Xenia Dormandy

Vice President Joseph Biden has accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of being rooted in a “cold war mentality”, yet the current US government and its military, as well as those of its Asian-Pacific partners, are guilty of focusing far too much on the past and not looking at future threats. With these more likely to manifest as cyber-attacks, natural resource hoarding, and economic strangulation as opposed to traditional combat on the ground, the American response seems at best incomplete and at worst anachronistic.

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2 Responses to Xenia Dormandy

  1. shinichi says:

    We’re all right today, but what about tomorrow?

    by Xenia Dormandy

    Asia Times

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/NF20Dj02.html

  2. shinichi says:

    United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue this month, and once again the opportunity was missed to focus on the real security questions that matter.

    Vice President Joseph Biden has accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of being rooted in a “cold war mentality”, yet the current US government and its military, as well as those of its Asian-Pacific partners, are guilty of focusing far too much on the past and not looking at future threats. With these more likely to manifest as cyber-attacks, natural resource hoarding, and economic strangulation as opposed to traditional combat on the ground, the American response seems at best incomplete and at worst anachronistic.

    The debate about the US “pivot to Asia” has been focused on the wrong questions. It is not about whether Europe will be left behind, or China feel threatened, or even whether the Asian nations feel the rebalancing is real and long-term. The question that is missing is whether the pivot meets America’s future needs and threats.

    The US Defense Department is making cuts of at least US$500 billion over the next 10 years. This number might go up to $1.1 trillion in January 2013. Despite his rhetoric, even in a Romney administration the military will have to make some tough choices.

    There are four principal threats to US interests in the Asia-Pacific region today: North Korea, terrorism, escalation of a territorial dispute such as over Taiwan, and the closing or narrowing of sea lanes. While few, if any, believe a war is likely in the region, only one of these threats – fighting on the Korean peninsula – is likely to lead to a traditional ground conflict. Any other would be fought at sea or in the air, as Panetta’s 2011 Air-Sea Battle operational concept supports. And yet, despite this, the US has over 50,000 troops based in Asian-Pacific countries, around 20,000 of them are ground forces.

    With its military superiority, few nations would be foolish enough to attack the US through traditional means. Despite this, the “pivot” has focused on military engagement – more ships, more training, and in some cases more troops. The United States needs to change the debate, particularly with Japan and South Korea, to one that focuses on defense capabilities rather than simply troop numbers. While the US needs to reassure its allies, and deter others, there are other ways of doing this beyond raw numbers.

    So, where in fact do the threats lie? The first is in a weak economy, an area that even senior US military leaders agree is the greatest challenge to the US today. Yet while China holds vast quantities of US debt, John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, threatens Barack Obama with default and Governor Romney promises to raise defense spending as president. A weak economy is America’s greatest challenge and yet partisan politics make talking about cuts in traditional defense spending deadly.

    Any offensive against the US is likely to begin by targeting computer networks and space-based assets. The Flame virus, like that of Stuxnet last year, is targeting Iran’s nuclear program through networks rather than the use of force. In recent years, Russia has used cyber attacks to disrupt its opponents, Georgia and Estonia. It is clear that less time, attention and resources are being invested in joint training and operations with the South Korean and Japanese cyber-programs (to name but two), than it is with their operational troops.

    Food, water, energy resources and minerals are also increasingly being used as offensive weapons in a nation’s arsenal. Russia has cut the flow of oil, and China rare earth minerals, when spurned. Unlike military instruments, the use of these products is not necessarily a declaration of war with all the costs that that incurs. Despite this, how much high-level attention and political capital is being spent on how to protect the region’s energy or food markets against actions by a single nation state.

    America is going to have to do more – addressing both traditional and non-traditional threats – with less. It is often not the military that can take the lead with the latter. Attention needs to move from the use of force to how new alliances can be built to better counter threats in unconventional areas. Downsizing the military, particularly ground forces, would provide the US with more time, money and other resources to effectively address some of these. Treading more quietly in the Asia-Pacific region, and diversifying its outreach, could also antagonize China less, make it easier for America’s friends to balance their positions between the two big powers, and perhaps slow China’s military modernization process.

    Is America able to meet the threats to its interests in the Asia-Pacific today? Yes. But, more importantly, given these tight economic times is it doing so cost-effectively while also meeting the threats of tomorrow? Unfortunately, the analysis would suggest that unless America thinks a little more unconventionally, the answer is no.

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