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Russia: U.S. Considers Defense Policy Reorientation

  • Frank Csongos

The U.S. Defense Department is undertaking a comprehensive military review aimed at meeting post-Cold War challenges around the globe. One proposal reportedly under consideration would reorient the focus of U.S. military involvement from Europe to the Pacific. The new strategy is still being formulated and to be presented to President George W. Bush. Our Washington correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports.

Washington, 5 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The administration of President George W. Bush says it is assessing American military doctrine and the weapons systems needed to protect U.S. interests around the globe.

U.S. officials say the review is under way at the Defense Department. One key proposal said to be under consideration is reorienting the focus of U.S. military involvement from Europe to the Pacific.

Advocates of this policy say that with the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, Europe no longer faces a Cold War-type military threat. They say China -- with the world's largest population and a potentially huge economic market -- represents the greatest opportunity and challenge to America for the next 50 years.

Officials are reluctant to discuss publicly the specifics of the military review. But at a briefing this week the Defense Department's chief spokesman Admiral Craig Quigley provided the following perspective:

"The Pacific is very important. I mean, If you just look at the Pacific Command's area of responsibility, it is our largest unified command in the U.S. Department of Defense. You've got dozens of countries in that part of the world. We have very strong economic ties to that part of the world. Some of our strongest friends and allies in the world are in the Pacific region. So it's a very important part of the world to us."

Officials say Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's closely guarded study of military policy will guide the administration as it seeks to fulfill Bush's campaign pledge to improve the quality of the U.S. armed forces.

Andrew Marshall, the veteran Defense Department official running the strategic review, reportedly made the following key points to Rumsfeld:

The Pacific Ocean is the most likely theater of major U.S. military operations. China is becoming more powerful and Russia less so. This would require a reorientation of a half-century-old defense policy that focused on keeping the peace in Europe and deterring the Soviet Union.

Operating more effectively in the Pacific will require an additional emphasis on long-range power projection. That means greater attention to airlift capacity of troops and firepower.

Huge aircraft carriers are expensive and vulnerable. One alternative would be to start designing a new, smaller carrier that is less vulnerable to missiles.

President Bush told a joint session of the U.S. Congress in February that America must disregard as no longer relevant Cold War military doctrines. Bush repeated his call for developing a missile defense system aimed at rogue nations such as Iraq and North Korea and possibly Iran. Both Russia and China oppose the idea.

Edward McCord is a professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington. He told RFE/RL that the Bush administration believes the threat to America comes from Asia, and is acting accordingly. "They want to have some kind of focus, and if it's an enemy, that actually is more beneficial also for policy reasons, I think -- to have somebody that you can point to as a threat in some ways. And China is seen as a threat, you know, both strategically and economically."

McCord says he does not believe that such a policy is realistic. First, he argues, the U.S. does not face the same kind of military threat that it did during the Cold War. And on the economic front, he says, Japan is more of threat than China. "I don't think China's either our strategic partner or our strategic competitor. I don't think those are actually useful terms."

McCord says that it would be a mistake if the Bush administration decides to focus so negatively on China. He says this would confirm the worst fears of the Chinese that the U.S. is trying to keep their country from achieving its economic and strategic potential. He said the Chinese would view the American attitude this way: "We realize that China is a danger to us, a threat to us because they're getting powerful. We don't want anybody else powerful in the world, except ourselves, and that we'll do anything we can to keep them back."

"The Wall Street Journal," an influential American newspaper specializing in business affairs, reported 3 April that Bush now finds himself in the awkward position of how best to deal with China.

The newspaper said that on one side stand strong national security advocates. In the other are advocates of improved business relations with China.

The first group, says the newspaper, views China as an expansionist power with a growing military and a resolve to eclipse American influence.

To the Beijing-friendly business lobby, it says, China is a lucrative market and manufacturing site, and just as important, a country where economic progress is making old security worries obsolete.

The tension between the United States and China over an American reconnaissance plane stranded on a Chinese runway, and the fate of its 24-member crew, has underscored the fragility of Sino-American relations. It is yet to be seen which camp, if any, the Bush administration will embrace.

(Washington correspondent Andrew F. Tully contributed to this report)

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