US Defense Strategic Review 2012: Global And Regional Implications – Analysis

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By Dr. Subhash Kapila

United States President Obama on January 05, 2012 personally unveiled at the Pentagon the Defence Strategic Review 2012 “Sustaining United States Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defined”.

President Obama personal appearance at the Pentagon to unveil the Defence Strategic Review underscored the Presidential imprint that he desired to put on this Review and the fact that before arriving at these formulations, the President had immersed himself in at least a dozen discussions with the Pentagon and US military hierarchy

The US Defence Strategic Review 2012 should therefore be viewed as a well-calibrated strategic blueprint for the 21st Century arrived after a perspective analysis of the global strategic challenges that are emerging to challenge US global leadership and US military superiority.

This Review also needs to be viewed as a United States ‘strategic declaratory policy’ that despite whatever steps are undertaken by the United States to cut down its defence expenditure and Forces Restructuring, it is determined to sustain its global leadership and military superiority even with revised military nuances.

Analytically the main thrust appears to focus on United States concerns to meet the emerging strategic threats from China and Iran both located at the opposite ends of the Asian strategic spectrum. However, the Review is not oblivious to other threats that dominate the global strategic calculus.

This Paper intends to analyse the more striking features of this Defence Strategic Review 2012 at the macro-level as the nuts and bolts of the implementation of the Guidelines Defined’ need still to be worked out as the US Defence Secretary has noted.

US Defence Strategic Review 2012: Why a Mid-Term Review Now?

The United States as part of its regular strategic and defence planning carries out Quadrennial Defence Reviews with the last one having taken place in 2010. The next Quadrennial Review is slated for 2014. Why a special Mid-Term Review now is the question that comes to the fore at this stage?

The main factors that seem to have determined the present Review can be enumerated as follows: (1) China and Iran figuring more prominently as ‘strategic concerns’ in 2012 (2) Arising from the foregoing is the rapidly changing strategic environment in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East (3)The US military withdrawal from Iraq and appreciable measure of success in Afghanistan permitting review of US military postures (4) Imperatives of reductions in US Defence Budget mandated by the US Congress amounting to $ 487 billion in the next ten years.

Officially acknowledged is the fact that the United States is at a ‘strategic turning point” in 2012 necessitating a revised US strategic blue print. The Review outlines the following strategic challenges that necessitate this Review: (1) Rise of new powers in Asia. This basically implies China (2) Dramatic changes unfolding in Middle East (3) Destabilizing behaviour of nations like Iran and North Korea (4) Proliferation of lethal weapons and materials (5) Violent extremism as a continuing threat.

US Strategic Threat Concerns Analyzed

The underlying sub-text of the US strategic threat concerns revolves around China and Iran. China has made no efforts to hide its strategic concerns to challenge the unipolar domination of global power calculus by the United States. China exploited the strategic vacuum created in the last decade in Asia Pacific arising from US military distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States has belatedly embarked on correcting the ensuing strategic imbalance created in the Asia Pacific and has signalled in this Review that it now intends to do so more forcefully.

Iran has circumstantially emerged as a regional power of consequence in the Middle East despite United States and its European allies efforts. Iran for all practical purposes needs to be counted as a nuclear weapons State however rudimentary its nuclear weapons capability may be.

Both China and Iran have struck adversarial strategic postures against the United States and its regional allies and in global and regional perceptions therefore tend to diminish the US strategic superiority.

Analytically therefore, if the United States has to ensure the credibility of its avowed strategic goal of “Sustaining United States Global leadership” in the 21st Century, it has to neutralize the China and Iran threats.

US Defence Strategic Review 2012: Some Significant Strategic Choices and Shifts

Analyzing the statements of the US Defence Secretary and other Defense officials what appears at the apex of strategic choices is that with significant cuts in US Marine Corps and US Army active force levels, the United States is dispensing with Force Structures of fighting and winning two major military conflicts simultaneously.

Recognizing that this may send wrong signal worldwide the US Defence Secretary concluded that the United States will retain the capability to fight several conflicts at the same time. Further emphasizing the point he reminded that the United States would no longer be fighting the threats that existed during the Cold War era but configuring its Forces to fight and win 21st Century challenges.

The cuts in US Marines and US Army force levels indicates that the United States will no longer be involved in sustaining large scale and long term stability operations with US boots on the groun as in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that does not translate into wholesale reductions of the US Marine and US Army force levels. What is being reduced marginally is the active-duty strengths.

United States future military strategies in the future will be dependent on use of militarily overwhelming power of US Air Force, US Navy and US Special Forces.. Hence these forces do not see any reductions but may see enhanced investments.

In this direction the United States it needs to be noted has already embarked on perfecting “Sea-Air Battle Doctrines” to replace its erstwhile NATO formulations of “Land-Air Battle Doctrines”.

In the pursuance of the above strategy, it appears that when it comes to the ‘boots on the ground’ in any theatre of war, the United States intends to rely on its Regional Allies and forge and build new strategic partnerships.

In terms of strategic shifts regionally, the US Defence Review blueprint, in terms of strategic priorities seem to be as under:

  • Asia Pacific will witness enhanced US military presence, enhanced US power projection capabilities and enhanced deterrence postures
  • Middle East will witness US “placing premium on maintaining its military presence and capabilities in broader Middle East”.
  • Europe is likely to witness reduction of US military forces and their relocation but not a total denudation. It has been emphasized that NATO would remain a “Nuclear Alliance” as long as nuclear weapons exist worldwide.

US Defence Strategic Review 2012: Global Implications

The moot question that arises in this connection is that with even with the proposed marginal cuts in force levels and regional strategic shifts, has US global leadership and military superiority been dented in a manner that the United States can no longer sustain these two major strategic attributes”.

Counting the five Major Powers, aligned to the United States are Great Britain and France besides other leading powers like Germany, Japan and India in a growing strategic partnership. None of these Powers are therefore strategic threats to the United Sates.

Coming to Russia, even with its strategic resurgence, Russia is neither inclined nor fully capable as yet to challenge US global leadership as during the Cold War era.

China is the only major power which gives indications with its strategic military build-up and its strategic postures that it intends to challenge US unipolar domination of the world and contrive situations which can force the United States to exit East Asia more precisely.

Therefore in terms of global implications arising for the United States from this Strategic Defence Review there are hardly any which significantly impact on US global leadership and military superiority. The strategic differential between the United States and other Major Powers is insurmountable by the latter.

US Defence Strategic Review 2012: Regional Implications

The two regions where the implications seem to be more pronounced arising from the US Review are Asia Pacific and the Middle East with obviously China and Iran in mind.

The United States has clearly spelt out in this Review that it intends to enhance its force levels, power projection capabilities and deterrence capabilities in the Asia Pacific. What is therefore likely to unfold in the 21st Century is the congealing of the strategic confrontation in the Asia Pacific between the United States and China. Even though an all-out armed conflict is not visualized, a Cold War template would be strategically in operation. China can be expected to raise the ante’ with its traditional brinkmanship strategies especially in relation to the South China Sea.

In the overall analysis, the cards are stacked against China as I have always maintained that “China has no natural allies in the Asia Pacific other than North Korea and Pakistan”

The United States on the other hand has revived and infused new vigour in its erstwhile security architecture in the Asia Pacific besides making openings to Vietnam and Myanmar.

In the Middle East while no enhancement of military strengths has been asserted, the United States has declared that its present military force-levels will be maintained. It must not be forgotten that in the Middle East despite Turkey and Saudi Arabia diluting their strategic relationship with the United States, the European allies will always be there to pick up the military slack. Israel will remain the sheet anchor of US military strength in the Middle East.

Overall in terms of regional implications arising from this Review it can be stated that revised military postures of the United States in no way open chinks in the US armor in these two critical regions.

What needs to be noted is that other regional powers in the Asia Pacific and Middle East will be severely impacted by any confrontational turbulence breaking out between the United States on one hand and China and Iran on the other hand.

The million dollar question is whether the United States formulation takes into account a China-Iran strategic nexus coming into play in a joint confrontation with the United States? It cannot be overlooked that China has used Iran as a counter-strategic pressure point against the United States in relation to the Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Concluding Observations

It would be erroneous for any strategic analysis to conclude that with budgetary cuts and marginal force reductions in force levels, the United States status as a global leader and enjoying overwhelming military superiority stand s diminished. The United States global power is definitely not on the decline

China, though not officially, but through its media has questioned how can America sustain its global leadership with an economy on the decline?

The answer lies in the fact that in the Asia Pacific many nations are now flocking to the US fold because of their China Threat perceptions. China is in no position to provide strategic insurance or economic insurance to these countries as a US military presence in these regions can.

Finally, it can be asserted the US Defence Strategic Review has not overlooked the emerging threats to US national security. In the implementation of the new Strategic Blueprint what United States has declared is that it has no intentions of “hollowing-up” of its military machine but configure and fine-tune it to meet its major strategic threats, while at the same time affecting budgetary cuts which had become over-blown due to its Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

No analytical reasons exist to suggest that United States resolve to sustain its global leadership and military superiority has weakened.

Dr. Subhash Kapila

Dr Subhash Kapila combines a rich and varied professional experience of Indian Army Brigadier ( Veteran), diplomatic assignments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan. Served in India's Cabinet Secretariat also. He is a Graduate of Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley, UK, Msc Defence Studies from Madras University and a Doctorate in Strategic Studies from Allahabad University. Papers have been presented by him in International Seminars in Japan,Turkey, Russia and Vietnam. Credited to him are over 1,500 Papers on geopolitical & strategic topical issues and foreign policies of USA, Japan, India, China and Indo Pacific Asia. He has authored two Books : "India's Defence Policies & Strategic Thought: A Comparative Analysis" and "China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives"

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