In an unusual appearance at the Pentagon briefing room on Thursday, Mr. Obama outlined a new national defense strategy driven by three realities: the winding down of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fiscal crisis demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in Pentagon budget cuts and a rising threat from China and Iran, reports The New York Times.
“We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region. We’re going to continue investing in our critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO, which has demonstrated time and again – most recently in Libya – that it’s a force multiplier. We will stay vigilant, especially in the Middle East,” the president said.
“Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding,” he 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. Our nation is at a moment of transition.”
“Our military will be leaner 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 said at a news conference at the Pentagon flanked by Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, and senior generals.
The President also outlined another important objective – ensuring those who wear the uniform of the United States receive the care and the benefits they’ve earned: “We’re also going to keep faith with those who serve, by making sure our troops have the equipment and capabilities they need to succeed, and by prioritizing efforts that focus on wounded warriors, mental health and the well-being of our military families.”
“And as our newest veterans rejoin civilian life, we’ll keep working to give our veterans the care, the benefits and job opportunities that they deserve and that they have earned,” he said.
Pentagon officials acknowledged the risks in a strategy that declares that American ground forces will no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said the Army must shrink to 490,000 soldiers over the next decade, from 570,000 — and so said they were prepared to change course if required.
Speaking in Washington before the Pentagon announcement, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said Europe must react in “a mature way, not a histrionic way” to the American shift of focus but warned the US against ignoring its Nato commitments.
“However pressing the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region is to the United States, the alliance between the US and the countries of Europe is, and will remain, of vital interest to both continents,” he said.
According to The Telegraph, Mr Hammond said that while European countries must prove that they are “serious” about defence, the US needed “to reassure Europe that you are not going away.”
Mr Obama and Congress agreed in August to reduce projected defence spending by more than $450 billion in the next decade. They also agreed on automatic spending cuts that could slash another $600 billion from the Pentagon budget unless Congress agrees on an alternative.