President Obama signals a new direction for US defence strategy towards the Asia-Pacific and away from Europe – but will it delay the F-35 fighter planes destined for Britain’s only aircraft carrier?
“Our military will be leaner,” President Obama told a Pentagon news conference, “but the world must know – the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”
He was presenting a strategy document which calls for the United States to maintain a force that can win one war while still having the capability to deter the objectives of an adversary in a second conflict – a move away from the US military’s oft-repeated goal of being able to fight two wars at the same time.
“Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding,” President Obama said. “Even as our forces prevail in today’s missions, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to look ahead to the force we need for the future.”
The shift in focus to Asia comes amid concern at the Pentagon over China‘s strategic goals. But the document stresses that the military will remain vigilant in the Middle East while responding to the aspirations of the people as expressed in last year’s “Arab awakening”.
“US policy will emphasise Gulf security, in collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries when appropriate, to prevent Iran‘s development of a nuclear weapon capability and counter its destabilising policies,” the document says.
President Obama noted that the US defence budget had witnessed “extraordinary” growth after the attacks of 11 September 2001. He said the pace of defence spending would continue to grow, but more slowly.
“I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand, that we can keep our military strong – and our nation secure – with a defence budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined,” he said.
On his first visit to the United States as defence secretary, Philip Hammond has revealed to Channel 4 News that he will be speaking to US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to obtain reassurance that the US will not abandon its commitment to aircraft planned for UK aircraft carriers.
“The timetabling of delivery of those aircraft is vital to the UK, and we will be seeking reassurance that that programme is not going to slip,” Mr Hammond said.
He urged that Europeans should not respond in a “fit of pique” to the change in strategy announced today, that will see the United States realign its military focus towards the Pacific region.
“Europeans have to respond to this change in American focus, not with a fit of pique but by pragmatic engagement, recognising that we have to work with Americans to get better value for money out of the defence spending that is available on both sides of the Atlantic.”