Small Wars Journal

Obama's Pacific Tilt Comes Under Fire

Obama's Pacific Tilt Comes Under Fire by Otto Kreisher at AOL Defense.

The Obama administration's highly touted "rebalancing" of U.S. military forces to the Asia-Pacific region attracted a barrage of flak during a briefing at an influential Washington think tank Monday.

A group of former senior defense and State Department officials criticized the Pacific tilt at the Center for Strategic and International Studies saying the U.S. lacked a coherent, understandable strategy and failed to adjust the plan in light of shrinking funding and trying to hide the strategy's aim to counter an increasingly aggressive China...


Bill M.

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 11:11pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

I see no evidence that we have any intention of treating East Asia that way.


Fri, 09/28/2012 - 10:45pm

In reply to by Bill C.

I'm not sure this model has much relevance to Asia. The only east Asian economy that is not incorporated into the global economy is that of North Korea, and North Korea is pretty much universally treated as an entity to be contained, not transformed or incorporated. China of course is fully incorporated into the global economy, the concern is not over a need to incorporate China but that China might either come to dominate that economy or that a potential Chinese economic crash could seriously disrupt the world economy.

I think it would be a huge mistake to try to treat east Asia in the terms we've grown used to using when discussing the Middle East and Africa. They are very different environments.

(I have revised this somewhat from my original entry.)

If military, police and intelligence forces -- ours and theirs -- in the near and middle term are most likely to be needed, and used, to deter and/or deal with those individuals and groups who do not wish to see their states and societies transformed and incorporated as the global economy requires, then have we -- by our pivot to the east -- acknowledged that the Asia-Pacific region is the area in the world where we believe these such difficulties will (1) most likely to take place and/or (2) most likely harm the global economy? (Herein, I believe the answer is "no.")

Or, by our pivot to the east, is what we actually saying is that we believe an inadequately addressed Chinese rise/challenge -- in East Asia and elsewhere -- more so than any of the state and societal transformation problems noted above (wherever they might occur); this, we believe, poses a far graver risk to the global economy? (Herein, due to the move to Air-Sea Battle, I believe the answer is "yes.")

Thus, what would seem to have changed is who we believe poses the gravest threat to the global economy:

a. In the recent past, we saw this as being individuals and groups who did not wish to see their states and societies transformed and incorporated as the global economy requires.

b. Today, we believe that the disruptive effects of a rising China poses a far graver risk to the overall potential for global economy health and growth.

Have I got this right?


Tue, 01/29/2013 - 6:24pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

I think you are correct. I think the real reason is that the US does not like the terrain in that area of the world. The ME supports (at lest initally) the kind of warfare (should it come to that) that the US leaders like. Most of our so called techological advantages are taken away by jungles and subsurface employment. Bottom line is that UAVs, tanks etc are of limited use in these areas, and our leaders don't like that.


Fri, 09/28/2012 - 10:35pm

In reply to by Bill M.

I think one reason the military has a hard time articulating its place in the Asian pivot is that the military has become used to being the dominant part of US engagement in the ME and South Asia. In Asia this should not be the case, and the military will have to adopt a secondary role. That doesn't mean they have no role, but they need to be in the background with diplomatic and economic engagement in the forefront. Asia is not frica or the Middle East, if anything the model for relations with Asia should be relations with Europe. Any engagement in Asia has to be built around recognition that we are engaging with peers.

Again, this doesn't mean the military has no role, it means that the military has to be prepared to accept a subordinate role, something to which it has not been accustomed over the last decade, where US engagement in the theaters of greatest concern has been heavily dominated by the military.


Fri, 09/28/2012 - 10:39pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Duplicate post, pls delete.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 9:56am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

For some reason, I can't add a link to my comment here to the new Landpower Group post (the comments section). It just doesn't show up, so I'll add it here:

It sounds like an good idea in theory.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 9:46am

In reply to by Bill M.

I've had the same thoughts, Bill.

How does following the natural flow of human energy (capital, demographics, and so on) turn into containment or focusing on one nation primarily when there are so many in the region?

CSPAN had an hour or so at the Atlantic Council with Gen. Amos and I thought the way he described the Pacific was interesting, very much in keeping with the link you provided above. It was kind of fascinating to think of it the way described.

The changing economies, the increase in population, the rise of Megacities containing those very populations, the flow of oil through the Straits of Malacca, our varied and long-standing relations with the many nations in the Pacific is interesting to think about.

How did this all turn into discussions of one country, and one country only, and a kind of containment? Our (meaning US) institutional desires and needs that tend to focus on an enemy in order to plan budgets, spend money on big projects? Is it just habit? How did this come about?

I used to think Pivot wasn't bad language to use because I still think we continue to put more emphasis on the MidEast than is warranted (yes, yes, even with the current problems) but I may have been wrong. It might have been exactly the wrong language to use. I don't know.

I wish we in the US would shut up, sometimes. So many talking heads and press conferences and white papers and meetings-as-photo-ops and blah blah blah.

And yet, I link an Atlantic Council talk here, and praise a part of it and blah blah myself. Hmm, it's never perfect, is it?

And Peter Munson (SWJ editor) had this article too as I recall:

Which, oddly enough, made me think of the announcement of a New Landpower Group. I don't know why my brain put those together? The Megacities, maybe? Also, our Army is always keen to train with other armies (and I'm not always happy about the "water-carrying" for less than savory regimes this eagerness engenders but the world is a hard place, I suppose.)

I don't have an issue with a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region, it is clearly in the national interest to do so (but not at the expense of the rest of the world). It is disappointing that the military can't articulate a narrative on what the rebalancing to Asia means and why it is important. If they need help in this regard they should leverage Secretary Clinton's article in Foreign Policy.…

More frustrating in my view were the narrowly focused comments on China throughout the article. The U.S. Pacific Command's region includes 35 countries, over half the surface of the earth, over half the world's population, five treaty allies, several nuclear powers, the world's largest militaries, and perhaps most importantly the world's largest economies. Yet our discussion on the rebalance strategy only looks at China? In my humble opinion we're missing the ball if we're only looking at strategy through a China lens. I am not downplaying China's strategic importance, but lets not forget the rest of Asia and the great opportunities its presents for U.S.'s strategic interests.

Unfortunately some of the criticism in the article was well deserved. The military needs to relearn how to develop and communicate strategy again. It has become a lost art since the end of the Cold War.


Tue, 01/29/2013 - 6:14pm

In reply to by spicykal

I disagree with your statement,"The future of China's military depends heavily upon her ability to continue to be an economic superpower".

I believe what is holding them back is the lack of a significant Navy, particularly power projection platforms like carriers and carrier groups... As soon as they have these in strength, and the time is right, they will use them.

I further believe that they have much longer term stratgies... Like this is what we want to accomplish in the next 25,50,75 and 100 years. They have already taken to colonizing Africa and South America as well as any areas that have resourses.

They may not be a threat today... But don't discount them at any time. Nor will they trouble themselves with the foolisness that our leaders spend there time with. And they won't be picky with there methods either.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 01/26/2013 - 12:30pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

CENTCOM commander Mattis reportedly being forced out of post early

Read more:…

Interesting. A conflict of strategic visions or hay-making by DC Fishbowl trouble-makers (talking about civilians here, not the General. He seems to be an amazing person and I sincerely hope he wasn't treated badly, although, I found myself disagreeing with some points made in the linked talk above.)

American military planners have often been fascinated with certain visions of the MidEast, and its relation to Europe, Energy issues, Russia, etc. Indian writers sometimes go all conspiratorial, left-over Caroe "Wells-of-Power" stuff but world energy flows and strategic visions and myths and truths are what they are....

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 09/27/2012 - 10:48am

In reply to by spicykal

"The emergence of the Arab Spring and the desire of multiple Arab nations to adopt western democracies seems to me a clear indication of where we should focus our future military efforts."

This is exactly the question I have about "military efforts" in the region. I know I don't have the background or education you guys do, so this might be completely flawed thinking, but our efforts have sometimes backfired due to our eagerness to view the world through a military lens. That's sort of how we got to some of our problems in the MidEast to begin with. Nations have to build themselves and our efforts to guide the process may inadvertently give succor and aid to non-democratic elements. This has happened many times in the past, whether via aid or military relationships. We inadvertently supported non-democratic and violent elements.

I don't know. What am I getting wrong about this (because I think Gen. Mattis gave a talk that supported your points some time back. I think I ran across it on YouTube. But isn't that a very CENTCOM-centric point of view)?

I understand current crisis management and the possible spread of nuclear weapons being a concern, but I really really worry that our military-to-military relationships will undermine the building of democracies that protect the rights of minorities (very important, the last bit I think, or else it is mob rule and that doesn't really help anyone. The same problems will fester. But I don't know. What am I getting wrong? The region is declining with relation to economic and oil production, demography, etc, when compared to the rest of the world, isn't it? Or am I wrong?)

PS: Here is a link to the talk that supports your points I think, but I remain unconvinced:


Thu, 09/27/2012 - 10:19am

Very interesting point. I along with several of my peers tend to think that the decidedly Pacific focused tilt of our proposed future operational environment is flawed.

The future of China's military depends heavily upon her ability to continue to be an economic superpower. I would argue that the historic and increasing power distance in the country is having a severe negative effect on both China's economy and her military. A significant socio-economic gap exists between the upper and lower class in China. Additionally, people in rural China are becoming dissatisfied with the existence of an almost insurmountable wage gap.

Focusing our military on conducting future operations in the Pacific seems to me to be a dangerous misallocation of increasingly scarce diplomatic, strategic informational, military, and economic resources. The emergence of the Arab Spring and the desire of multiple Arab nations to adopt western democracies seems to me a clear indication of where we should focus our future military efforts.

I am not suggesting that we revert to the myopia associated with our Cold War doctrine that focused on the deterrence of nuclear war and nothing else. What I am suggesting is a focused effort at building lasting relationships in a region already rife with conflict and focusing our efforts on security cooperation in the region.

With sequestration on the horizon and an increasingly publicly unpopular war ongoing in Afghanistan, the current administration must focus our efforts intelligently. After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military forces clearly possess the capability to execute operations in a decidedly Arab operational environment. I would argue that our ability to execute security cooperation on a grand scale in the Arab world will never exceed the level at which it exists today. I believe leveraging lessons learned in two theaters of war across the middle east and Africa would serve us better than focusing on the Pacific threat that I believe is becoming more and more hollow.

MAJ Calvin K. Hutto
Command and General Staff College
Fort Gordon, GA (Satellite Campus)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Departement of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.