Plan for 'leaner' US military unveiled

2012-01-06 08:13
Washington - President Barack Obama unveiled a strategy on Thursday for a leaner US military focused on countering China's rising power and signalling a shift away from large ground wars against insurgents.

The plan calls for preparing for possible challenges from Iran and China, requiring air and naval power, while virtually ruling out any future counter-insurgency campaigns such as those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The "defence strategic review" sets out an approach for the US military in a looming era of austerity, as Obama's administration prepares for $487bn in defence cuts over the next 10 years.

But the US president, anticipating attacks from his Republican rivals in an election year, said reductions would be limited and would not come at the expense of America's military might.

"So yes, 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 reporters in a rare appearance at the Pentagon.

White House officials said Obama was deeply involved in the strategy review and sought to portray the president as taking a careful approach to defence spending, based on the advice of leading commanders.

Saying the country was "turning the page on a decade of war", Obama said the new strategy would increasingly focus on Asia, where commanders worry about China's growing military power.

"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.

Smaller and leaner force

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, appearing with Obama along with top officers, said the strategy envisages a "smaller and leaner" force that will expand the military's role in Asia while maintaining a strong presence in the Middle East.

According to the eight-page strategy document, the military will work with allies in the Middle East to ensure security in the Gulf and prevent Iran from securing nuclear weapons.

However, counter-insurgency operations receive a lower priority under the plan, enabling the administration to scale back ground forces.

Panetta said "with the end of US military commitments in Iraq, and the drawdown already under way in Afghanistan, the Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the large scale, long-term stability operations that dominated military priorities and force generation over the past decade".

The US military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, praised the strategy but acknowledged it carried some risks, which could in some cases mean a slower response or fewer resources for an operation.

"We do accept some risk, as all strategies must. Because we will be somewhat smaller, these risks will be measured in time and capacity," the general said.

But he said the country faced "tough economic times" and had to adapt to new threats.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, hit out at the strategy and accused Obama of gutting defence.

"The President has packaged our retreat from the world in the guise of a new strategy to mask his divestment of our military and national defence," McKeon, a Republican, said in a statement.

The review reinforces what defence officials have already signalled - that funds will flow to aircraft, ships, missile defence and high-tech weaponry while the US Army and Marine Corps will be downsized.

Defence budget

Washington's focus on Asia is fuelled by concerns over China's growing navy and arsenal of anti-ship missiles that could jeopardise America's military dominance in the Pacific.

In keeping with plans for a smaller force, the strategy discards the doctrine that the military must be prepared to fight two wars at the same time, an idea long debated inside the Pentagon.

Instead, the United States would be ready to fight one war while waging a holding action elsewhere to stave off a second threat.

The strategy review suggests reducing the atomic arsenal without saying how, amid calls from some lawmakers to reduce the number of nuclear-armed submarines.

The review also hints at scaling back the military's footprint in Europe but offered no details, saying "our posture in Europe must also evolve".

Britain's defence minister cautioned on Thursday the US pivot to Asia should not neglect Russia, which he called an unpredictable force on the global stage.

The new strategy comes ahead of the proposed defence budget for 2013 due to be released next month, which is expected to call for delays in some weapons programs, including the troubled F-35 fighter.

Despite talk of belt-tightening, the defence budget for 2012 came to $530bn, not counting the cost of the war in Afghanistan.

Obama said future military spending will still remain high and "larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined".

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.