If the money is there. As yet, the administration hasn’t put its money where its mouth is: For example, last year Congress zeroed out funding for military construction to expand facilities in Guam. And in an era of trillion-dollar deficits, few in Washington believe that American voters will support greater defense spending if it means cuts to entitlement spending programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project On Government Oversight, is a veteran military budget analyst. Asked whether the United States can put together enough money to fund a buildup in Asia, Wheeler says no. “It’s not going to happen,” he says. “It’s that simple. The military budget is going down.” The Pentagon, Wheeler says, cannot afford either more ships and planes or what some people believe is a quick-fix solution, namely, greater use of high-tech, remote-warfare drones, other unmanned vehicles, and long-range options. “It’s all too expensive,” he says.
Sometimes, it appears, administration officials make a little too much of the pivot. In August, Ashton Carter, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, said in a speech in New York that “we will have a net increase of one aircraft carrier, four destroyers, three Zumwalt destroyers, ten Littoral Combat Ships, and two submarines in the Pacific in the coming years.” In October, Carter said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington that the United States is prepared to spend what it takes, and that other assets will be redirected from the Middle East. “With our allies and partners, I think you’ll see, we are, in fact, across the Asia-Pacific region able to invest to sustain peace and prosperity. In other words, we are not just talking the talk, we are walking the walk. And I’d ask if you don’t believe us, to just watch our steps over coming months and years, and you’ll see us implement the rebalance,” he said. “By 2020, we will have shifted 60 percent of our naval assets to the Pacific. … Naval assets that will be released from Afghanistan and the Middle East include surface combatants, amphibious ships, and, eventually, aircraft carriers.” But an independent study concluded that the United States already has nearly 54 percent of its fleet home-ported in Asia and the Pacific, and that Carter’s touted increase would only raise that number to 57 percent, not 60 percent.
Diplomacy, of course, is cheap. And a big part of the U.S. pivot will rely on military aid and support for partner countries in the region and strengthened alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. But plenty of big-ticket items are involved. According to the CRS study, the United States eliminated a planned cut in the number of aircraft carrier task forces, plans to expand the Navy’s purchases of Aegis-class destroyers and Littoral Combat Ships, build a 33-vessel flotilla for the Marines, and continue production of attack submarines, equipped with a new, high-tech cruise missile.