Small Wars Journal

Leon's Most Excellent Asia Adventure

Accordingly, al-Qaeda, AQ’s surrogates, the Taliban, LATAM Cartels, other non-state actors, Iran, and other serious security threats get at least a temporary pass.

The very real and peristant threats are likely encouraged by our “retreat” from the tough battlegrounds as our nation seeks enemies that line up well with our economic and political goals and to boot - if the threat does not act we can claim success - warranted - or most likely not. While the focus on Asia is not totally off, it is seriously skewed and equates to a zero-sum game and we will lose on this one. - Dave D.  

Panetta Discusses New US Asian Strategy With Allies - AFPS

“We heard, especially after the speech today from our allies and partners, that they believe this is not just American talk, but that we’re actually walking the walk on our rebalancing to the region…”

Panetta: US to Put More Warships in Asia - VOA

“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the United States will shift the bulk of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years as part of a new military rebalancing to guarantee a strong and continued U.S. presence in the region.”

Navy to Base Majority of Fleet in Pacific by 2020, Panetta Says - S&S

“The Navy will shift 10 percent of its surface ships and submarines to the Pacific over the next eight years, moving toward a 60/40 split between the Pacific and Atlantic by 2020, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told leaders at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue on Saturday.”

US Warships in Pacific Relocation - BBC

“The US is planning to move the majority of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has revealed.”

Panetta Responds to China Concerns During Dialogue - AFPS

“Our relationship with China -- we approach it in a very clear-eyed way,” he said. “We both understand the differences we have … but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage, and to improve our communications.”

Panetta: No China Threat from US Military in Asia - AP

"We both understand the differences we have, we both understand the conflicts we have, but we also both understand that there really is no other alternative but for both of us to engage and to improve our communications and to improve our (military) relationship," Panetta said at a security conference in Singapore.”

Panetta Discusses Defense Cooperation With Philippine Minister - AFPS

“Building on momentum from the US-Philippine “Two-Plus-Two” talks held in Washington in April, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Philippine National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin held talks here today. The two defense ministers discussed regional issues and ways the Philippine and U.S. military can exercise, train and operate together. The men were both attending the 11th annual Asia security summit known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.”

Panetta to Visit American Ship in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay - AFPS

“During his trip to Vietnam tomorrow, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will become the most senior U.S. official to visit the former US naval base at Cam Ranh Bay since the Vietnam War ended, senior defense officials said here today. It’s been 17 years since the United States and Vietnam normalized relations following the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. The secretary’s visit to the country is a measure of the progress the two countries have made since then, said a senior defense official speaking on background.”

Panetta: US Strategy Aims to Build Peace, Stability in Pacific - S&S

“The United States will continue to build its military presence in the Pacific over the next five to 10 years, putting a larger percentage of troops in the region and developing more “innovative rotational exchanges and deployments” like those begun recently in Australia, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday.”

Panetta Reveals Plan to Shift Military’s Focus Toward Pacific - WP

“The United States’ top defense official unveiled for his Asian counterparts on Saturday a plan for redirecting the US military’s focus toward the Pacific, at the start of a week-long trip seen as crucial to the Obama administration’s broader strategic pivot to Asia.

More US Warships in Asia-Pacific Under New Strategy - Reuters


“The United States will keep six aircraft carriers in the Asia-Pacific and move a majority of its other warships to the region in the coming years, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday as he offered details of a new US military strategy for the first time.”

Panetta Travels to Asia to Discuss Refocus on Region - AFPS

“Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will put meat on the bones of what the refocus on the Asia-Pacific region means to the U.S. military during a week-long trip to Asia that begins today. Panetta will speak about the new defense strategic guidance with friends and allies, senior defense officials speaking on background told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon. Panetta will repeat what has become a mantra: that the United States is a Pacific power and will remain one, and that the region’s nations have grown behind the shield of stability and security America has provided in the area, officials said.”



Mark Pyruz

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 12:00am

As for the "other serious threats" getting a "pass," none come anywhere close to the projections being made toward the perceived US rival that is China.

Iran's navy provides little more than a target list for the US military. Projecting to 2020, it will look pretty much the same as it does now. Their defense is based on deterrence. And really, one of the biggest-if not THE biggest- addition to their "resistance" stocks of weaponry will come when American made MBTs and F-16s are delivered to what is now a "sister" country to their west, Iraq. Depending on the projected US/NATO pullout from Afghanistan, the industrialized west of that country-a historical part of Greater Iran, as well- could also be a territory with considerable Iranian influence. But parking big ticket air force and navy assets alongside these regions will have little effect on these culturally, more natural developments.

When the US does switch to a greater emphasis toward the Pacific, to address the rise of China, it will be interesting to see if China will be able to resist the urge to engage in an arms race that spans decades, increasing the chances of conflict. Another thought: historically speaking, at this point in history, with the US arguably more economically tenuous than at any time after WWII, would a new arms race put it in the more economically vulnerable position that occupied the USSR and contributed toward its ultimate collapse, engaged as it were with its arms race with the more economically virile US of that prior age?


Sun, 06/03/2012 - 6:53pm

In reply to by Bill M.

I agree that it's blown out of proportion, and I think there's a bit of domestic politics involved (as always). What I sense in the neighborhood, and what I feel a bit myself, is something analogous to feelings that were recently expressed by a Nigerian fellow who posted on the forum for a while. He asked, sensibly I think, why increased US interest in Africa inevitably seemed to be expressed in military affairs. He noted that the visits and the statements always seemed to come from generals or DoD people, and that they never seemed to get visits from, say, a secretary of commerce.

In the same vein, I don't think most Asians would object to greater US engagement in Asia... but why must the first and most notable manifestation of that engagement be an announcement of military movements? It creates an unsettling perception.

Bill M.

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 12:41pm

In reply to by Dayuhan


First the excessive surge in reporting about the strategic rebalancing doesn't put the story in context, it is simply a shinny headline at the moment, next month something wil be.

What do you think we'll see in reality? A "few" more ships in Pearl Harbor, and other established bases in the region? Maybe a return to our pre-911 dispostion of forces, but with a smaller overall force perhaps? I know this isn't correct, but it does seem that as Americans we can only hold one idea in our mind at a time. If you mention Afghanistan, then that is the only game in town, if you mention the Asia-Pacific, then that is the only game in town. We're a nation with global interests, we have been since WWII, and other than the headlines focused on a particular what has really changed?

As for Asian nations being peers, to my knowledge we have treated them very like peers since the end of the Cold War, and I think the U.S. would embrace a NATO like approach to the region, but the regional nations won't for a variety of regions based on "their" interests. Good comments, I just think the overall issue is getting blown out of proportion.


Sun, 06/03/2012 - 4:46am

In reply to by Bill M.

So we have expanding economies, prosperous nations, a large population, etc... and our response is to send warships?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for maintaining the capacity to send warships should it become necessary to do so. Sending them when it's not necessary to do so suggests that we're classifying rivals as enemies and challenges as threats, and makes the necessity a bit more likely.

Any engagement with Asia needs to be built from the assumption that Asian nations, whether friendly to us or not, are peers - the way we deal with Europe - not subordinates. "Send gunboats" is a response appropriate to dealing with the Barbary Pirates, less so in dealing with modern Asia.

There's nothing wrong with the US being a factor in Asia; that's natural. If we try to be the dominant factor, or if we appear to be trying to be that, I suspect we'll make only trouble.

Just because the challenges outside Asia require little naval strength doesn't mean Asia does require naval strength. To me our approach to Asia at this point needs a lot of speaking softly and a bit of keeping the big stick stowed in the background. Everybody out here knows that big stick is there, no need to go flaunting it.

Bill M.

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 3:27am

In reply to by SWJED

What is overly simple is our tunnel vision focus on Afghanistan because the handful of Arabs from Saudi attacked the U.S. had connections in Afghanistan. Of course it is a tough battlefield, but it is still a battle we won by early 2002, what we have done since then is conduct a large social experiment, and in so doing we ignored the rest of the world. The social experiment failed, and continuing to invest such a large portion of our military's effort there seems as irresponsible to me as completely pulling out of Afghanistan. The rest of the world is important, and much of the rest of the world is more important than Afghanistan from a strategic perspective.

PACOM covers over half the world's surface, contains over half the world's population, it contains the countries with the largest militaries, and the world's largest economies. Call me narrow minded, but these tidbits, and a host of other factors, spell strategic interests to me. We have some strategic interests in Afghanistan, but more than that we have national pride issues. After 10 years it is time to distinguish the difference between interests and pride and make some hard decisions.

AQ is present globally, but most notably in Yemen, Pakistan, and throughout N. Africa. That is their current disposition, they can spread into other countries and most likely will. They are not a threat best addressed by GPF with the exception of certain situations where we need to conduct a punative expedition that is beyond the capability of SOF.

I don't think leadership in DOD is redefining the threat to fit our capabilities, but rather reminding those of us who became IW centric that there are other threats. The Defense Strategic Guidance directed us to develop a host of new capabilities to deal with emerging threats (including cyber, new anti-access capabilities, and retain our ability to do IW, etc.). That isn't ignoring the hard realities, it is a wake up call that we need to address them. It is hard to argue the logic of shifting more Naval power into the largest and most contested region in the world from a maritime perspective.

The DOD budget overall is a zero sum game, point taken, but I'm not sure that argument applies in this situation. The Navy is already funded, so moving an additional 10% of their funded capacity to the PACOM AOR shouldn't cost much more than currently budgeted. Additionally, like the other services they're projected to take substantial cuts, so the new ratio of total Navy power in the Pacific region may still equate to less than we have now when we get past the smoke and mirrors.

You have my attention, what is your counter proposal and supporting logic for reallocating forces and effort? Do you think the military would be welcomed by Central American countries and Mexico to fight the cartels? Do you think the Taliban is a greater threat to the U.S. than a nuclear armed North Korea, or a China that is threatening our Allies and Partners? What will continued efforts in Afghanistan accomplish when we still allow a safe haven to exist in Pakistan and we continue to support a corrupt regime? The war can and likely will go on forever in Afghanistan with limited impact on the U.S., but a major war in the PACOM AOR will have a significant economic impact on the U.S.. If we're serious about getting to the left of the line to prevent these events, then now is the time to move.


Sat, 06/02/2012 - 8:56pm

In reply to by Bill M.

The condescending comment about "smoking" aside; it is a zero-sum game. Boost the Navy in Asia equates to less in the budget for elsewhere - regardless of the service. It really is a simple thing Bill.

Bill M.

Sat, 06/02/2012 - 8:49pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Dayuhan gives a Dave an amen, and on the other hand, I had to wonder what Dave was smoking when he wrote this. The Taliban and LATAM Cartels are really a serious threat to the U.S.? Even if you agree that they are, what role does Navy Gray Hulls play in that fight? This mostly a realignment of general purpose forces against the world's most dangerous conventional threats and the world's economic center of gravity, which is Asia, not Europe.

U.S. and partner nation SOF and SOF like elements will continue to deal with al-Qaeda. AQ isn't be fought against by the Marines and Army in Afghanistan, it is being fought against by SOF and the CIA in other countries, and law enforcement within our own country. LATAM Cartels are being addressed by their own governments with support from DEA, CIA, and SOF, so again why does shifting "some" GPF Navy assets to the Asia-Pacific region seem like a bad idea?

Dave D's comments had me looking for the "Amen" emoticon.

Referring to the proposed 60:40 split between Pacific and Atlantic, where do we classify the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf in that division?