Turning around a modern naval warship at sea is a slow and difficult process. Turning around whole fleets of warships, aircraft carriers and other air and naval forces, and reorienting defense spending for weapons systems that are typically planned decades in advance, is a lot harder – especially when it’s being done in the context of a widely expected downturn in U.S. military outlays. But that’s what the administration of President Barack Obama is trying to do with the much-touted “pivot” from the Middle East to Asia.
It’s a fool’s errand: far too costly, and politically counterproductive. As an example, already questions are being raised about the $396 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, developed to be the U.S. military’s fighter jet of the future. But the F-35 was designed for a time when the Pentagon was focused on NATO and the Middle East, and according to the New York Times, the F-35 is now “facing concerns about its relatively short flight range as possible threats grow from Asia.”
Even if, somehow, Obama and his new national security team – with a new secretary of state, a new secretary of defense, and a new CIA director in 2013 – can cobble together the cash for a military buildup in Asia, the result of the effort may be to create the very adversary it’s intended to balance. As noted in a March report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service: “The perception among many that the ‘rebalancing’ is targeted against China could strengthen the hand of Chinese hard-liners. Such an impression could also potentially make it more difficult for the United States to gain China’s cooperation on a range of issues.” And, of course, more expensive.
So far, the administration has taken only baby steps, mostly symbolic, toward an Asian buildup, by rotating contingents of up to 2,500 Marines in Australia, renewing aid to Indonesian paramilitary forces, deploying the U.S. Navy to Singapore, and strengthening military cooperation with the Philippines. But its redoubled interest in finding partners in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, the third tour of the region since June for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and President Obama’s visit to Myanmar – plus a series of strategic reviews by U.S. national security agencies – signal a vast escalation to come.