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Published on January 9th, 2012 | by Sangeeta Mandalia
Image © [caption id="attachment_6448" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Obama's new defence strategy switches focus to the Asia Pacific"][/caption]

During a rare appearance at the Pentagon, President Obama unveiled a new defence strategy in which he claimed that the Unites States was “turning the page on a decade of war.” The new strategy aims to end “long term nation building with large military footprints” in order to make the US military much “leaner.” In this fast changing world, Obama claimed that the comprehensive defence review would guide “defence priorities” over the coming decades while “strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific.” With the “tide of war” receding, this allows the US to realign its focus towards the Asia Pacific.

So what can we expect from America’s new defence strategy? Well, reports from the region suggest that the new US strategy could mean a greater role for Australia in the Asia Pacific. Dr Rod Lyon, Program director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, argues that, as US presence will have a smaller footprint under the new defence strategy; it will look to other partners in the region to carry the load across a wide portfolio of areas including military and cyber space. But the Asia Pacific is not solely important for military purposes; it is also at the centre of immense economic activity. The South Asian News Agency reports that the US want India to serve as an ‘economic anchor’ in the Asia Pacific. Admiral Robert Willard argues that India, along with China, are two “Asian giants that are driving the economic developments in the region.” Furthermore, a close partnership with India is also crucial for security in the Indian Ocean region. Perhaps, this hedging strategy is targeted at China in order to contain China’s rise, by establishing close relations with its neighbours. India also shares America’s concerns about a growing China, and shared values and concerns will only bring India and America closer together.

However, this new defence strategy has sparked an angry reaction from the People’s Republic of China in which they warn the US against “flexing its muscles.”  China’s official news agency, Xinhua, argues that the US could help China to secure a “peaceful environment” in the region but any “militarism” could “endanger peace instead of enhancing regional stability.” In China’s eyes, America’s decision to focus on the Asia Pacific is perceived as a containment strategy which is designed to contain China’s rise. There is no doubt that China is a key driving factor behind America’s new military doctrine. Although there was no mention of ‘China’ in Obama’s speech, it’s quite clear that China’s military ambitions and intentions are always in the back of their minds.  General Martin Dempsey, Joint Chief of Staff has expressed concern over China’s growing military apparatus which has allowed them to project naval power in regions where the US had dominated in 1945. It could be suggested that America’s return to Asia will allow the US to offset any competition from China for regional hegemony.

This new defence strategy will aim to redefine America’s position in the Asia Pacific by strengthening its military presence in the region. The US has been absent from the region for a while due to military commitments in the Middle East, but the Asia Pacific holds historic links for the US who have been a key security provider for the region since the end of World War II. China is slowly closing the gap with the US in the military realm, but America still holds unprecedented military superiority in the region and this new defence strategy will only aim to reinforce America’s military position in the region.

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Obama unveils new Defence Strategy

Obama's new defence strategy switches focus to the Asia Pacific

During a rare appearance at the Pentagon, President Obama unveiled a new defence strategy in which he claimed that the Unites States was “turning the page on a decade of war.” The new strategy aims to end “long term nation building with large military footprints” in order to make the US military much “leaner.” In this fast changing world, Obama claimed that the comprehensive defence review would guide “defence priorities” over the coming decades while “strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific.” With the “tide of war” receding, this allows the US to realign its focus towards the Asia Pacific.

So what can we expect from America’s new defence strategy? Well, reports from the region suggest that the new US strategy could mean a greater role for Australia in the Asia Pacific. Dr Rod Lyon, Program director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, argues that, as US presence will have a smaller footprint under the new defence strategy; it will look to other partners in the region to carry the load across a wide portfolio of areas including military and cyber space. But the Asia Pacific is not solely important for military purposes; it is also at the centre of immense economic activity. The South Asian News Agency reports that the US want India to serve as an ‘economic anchor’ in the Asia Pacific. Admiral Robert Willard argues that India, along with China, are two “Asian giants that are driving the economic developments in the region.” Furthermore, a close partnership with India is also crucial for security in the Indian Ocean region. Perhaps, this hedging strategy is targeted at China in order to contain China’s rise, by establishing close relations with its neighbours. India also shares America’s concerns about a growing China, and shared values and concerns will only bring India and America closer together.

However, this new defence strategy has sparked an angry reaction from the People’s Republic of China in which they warn the US against “flexing its muscles.”  China’s official news agency, Xinhua, argues that the US could help China to secure a “peaceful environment” in the region but any “militarism” could “endanger peace instead of enhancing regional stability.” In China’s eyes, America’s decision to focus on the Asia Pacific is perceived as a containment strategy which is designed to contain China’s rise. There is no doubt that China is a key driving factor behind America’s new military doctrine. Although there was no mention of ‘China’ in Obama’s speech, it’s quite clear that China’s military ambitions and intentions are always in the back of their minds.  General Martin Dempsey, Joint Chief of Staff has expressed concern over China’s growing military apparatus which has allowed them to project naval power in regions where the US had dominated in 1945. It could be suggested that America’s return to Asia will allow the US to offset any competition from China for regional hegemony.

This new defence strategy will aim to redefine America’s position in the Asia Pacific by strengthening its military presence in the region. The US has been absent from the region for a while due to military commitments in the Middle East, but the Asia Pacific holds historic links for the US who have been a key security provider for the region since the end of World War II. China is slowly closing the gap with the US in the military realm, but America still holds unprecedented military superiority in the region and this new defence strategy will only aim to reinforce America’s military position in the region.

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Sangeeta Mandalia



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