Even if the looming “fiscal cliff,” which includes automatic cuts in Pentagon spending of up to $600 billion over the next decade – on top of an existing, planned $487 billion reduction – is avoided, there are plenty of questions about whether all this can be sustained. Just maintaining U.S. force levels in Japan and South Korea will be increasingly costly, and there is concern in both countries that the United States might ask them to share more of the cost of those deployments.
In Washington, there is no shortage of calls to expand the navy and the air force to prepare for a stepped-up presence in Asia and the Pacific. Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, has written, “The United States must move in the direction of the 346-ship fleet recommended by the bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review independent panel or face the danger of slipping from the present 284 combatant ships to a fleet of just 250 warships. Otherwise, it will lack the balance of power needed to credibly control — or at least defend — access to the sea lines of communication in and around the South China Sea, through which about half of all global maritime commerce passes.” Cronin recently told the Washington Times that the Obama administration has “articulated the pivot without considering the real resources that it would require.”
Wheeler agrees. “The idea of a 300-ship navy is a delusion,” he says.
Members of a coalition of conservative, pro-defense think tanks called Defending Defense – including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative – accuse the Obama administration of massively underfunding its pivot to Asia.
A pair of analysts writing for the Heritage Foundation say that at a minimum the United States must greatly expand the navy, air force and marine corps. with a long list of costly items: a new, long-range next-generation bomber, reopening production of F-22 combat aircraft, slowing the retirement of 300 aircraft from fighter squadrons, and building a wide assortment of naval ships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. Without significant increases in military outlays, they write, “The Obama Administration’s Asia Pivot represents a strategy of hope: a hope that large-scale wars are a thing of the past; a hope that America’s allies will do more; and a hope that fewer resources do not jeopardize the lives of American soldiers. The much-vaunted Asia Pivot represents a shift in focus—not in forces.”
During the just-concluded presidential campaign in the United States, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of cutting defense spending too sharply, and Obama shot back that Romney was seeking “$2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn’t asked for.” Now that the campaign is over, and America is faced with intense fiscal pressures, what is the likelihood that the White House will ask for more funding for its pivot to Asia and, if it does, what are the chances that Congress will go along. According to Douglas Macgregor, a retired army colonel who has written frequently on facilities from defense spending, “Increased defense spending to expand and modernize military Alaska to Guam won’t make much sense to voters who fear the country is in a fiscal ‘free fall.’ Moreover, there is no reason to assume lawmakers and the next President will cooperate at all after November.”