Assessing America’s Military Future

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Assessing America’s Military Future

The Diplomat’s Assistant Editor Harry Kazianis speaks with U.S. Congressman James Langevin (D-RI) about the U.S. “pivot” to the Pacific, defense restructuring and emerging national security threats.

The United States appears to be shifting its focus from counter-insurgency efforts towards a stronger role in the Asia-Pacific. Is this the right move, and if so what rewards and challenges await the United States?

For too long we’ve let our interests in Asia and Pacific region take a backseat to the focus of our large ground war engagements in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Shifting focus towards programs and capabilities to reengage with our long term allies in the Pacific, and prepare our military to face a rapidly changing global security environment, is critical to maintaining U.S. military dominance across all domains for decades to come. To ensure both regional and global success, it’s vital that we lead in technological capabilities, including unmanned systems, underwater tactical and strategic systems, and strengthened cybersecurity to address current and emerging threats.

During President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Australia, there was much debate over the strengthening of U.S.-Australian ties and the basing of a small detachment of U.S. forces in Darwin. Do you agree with such a move?

I think this move is appropriate as part of our broader strategy to strengthen our ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

Some have argued that U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in the Pacific are nothing more than a veiled attempt to “contain China.” How would you respond to those who make such an accusation? What would you recommend to reduce tensions with China?

It’s important for the benefit of U.S. citizens that we foster a good working relationship with China, which has now become the second largest economy in the world. At the same time, their trade practices and foreign policy positions aren’t necessarily parallel, nor working in concert with our own. Maintaining a strong military presence in the Pacific is part of ensuring and continuing stability in the region to protect not only our interests, but those of our allies as well.

I believe tensions with China could be eased by opening more opportunities to work together in areas of mutual concern such as piracy, disaster relief, and search and rescue, but only if they in turn are open to changing some of their current policies which remain troublesome to the United States and our allies.

There has been a lot of coverage of recent plans to cut the U.S. defense budget. Do you agree with President Obama’s strategy? Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, argues such cuts will have a devastating effect on U.S. abilities to project power. How would you respond to such comments? Are there any areas you are particularly against or in favor of cutting?

The plan developed under the strong leadership of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provides a sustainable and viable framework for reducing Pentagon spending in ways that ensure we maintain the strongest military in the world and strengthen our national security. Adm. Mullen said it well when he remarked that our national debt is our greatest national security challenge. We simply can’t be as secure as possible without finding responsible ways to deal with that debt over the long term. Particularly as we have withdrawn our forces from Iraq and are going to be bringing more troops home from Afghanistan, we can and must find efficiencies. For example, we are able to reduce the size of our military and our presence in Europe, while maintaining – and even increasing – its capabilities as we move away from protracted ground wars. We have to accept the reality that there’s no way for us to be everywhere all the time and direct our resources to the most important efforts, while continuing the president’s goals to strengthen our alliances so we can be victorious in places like Libya with less American involvement.

I am in favor of the Secretary’s priorities to:

Make the U.S. joint force smaller and leaner, with its great strength being its agility, flexibility, readiness to deploy, and innovative and technological advances.

Rebalance our global posture and presence, emphasizing the Pacific and the Middle East, which present the greatest challenges for the future.

Strengthen key alliances, building partnerships and developing innovative ways to sustain U.S. presence elsewhere in the world.

Shift the size and composition of our ground, air, and naval forces, so that we are capable of successfully confronting and defeating any aggressor and respond to the changing nature of warfare.

And protect our investments in special operations forces, new technologies like Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissanceand unmanned systems, space and cyberspace capabilities and our capacity to quickly mobilize.

Being a ranking member on the House Emerging Threats and Capabilities Committee, where how would you rate China’s military rise in terms of a threat to U.S. interests? Much has been made of China’s capabilities in the area of access denial (A2/AD), for example.

The major emerging threat I’m concerned about is in cyberspace. While the military is making tremendous strides in protecting its assets, other nations, particularly China and Russia, and groups within them are getting access to sensitive information, stealing research and development worth hundreds of billions of dollars to U.S. businesses, and gaining the ability to damage our vulnerable critical infrastructure.

We should also be cognizant of China’s naval expansion in ensuring our interests are protected. That’s why I have been so supportive of maintaining an adequate level of submarines and have worked with Electric Boat in Rhode Island to increase the number of Virginia-class subs they are building. I’m pleased that Secretary Panetta has expressed his strong support for this program, and I am hopeful that it will remain a top priority.

James R. Langevin is the U.S. Representative for Rhode Island's 2nd congressional district. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where he is the Ranking Member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, and serves on the subcommittees on Seapower and Projection Forces, and Strategic Forces.