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Obama presents plan for 'leaner' US military
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 5, 2012

NATO hails Obama commitment to European security
Brussels (AFP) Jan 5, 2012 - NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday hailed President Barack Obama for maintaining US commitments to European security even as Washington's focus shifts to Asia.

"In an unpredictable world, the United States' affirmation that our transatlantic partnership remains indispensable to the security of all Allies is key," Rasmussen said in a statement.

He welcomed Obama's pledge to continue investing in NATO "because the Alliance has demonstrated time and time again -- most recently in Libya -- that it is a force multiplier."

Rasmussen said the plan for a leaner US military highlighted the need to modernise capabilities, improve flexibility and strike effective partnerships.

"It embodies the principle of Smart Defence," he added.

But the "defence strategic review" unveiled on Thursday also hints at reducing the US military's footprint in Europe, without offering any details.

"In keeping with this evolving strategic landscape, our posture in Europe must also evolve," it said.

The Obama plan calls for preparing for possible challenges from Iran and China with air and naval power while downplaying any future massive counter-insurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The review is aimed at preparing for $487 billion in defense cuts over the next 10 years.

President Barack Obama unveiled a strategy on Thursday for a leaner US military focused on countering China's rising power and signaling 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 "defense strategic review" sets out an approach for the US military in a looming era of austerity, as Obama's administration prepares for $487 billion in defense 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 defense 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.

Defense 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 defense.

"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 defense," McKeon, a Republican, said in a statement.

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

Washington's focus on Asia is fueled by concerns over China's growing navy and arsenal of anti-ship missiles that could jeopardize 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 defense minister cautioned 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 defense 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 defense budget for 2012 came to $530 billion, 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."

China state media cautious on new US defence plan
Beijing (AFP) Jan 6, 2012 - China's official Xinhua news agency said Friday it welcomed a bigger US presence in Asia, but only if it helped promote peace in the region, after President Barack Obama unveiled a new military strategy.

The plan calls for the US military to strengthen its presence in Asia and prepare for possible challenges from countries such as China, while downplaying future huge counter-insurgency campaigns such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beijing has given no official response to the review, but Xinhua said Friday the United States was welcome to make "more contribution to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region", while urging it against "warmongering".

"The US role, if fulfilled with a positive attitude and free from a Cold War-style zero-sum mentality, will not only be conducive to regional stability and prosperity, but be good for China," it said in a comment piece.

"However, while boosting its military presence in the Asia Pacific, the United States should abstain from flexing its muscles," it added.

"If the United States indiscreetly applies militarism in the region, it will be like a bull in a china shop, and endanger peace instead of enhancing regional stability."

The United States is increasingly focusing its attention on the Asia Pacific region, where commanders worry about China's growing military power.

The People's Liberation Army is the world's largest active military, and is extremely secretive about its defence programmes, which benefit from a huge and expanding military budget.

In November, Obama went on a week-long tour of the Pacific in a bid to enhance the role of the United States in the region, positioning Marines in northern Australia and pushing for a trans-Pacific trade pact.

Shortly afterwards, China announced it would conduct routine naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean, in what some saw as a symbolic move aimed at the United States.

Meanwhile, the Global Times -- an official, nationalistic daily newspaper -- accused the United States of trying to contain China and called on Beijing to "strengthen its long-range strike abilities and put more deterrence on the US".

"The US must realise that it cannot stop the rise of China and that being friendly to China is in its utmost interests," it said in en editorial.

The new US strategy unveiled on Thursday calls for a leaner military, and also focuses on preventing Iran from securing nuclear weapons.

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Obama urges high-tech US forces with fewer troops
Washington (AFP) Jan 5, 2012 - President Barack Obama laid out a new strategy Thursday for a "leaner" US military that calls for a high-tech force with fewer ground troops and a greater focus on countering a rising China.

The revised strategy is supposed to shape budget priorities as the Pentagon prepares to cut $487 billion from planned spending levels over the next decade.

Here follows the main highlights of the "defense strategic review":

-- Ground forces scaled back

After 10 years of waging counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the strategy calls for an end to vast nation-building missions and slashing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.

The Army is already planning to cut back from 565,000 active duty troops to 520,000 after 2014, and many analysts say the number could drop below 500,000. The Marine Corps, which has swelled to 202,000, has plans to drop to 186,000, but may be asked to shrink further.

The new strategy suggests reducing the US military presence in Europe, where about 43,000 service members are stationed mostly in Germany, saying it will "evolve" although no details were provided. Defense officials say at least one Army combat brigade, about 3,500 troops, could be eliminated in Europe.

The effect of the strategy may put the ground forces at a similar level to that before the attacks of September 11, 2001. In August 2001, the Army had 482,000 troops and the Marine Corps was at 173.000.

The US military has a total of 1.4 million men and women in uniform, compared to China's 2.3 million and 1.1 million troops in North Korea.

-- Asia-Pacific as top priority

With an eye on China's growing military and economic might, the US military plans to bolster its presence in the Asia-Pacific region to ensure "the free flow of commerce," including in the South China Sea.

The emphasis on the Pacific means investments in naval and air power as well as cyber and space weaponry, with the Pentagon working to parry China's anti-ship missiles and other arms that could undercut the reach of aircraft carriers.

As a result, defense funds will flow to drones, stealthy radar-evading aircraft such as the F-35 fighter and electronic jamming programs, while the US steps up security ties to key allies such as Indonesia.

-- Nuclear arsenal reduced

"It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force," the Pentagon's strategy document says.

The Pentagon has yet to reveal any details of a possible cutback to the atomic arsenal, but some lawmakers have proposed reducing the fleet of 14 nuclear-armed submarines.

-- End of the two war doctrine

The new strategy abandons the much-debated doctrine of preparing to fight two wars at the same time. Instead, the United States would be able to wage a large-scale conflict in one region while conducting a holding action elsewhere. The military would be "capable of denying the objectives of -- or imposing unacceptable costs on -- an opportunistic aggressor in a second region," the document says.

-- A defense budget without equal

Despite talk of austerity and fiscal pressures, US defense spending will continue to grow and the Pentagon's budget will be higher than during the last years of George W. Bush's presidency.

Obama pointed out the US military's budget will still "be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined."

Excluding the cost of the war in Afghanistan, the defense budget for fiscal year 2012 is roughly $530 billion, representing about 40 percent of the world's military spending.

By comparison, China's defense budget in 2011 rose 12.7 percent and was officially priced at 91.5 billion dollars.


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