In the midst Chinese aggressive posture in the South China Sea and on the Indian border, the US is ready to deploy thousands of soldiers, currently stationed in Germany, to American bases in Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Australia.
During the Cold War, US defence tacticians thought it imperative to maintain an extensive ground force in Europe to keep the USSR at bay. In the 2000s, the focus was essentially on the Middle East as the US conducted “war on terrorism.” Now, the focus has changed to China.
To challenge the might of China and Russia, “US forces must be deployed abroad in a more forward and expeditionary manner than they have been in recent years,” wrote Robert O’Brien, Donald Trump’s national security adviser in a WSJ.
Toward this end, the US will decrease its soldiers permanently deployed in Germany from 34,500 troops to 25,000. The remaining troops are expected to be reassigned elsewhere in Europe, redeployed to the Indo-Pacific region, or sent back to the US.
On the Indo-Pacific, O’Brien wrote: “In that theatre, Americans and allies face the most significant geopolitical challenge since the end of the Cold War.”
Critics see three trends in the US army’s global missions. One is the geographical shift from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific. Second is the shift from land-based combat to an “Air-Sea Battle” notion. The third, and perhaps most unique to Donald Trump, is the urge to cut down the defence spendings.
O’Brien’s redeployment proposal touches on all three aspects. Geographically, the shift away from the Middle East has been driven by the shale gas discovery. US’ enthusiasm in the Middle East has waned as its dependence on the oil-rich region for energy has dramatically shrivelled.
In 2011, the US government under Barrack Obama started a policy of rebalancing based on the assertion that a focus on the Middle East had created the Asia-Pacific vacuum that facilitated China’s ascent.
In terms of strategy, the US has been moving its focus and resources to the Navy and Air Force, especially since the likelihood of a Russian invasion of Europe has gone down. The Air-Sea Battle idea declared in 2010 intends to incapacitate China’s defences using long-range bombers and submarines.
In a possible clash with China, it will be the amphibious Marines as well as maritime and aviation capacity that will prove vital. This is because the battleground will be in the waters of the South China Sea or other maritime fronts.
Costs are the third trend. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly communicated his unease over the massive financial implications of deploying US soldiers abroad and has pressed other nations to shoulder the financial burden.
Trump has been unusually vocal about Germany, which he asserts is not keeping its obligation to contribute 2% of its GDP on its own defence. Germany has “been delinquent for years,” Trump said in mid-June, explicitly linking this to the troop drawdown. “And they owe NATO billions of dollars, and they have to pay it. So we’re protecting Germany, and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense.”
The Trump administration is currently engaged in extended discussions with South Korea over its support and will hold similar talks with Japan. For Japan, which recently halted the deployment of the Aegis Ashore air defence system due to cost concerns, pressure from the US to increase host-nation support may lead to a rethink of its defence strategy.
Originally Written By Team Nikkei Asian Review. Edited By Tim Edwards