing arrangement for a long time.
Another question was about the concept of ``strategic flexibility” adopted by the Bush administration, an arrangement to pull out troops from Korea to put them elsewhere or bring them into Korea from elsewhere as security situations might require. Some even argued a new hub of U.S. forces at Pyeongtaek would have more strategic importance as the base could target China from a closer distance.
Granted, there is no substitute for military planning to keep a negative peace, as human civilizations have not learned to live in peace in the world without military. Yet, if the North and the South of the peninsula find ways to live in peace together by restarting cooperation toward ``coexistence and co-prosperity,” which is known as the pronounced policy of the Lee government, we would not be concerned as much about the new U.S. defense strategy. What’s your take?
The writer is a visiting research professor at Korea University and a visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies. He is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and can be reached at email@example.com.