Affording the “Pacific Pivot”

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The Obama Administration's "Pacific pivot" emulates Winston Churchill's "economy of force" strategy before World War I.

Former governor Mitt Romney’s drumbeat for $2 trillion in additional defense spending, together with President Obama’s Pacific pivot – the reallocation of American military resources to contain China – turned out to be a non-event in Monday night’s debate.

In fact, the kinder, gentler Romney went so far as to suggest that China doesn’t have to be an “adversary.”

Wearied by more than a decade of expensive, unrewarding military interventions, both candidates sensed that Americans are focused on the approaching fiscal cliff; an event the Congressional Research Service says may produce a return to economic recession in 2013.

In fact, if deeper recession lies ahead, the unspoken truth is that restoring American economic growth and prosperity may well demand austere, “inter-war period” levels of military spending.

So, assuming Romney’s defense buildup is at the very least unlikely is the Obama Administration’s Pacific pivot also a pipe dream the American taxpayer cannot afford?

The answer is: not necessarily. There are ways to concentrate American national military power in the Pacific region.

In the turbulent decade leading up to the outbreak of World War I, Winston Churchill, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, urged Britain’s national leadership to concentrate British naval power in the Atlantic and the North Sea where Germany’s rapidly expanding high seas fleet seemed determined to challenge British naval supremacy.  Churchill reasoned, “It would be very foolish to lose England in safeguarding Egypt. If we win the big battle in the decisive theater, we can put everything else straight afterwards. If we lose it, there will not be any afterwards.”

On the precipice of sequestration and with the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at stake, Churchill’s strategic rationale is instructive, particularly for leaders in Washington, D.C., who advocate a U.S. military buildup in the Pacific.

When Churchill made the case for concentrating the British fleet in the Atlantic, he was practicing economy of force, a time honored principle in British military affairs.

In 1902, in the midst of a financial crisis brought on, in part, by the Boer War, London had already turned to Japan for military assistance in blocking Russian expansion in the Far East. By 1911, the Russian threat had disappeared beneath the waters of the Tsushima Strait, but the Anglo-Japanese Treaty still allowed the withdrawal of British naval and ground forces from Asia, facilitating the concentration of British military power in the Atlantic. The result was a debilitating blockade Germany could not overcome throughout the First World War.

Like the British at the beginning of the 20th Century, Washington suffers from a case of “Imperial Overstretch.” Washington needs a new national security strategy, one designed to halt the dissipation of American military resources around the world and to concentrate it wherever it is needed. For the moment, the point of concentration is Asia, where China’s assertiveness opens the door to the kind of instability and potential for strategic miscalculation that is eerily similar to the crises and conflicts that preceded the outbreak of World War I in Europe.

The Pacific pivot was conceived with this point in mind.  However, increased defense spending to expand and modernize military facilities from Alaska to Guam won’t make much sense to voters who fear the country is in a fiscal “free fall” — a race to economic crisis that bailouts can’t stop.

Moreover, there is no reason to assume lawmakers and the next President will cooperate at all after November. Whether anyone in Washington, D.C., is prepared to support the pivot by admitting that most of America’s current military commitments and priorities are legacies of Cold War deployments, as well as, misguided attempts to nation build inside the Muslim World is also an unknown.

As seen throughout Monday night’s debate, Washington’s determination to attack and destroy Islamist terrorism persists, but lawmakers are far more aware today than they were in 2001 that “Islamism” (the reordering of society and government with Islam) of the Sunni or Shiite variety will not create jobs, economic growth or the foundation for effective military power that can genuinely challenge the West.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood cannot change the fact that Cairo’s population of 14 million lives on an infrastructure designed for 2 million. In other words, the Muslim world’s severe social, cultural and economic problems mean that 20 years from now, Africa and the Middle East are likely to lag as far behind the West as they do today.

However, unlike Churchill’s Japanese ally at the beginning of the 20th Century, America’s allies, as well as, our potential rivals for influence and power in Asia, Europe and Latin America, are all at the mercy of the same debt bubble that we are.

This unspoken reality explains in part the reluctance of the nations on China’s periphery, those that feel most threatened (Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam) to actively cooperate with each other let alone invest in the military power necessary to effectively augment Washington’s proposed Pacific pivot.

The strategic goals and priorities the next President sets will decide what national security strategy America’s military executes. But setting specific goals is critical if the pivot is to happen.

When there is no coherent strategy, military action is shaped primarily by the military capability to act, not by attainable military and political objectives or the concrete interests that define them.

America’s weakened economic condition suggests this is no time for leaders in Washington, D.C., to make uninformed decisions regarding defense spending or the use of force in a dispute with a major power like China.

Britain’s strategic principle of economy of force must be applied.

Hopefully, people in both Presidential campaigns are examining ways to achieve strategic advantage in lean economic times, the way Britain did in the critical years before World War I.

Douglas Macgregor is executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group, LLC. He is also a retired Army colonel, decorated combat veteran and the author of four books on military affairs.

6 comments
coggocog
coggocog

Major Disaster Named Sandy, Oops, Romney and I

 navanavonmilitaUSAIhave said it before. I will say it again that Barack Obama's so calledPacific Pivot is not gonna work. The current administration may notsurvive beyond November 7, 2012.Given an equal opportunity to theincoming Mitt Romney administration's flippant, outrageous and inaneforeign policy statements, I see a clear confrontation with China.AfterRomney orders American forces to decimate Iran, rescue Syria, defendLebanon, wrestle Putin's Russia and reinforces Afghanistan's missionimpossible, within first few days, he may be emboldened to throwAmerica's long time ally, if not on friendly terms, Pakistan under thebus.This is written. I said it. Any questions?

...and I am Sid Harth@gosumercogito.blogspot.com

Madara04
Madara04

Bmont503, you misunderstood. Both events are linked. Honesty, Both World Wars were fought over the same thing: The Haves vs the Have nots for access to resources and markets.  Churchill strategy was to focus resources on the closer threat to the United Kingdom (which is the correct decision) but he turned over the defense of U.K. colonies (HK, Singapore,   Burma, etc) to Japan in WWI. The Japanese were the ones that defeated the Germans in the Pacific and annex their colonies which they were forced to give to Australia, the U.S. or U.K. after WWI (one of the reasons for future conflict.). Due to WWI , the U.K. was restricted even more because of the mass drain of their monetary reserves to the U.S for war supplies (the Great Depression after the war didn't help). They cut their defenses in the Asian colonies further allowing the Japanese to match or suppress the meager defenses in Asia. Plus, the U.S. was preparing to leave the Philippines after 40 years of U.S. colonial rule. Leaving Japan as the Regional power in Asia.

My comment was to address if we focus all on our resources on Asia other regional powers might be tempted (like the Japanese in Post-WWI) to act because they feel that the U.S. is ignoring them and will not risk losing the military balance in Asia to China, India and Japan. China isn't the only country that challenge our hegemony. Russia is coming back and seems to willing to challenge the U.S. rule (they are not a direct threat but they can align themselves with China, Iran, and India to upend our hegemony). Plus, India is not aligned to U.S. hegemony and actually opposes U.S. influence. Additional issues are civil unrest in Mexico, civil wars in Africa (rich in natural resources, EU breakup, and a Sunni-Shitte regional war in the Mideast (which is actually happening right now). 

Finally, the U.S. foreign policy mirrors the U.K. foreign policy. We will not accept a regional power to dominate their region. The British Empire always played the divide and conquer strategy to keep their opponents fighting each other than the British. Perfect example would be Europe. The British has backed Prussian to balance the French when France were the most powerful army in the world. Afterwards, they backed the French to balance the Prussians (Germans).  Unfortunately, regional powers will catch on to your strategy and counter it like the African and Asian independence movements i.e. India. 

bmont503
bmont503

Well Madara, apart from the fact that you are confusing which of two World Wars is involved your comment may have some value. Churchill's blockade decision applies to WW1 where it was arguably, in as much as any decision involving warfare can be considered optimal, a successful strategy. Singapore was, of course, WW2.

America is following a semi-colonial strategy without any of the advantages enjoyed by the old colonial powers so, I am afraid, it is sure to fail. The old colonial powers had vast superiority in firepower over their opponents, they were protected from international critique because all of the World powers were involved in the same grab for colonial power and, owing to the difficulty of international travel and communications, they did not have to face opponents outside the country they were subduing. America enjoys none of these advantages so it needs a strategy that faces this reality. 

Madara04
Madara04

You mean the same Churchill strategy that lead to the Japanese capture of Singapore and other British colonies which eventually lead to the dismantling of the British Empire!!!! The strategy is flawed. You need to ask yourself "At what point will you escalate a conflict? What will would you need to win a conflict? How much would it cost? And does the Benefit outweigh the Cost?" You will need to conclude the conflict with addressing the issues that cause the conflict  The issues that would spark the conflict would be access to natural resources, access to overseas markets, and foreign meddling in domestic and other country's matter which I don't see the U.S stopping or giving up anytime soon. Plus, I don't believe Asia would be the world's only region with potential conflicts. What about Africa and the Middle East? I don't see those issues going away, either. Plus, the Chinese could just escalate or encourage conflicts to drain our resources like what we did with the Soviet Union. We are entering a period similar to Post-WWI and Pre-WWII where there is no superpower left. We need to determine red lines of escalations based on rationale needs (no more regime changes in other countries because we don't like them) and work together (allies and enemies) to address global issues such as water and food supply, climate change, and natural disaster which are causes of most conflicts. 

vstillwell
vstillwell

Well, if these GOP clowns keep singing the trickle-down-economics tune, we won't be able to afford to send a fishing boat to Asia. I live in Kansas. You don't get much more red than this state these days. My taxes keep going up so I can pay for tax cuts and tax credits to the Koch brothers and other landed gentry around here. My increased taxes don't go to schools anymore. They don't go to roads. They are used to offset tax cuts to favored businesses like energy and agriculture. They don't pay any local or state taxes anymore. So how on earth can we support a larger military when this is becoming the national model? 

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

The US currently goes in the financial hole at a rate of three billion dollars per day, every day, so why not increase it to four?


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