In a rapidly changing global security environment, it is a prerequisite for policymakers around the world to understand the transition of the US Army after Iraq and Afghanistan. What is the underlying idea of American strategy? The lecture by General Raymond Odierno at Chatham House on June 6 will present a clue to this question. As widely known, General Odierno succeeded the commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq from General David Petraeus. Currently, he serves as the Chief of Staff of the US Army. Therefore, Odierno is in a good position to talk of American defense strategy, beyond the Obama-Romney difference. Some people in Asia are so naïve as to be pleased with the shift of regional focus of US forces simply for fear of China. They must understand an overview of American strategy and take considerations to Europe and the Middle East.
The following points are keys to US Army transition: budget shrinkage on defense, diversification of missions, and the pivot to Asia. At Chatham House, General Odierno discussed the strategic concepts of prevent, shape, and win in an era of vital transition of US Army. While the United States is shifting regional focus, some NATO members, particularly eastern frontier nations such as Poland, Czech, Romania, and Bulgaria, want US military presence against Russia. Even Western Europeans worry benign neglect by America, as the Obama administration has decided to pull two army brigades out of Germany in view of post Cold War security environment. How did he explain American position to Europeans? The shift to Asia should not sacrifice security in Europe and the Middle East. Ultimately, Asian economies need the market and energy resource of both regions. Furthermore, how will the United States satisfy the requirements for the superpower to maintain a liberal world order with smaller defense budget?
At the beginning of the lecture, General Odierno told that the US Army must resolve two problems. On one hand, the United States has to continue engagement in current frontlines like Afghanistan, the Middle East overall, and the Korean Peninsula. On the other hand, US armed forces need to adjust to rapidly changing security environment for the future. See the video below.
The most critical constraint to pursue both objectives is budget pressure. The United States must cut defense expenditure a little below $500 billion in ten years under current budget act. That requires a drastic reduction of manpower of the Army, since it spends 49% on personnel. Therefore, the Army must fire 80,000 soldiers and non combatants in the end. Currently it has already cut 15,000 people, and additional cut will be done in next 5 years. The number Odierno showed at the event is tremendous. How will the United States overcome such hurdles?
Odierno narrated security environment and told strategic objectives of the US Army. As to the Middle East where security uncertainties are rampant, the Arab Spring has just removed autocrats, but not formed new governments yet. Its influence on a nuclear ambitious Iran is unpredictable. Regarding the Asia-Pacific area, Odierno mentioned Indo-Pakistani rivalries and the rise of China as key challenges to the US Army. Quite importantly, he included the Af-Pak issue into the Asia-Pacific security matters. This implies that the Army will continue to get involved in Afghanistan after 2014. Actually, Odierno articulated that the shift to Asia would not mean abandoning other areas, but priority would be given to Asia. He said “Our role and our vision is to be regionally responsive and globally engaged.” In addition to regional scope, current warfare makes it more difficult to define enemies. He says that they can be states, insurgents, terrorists, non-state actors, or combinations of those actors.
In order to manage such complexity, Odierno showed three steps, which are prevent, shape, and win. To prevent, Odierno insisted that the US Army should not make adversaries miscalculate its intention. This overlaps what Senator John McCain emphasized in his April lecture on Afghanistan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He said that terrorists and insurgents would interpret premature withdrawal as American reluctance to support Afghan security. To shape involves much more diversified aspects. Above all, partnership with nations in each region of the world is the key. Though strategic priority will be given to Asia, the Middle East still needs robust US presence. Also, Odierno says US Army explores to develop partnership with Europe, Africa, and South America through joint exercise. For this objective, he said “We will rotate forces into different regions in order to work through and build strong relationships with our allies and partners in all these different regions.”
The word of focus is “rotate forces”, because this idea has never done before. As a precursor, General Odierno mentions NATO rapid reaction force which rotates in and out of Europe for joint training, exercise, and work. The same idea will be applied in the Asia-Pacific region among Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and so forth. In East Asia, some people expect the rotation will be helpful to lessen “Okinawa’s burden” of “accommodating too many US bases”. However, their expectation is premature. Innovative strategies often need adjustment to the reality when they are carried out. Remember the RMA strategy of small and agile troops by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld failed in Iraq, and the surge helped the problem. Japanese left wingers should keep this in mind. As the rotation is planned both in Europe and Asia, this new strategic concept is worthy of worldwide attention.
Odierno gave consideration to European concerns with the pivot to Asia as he mentioned NATO rapid reaction force and joint training. The Financial Times argues that a solid trans-Atlantic alliance enables the United States to focus on Asia (“US set to stand by NATO despite warnings”; Financial Times; May 21, 2012). Also, when multinational actions are required, NATO allies are reliable partners for the United States to conduct global operations. Regretfully, Obama did not explain America’s strategic objectives sufficiently to Europeans, at the last trans-Atlantic summit in Chicago. It is an irony for those who blamed Bush’s “unilateralism” in the Iraq War. European leftists are betrayed with the hope of the change.
In addition to state-to-state relations, the Army needs partnership with other organizations as well. This interagency partnership is called JIIM which stands for “joint, intergovernmental, interagency, multinational environment”. The fundamental idea is that military power has its own limits, and therefore, the Army needs partnership with civilian agencies such as the Department of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, in order to shape the strategy in an increasingly complicated security environment. Also, resource distribution needs consideration. As the size of the Army shall be cut, it has become critical to upgrade Special Forces to defeat terrorists and insurgents. For this objective, Odierno stressed that adequate composition of force mix must be explored, for example, the balance of heavily-medium-lightly armed troops, conventional-special forces, and so forth.
Military art evolution is another issue discussed at the event, as it creates new challenges to global security. Technological progress has incorporated space and cyberspace to new global commons along with land, sea, and air. Odierno raises critical concerns, because “every nation-state or non-nation-state has access and wants uncontrolled access to space and to cyberspace.” Unlike traditional commons, some countries exploit current normlessness on new global commons as shown in China’s notorious cyber attack against foreign governmental agencies. On the other hand, IT development brings positive changes that can contribute to improving US Army competence. An integrated training environment through computer network enables US forces to train and act together with allied troops across the world for a specific mission on cyberspace. General Odierno told that this would reduce travel costs for US and allied troops to meet in one place. In the battlefield, computer network makes leadership structure more decentralized, which will help the third phase of winning achieved. In an interview with CBS News on June 15, General Odierno commented “We give a lot of responsibility to a 22 or 23-year-old first lieutenant who has a platoon out in the middle of Afghanistan somewhere, who has to make some really tough decisions. So from the time you come in, you learn leadership. We have to develop them quickly, and we have to continue to refine and help them as they get older." See the following video.
Throughout the event, Odireno explained new strategy under tight budget lucidly. Also, he gave considerations to European concerns of benign neglect by America when talking of the pivoting to Asia. Structural change of the US Army will have more impacts on allies than the shift of regional focus, because they need to adjust to new defense partnership with the United States. Anyway, what Odierno told in the lecture is within the limit of serviceman who is politically neutral and abides by civilian control. How about government leadership? The Obama administration does not show clear stances to update relationship with Europe and Middle East in a world in transition. President Barack Obama failed to ease European concerns at NATO Chicago summit. He is too reluctant to impress American leadership to manage Middle East turmoil like Syria. Even in Asia where he places primary strategic emphasis, Obama does not show clear stances to China. His archrival in the presidential election Mitt Romney needs to argue against Obama’s vague attitude in foreign policy, but current election debates focus too much on domestic economy. The Army is doing their job systematically. However, lack of political leadership can ruin every effort by servicemen.