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Asia-Pacific Emphasis

President Obama outlines new defense strategy with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left). Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno stand behind them. (Defense Dept. photo by Erin A. Kirk)

President Barack Obama has unveiled his administration’s new defense strategy — emphasizing the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region and the need to reduce the size of U.S. ground forces after years of war and economic constraints.

Accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and other Defense Department officials, Obama told a Pentagon press briefing that the shift in focus was necessary to meet congressionally-mandated budget cuts and potential threats from potential opponents like China, Iran and North Korea.

Panetta called the change “a historic shift to the future,” adding that the U.S. faces “a complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe.”h

No specifics on what programs or military units would be cut were given at the briefing. Officials noted those details will be made public when the Defense Department unveils its 2013 budget request next month.

But Obama said the U.S. intends to strengthen its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and remain “vigilant” in the Middle East. Following the recommendations of a recently completed defense strategy review, the military will reduce the size of its ground forces – the Army and Marine Corps – and get rid of “outdated” Cold War technologies, Obama said, adding that while conventional ground forces will be smaller, they will also be agile, flexible “and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”

The 2012 defense bill recently signed into law authorizes $662 billion for defense spending. The Pentagon has already planned more than $450 billion in spending cuts over the next decade. Billions more in across-the-board cuts remains a lingering threat if Congress can’t work out a way to trim $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit in the next year.

Obama said the growth of the defense budget will slow but it will still be larger than it was at the end of the previous administration of President George Bush. While spending cuts will be necessary for some programs, officials acknowledged, they said more spending is likely for unmanned systems and other technologies that can deliver intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Special Operations Forces, cybersecurity and cyberwarfare as well as programs to counter terrorism, insurgency and weapons of mass destruction also will be emphasized and presumably better funded.

In Africa and Latin America, Pentagon officials said the U.S. will continue to focus on training missions with small technical units, foreign military sales and joint exercises with partners in the region as a way to maintain security and stability without a large U.S. military footprint.

January 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm 1 comment


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