US ‘pivot’: what it is and what it’s notPosted: 09/05/2012
By Alexander Nicoll, Director of Editorial
The United States will remain perfectly capable of carrying out its commitments as a member of the NATO alliance as it rebalances its global military posture in line with the ‘pivot to Asia’ announced earlier this year. This was according to Leo G. Michel, from the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the US National Defense University, during a IISS meeting in London yesterday.
Michel said common interpretations of the ‘pivot’ strategy had not done it justice. In fact, the shift to greater attention towards Asia was not new, and changes begun by the George W. Bush administration were being carried through. What was being done was a re-examination of security arrangements with specific countries, such as Japan and South Korea where the US already maintained substantial forces. The outcome would be to move around some military assets, to increase them in some parts of the region and reduce them in others. US Marines would be rotated through Australia, littoral combat ships would move to Singapore, and there would be closer military ties with the Philippines.
The rebalancing carried some risks, Michel said. One was the possibility that US capabilities elsewhere could be reduced too much: for example, the US Navy was retaining 11 aircraft carriers while some ground capabilities were being reduced. Michel also referred to the looming possibility of sequestration, in which an additional $500 billion of defence cuts could have to be made over the next decade as a result of previous US budget deals.
However, the rebalancing would not affect Washington’s ability to meet NATO commitments. While two US brigades were being withdrawn from Germany, in practice the troops have not been there for the past decade because the soldiers have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The pullback from Afghanistan in fact meant that the US would have more troops available to conduct exercises with European allies. Cooperation stood to increase, for example in the area of missile defence in which a home-porting agreement for four Aegis destroyers had recently been reached with Spain.
At the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, Michel saw the need to discuss how the cost of future support for Afghan security forces would be shared among allies. The current cost to the US taxpayer was about $11bn per year, but total annual support was likely to be reduced to $4-5bn in future and Washington would expect other allies and partner countries to contribute. He expected that the future target size of the Afghan security forces would be scaled down significantly, perhaps to some 230,000.
NATO’s ‘smart defence’ initiative would also be discussed, but Michel saw two obstacles: the curtailment of national sovereignty that could result from specialisation in particular capabilities; and the danger that spending would simply be cut and that money would not be available to support upfront investment to ensure that moves towards international cooperation would really bear fruit. ‘Sometimes you have to spend to save,’ he said.