The Debate

US Lawmakers Call for Strategic Review of Pivot

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The Debate

US Lawmakers Call for Strategic Review of Pivot

Four members of Congress ask the White House for an interagency document on implementing the rebalance.

A bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members are calling on the Obama administration to issue a strategic document articulating the pivot or “rebalance” to Asia.

In a letter dated July 23 and addressed to the new National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) and Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) applaud the Obama administration on its decision to pivot to Asia, but express concern that America’s actual strategy to the region remains unclear.

“Currently, agencies outside of the White House, including the Department of Defense, Department of State, and country teams at various Asia­ Pacific Embassies lack the specific direction that will be required for the implementation of this strategy,” the four Representatives say in the letter.

They add: “Without this guidance, the rest of the U.S. Government and our officials in Asian capitals have been left to try and parse policy from speeches, interviews, and articles.”

“In order to better define the ends-ways-means of the Administration's strategic objectives in this region,” the letter continues, “we urge you to lead an interagency Asia-Pacific Strategy Review. Such a document, in unclassified and classified form, will provide permanent clarity to the Administration's regional strategy.”

As the letter suggests, despite emphasizing the pivot’s importance, the Obama administration never released an overarching document explaining the substance of the policy, and how the U.S. would go about implementing it.

The pivot was first unveiled in an October 2011 article in Foreign Policy magazine written by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Obama further outlined the policy during a speech to the Australian Parliament the following month.   

Then, in January 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense released a new strategic guidance that stressed the U.S. military would be placing greater priority on the Asia-Pacific as it wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since then, however, the actual substance of the pivot has largely been laid out piecemeal, mostly in speeches by various members of Obama’s national security team.

This has led to widespread uncertainty among many in the U.S., the region, and elsewhere about what the pivot actually entailed. Indeed, nothing illustrated this better than the fact that shortly after announcing a U.S. pivot to Asia, the administration dropped the phrase “pivot” for “rebalance” after allies in other regions like Europe expressed concern.

One issue with implementing the pivot during Obama’s first term may been inter-agency tensions within the administration, as National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, were both said to have taken credit for the pivot.

The House of Representatives has been particularly active on Asia issues this week. On Tuesday the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on cybersecurity in the region. Then, on Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee, which all four representatives who signed the letter to Rice serve on, held a hearing on “Rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific Region and Implications for U.S. National Security.”  

During the hearing Rep. Bordallo referenced the letter to Rice and asked the witnesses if there was a template that the administration could use in crafting the strategic review they had asked Rice for.

Patrick Cronin, Director of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Center for a New American Security, said the U.S. should update the Department of Defense’s strategic reviews of the region from the 1990s.

Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (ret.), formerly the Chief of Naval Operations, suggested a proper implementation roadmap would encompass more than just the Department of Defense.