10 strategic issues with Obama's East Asia "pivot"
A paramilitary policeman guards in front of an emblem of the Communist Party of China at Tiananmen Square on June 28, 2011 in Beijing, China. (Getty Images)
January 15th, 2012
06:14 PM ET

10 strategic issues with Obama's East Asia "pivot"

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

The Obama Administration recently released a military strategic guidance document, which calls for a strategic “pivot” from the Middle East to East Asia. This bold move replaces President George W. Bush’s “long war” against violent Islamic extremism with a new, ongoing effort to shape China’s military rise.

What are the strategic, military trade-offs of this historic shift? Wikistrat, the world’s first massively multiplayer online consultancy, recently tapped its global network of several hundred analysts to ponder this question. This online network offers a uniquely powerful and unprecedented strategic consulting service: the Internet's only central intelligence exchange for strategic analysis and forecasting, delivered - for the first time - in a real-time, interactive platform. Exclusive to GPS, here are Wikistrat’s top ten strategic, military issues to bear in mind as this “pivot” unfolds:

1. America will focus on machines, not people

A pivot to East Asia brings America back to its strategic roots of protecting the world’s oceans, airspace, and outer space – the global commons.  This mission is heavily dependent on machines such as aircraft carriers, stealth fighter jets, and satellites. It is less dependent on soldiers manning a distant battlefield.  Now, since machines – aka “platforms” – are super-expensive (e.g., billions for a single carrier), this shift will accelerate the already significant embrace of cheaper unmanned vehicles – drones that patrol the skies and seas, thus ensuring humans see even less of each other.

2. Cyberwarfare will grow fast; counterinsurgency will wither

Anthropologists are out and hackers are in.  America now prefers simply killing terrorists to the time-consuming and expensive task of winning “hearts and minds.” This means that the decade-long effort of the Army and Marines to revive this skill-set will go to waste – just as it did after Vietnam.  Expect the Pentagon to be forced to relearn all those lessons – yet again – somewhere down the road. Until then, bet on cyber security sucking up every loose dollar in the shrinking defense budget. The scary part? Mess up counter-insurgency and you get a quagmire, but mess up cyber warfare and . . . nobody’s quite sure what you get.

3. An East Asian replacement of NATO?

Europe’s population is rapidly aging and all its fiscal fights seem to be over growing entitlement burdens, so forget about our old allies being there for us when the shooting starts anywhere distant from their shores. Afghanistan drained NATO and Libya was its last-gasp stand. A strategic pivot to East Asia suggests that America will be highly incentivized to strengthen its existing bilateral military alliances into something more coherently anti-Chinese, if only to counter’s Beijing’s open attempts to foster regional economic integration that excludes the U.S. An East Asian NATO would be designed to keep America in, China down, and Russia – as always – out.

4. America, the arms merchant

Yes, U.S. defense spending will go down as the U.S. concentrates its presence in East Asia.  In an effort to compensate for it’s lack of presence, it will cover its strategic retreat from everywhere else by selling arms galore, like it’s been doing in the Middle East these past several years. Then there are all the arms to be sold to that “coalition of the nervous” in East Asia – Japan, Korea, Australia…namely, everybody but China. Cha-ching!

5. The decline of the Obama Doctrine

You witnessed the new drill in Libya: America provides some logistics, intelligence and firepower from afar, but expects other nations – as well as concerned locals – to really do the gritty fighting on the ground. It’s called “leading from behind” but it should really be described as “leading from above,” because it’s designed to keep the U.S. above the initial fray and subsequent quagmire. Question is: if NATO is slowly going out of business, who is going to wage these ground wars in its place? Look for the U.S. to expand ties with regional security groupings like the African Union and the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council.

6. China tries to stiff-arm the U.S. navy

China will spend even more on anti-ship ballistic missiles and – quite possibly – an accelerating arms race in space to deter American aircraft carriers from loitering around Taiwan. None of this deals with China’s actual security challenge of becoming increasingly reliant on raw materials and energy emanating from distant, historically unstable regions like the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. That means China will be forced to accept the U.S. global commons “policing role,” thus allowing Beijing to continue free-riding on U.S. military stabilization efforts outside of East Asia – something we’ve long complained about. That makes the Obama Doctrine approach seem even more tenuous as a long-term strategy.

7. America scares China

Think about it: a rising Asian power experiencing a fierce revival of nationalism and obsessed with its territorial sovereignty, armed with a rapidly growing economy that’s become dangerously dependent on foreign sources of energy and raw materials. As the Japanese before them, China perceives America as pursuing an encirclement strategy that conceivably chokes off access to those foreign sources. Toss in China’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreign colonial navies and you’ve got a dangerous recipe that’s guaranteed to elicit a hostile response from Beijing. Imperial Japan was a marginal economic player, whereas today’s China is the primary engine of global growth. That makes Obama’s strategic “pivot” one risky maneuver.

8. China resists American pressure

China is incentivized to back anti-Western rogue nations wherever they may be found – think Pakistan and Iran - in order to divert U.S. attention from East Asia. It also means Beijing should continue aggressively staking out advantageous investments in Central Asia, Africa and Latin America to further diminish Western – and specifically American – influence there. Bottom line? The more we squeeze China in East Asia, the more likely we’ll find ourselves on the strategic defensive closer to home.  Monroe Doctrine, anyone?

9. America's friends are confronted by Chinese money

The U.S. has a reputation for fickleness in its military alliances, whereas China has one for staying power – now backed by seemingly unlimited piles of U.S. dollars.  Yes, we may lock in nervous India, but does that simply push increasingly hostile Russia toward China? Over the long haul, we’ll have a tough time matching Beijing’s calculated largesse, meaning they can afford to buy more allies – particularly since we owe China so much money.

10. This “pivot” could be recalled at a moment’s notice

The Obama Administration’s shifting focus towards East Asia invites significant risk regarding the Middle East, where the Arab Spring can easily go bad and seriously threaten Israel, a key ally in the region.  At the very moment, the U.S. military “pivots” toward China, the region could slide back to state-on-state warfare – especially if Israel takes Iran’s bait and strikes its nuclear enrichment facilities in the next few months.  While reducing America’s costly focus on the Middle East sounds like great idea, it’s not really a strategy if a lesser power like Iran can revoke it at will.

Well, those are Wikistrat's  top ten strategic military concerns regarding the Obama administration’s announced “pivot” to East Asia.

Now it’s your turn to tell us which one you think is most important by commenting below. And be sure to check out more at Wikistrat.com, a cutting-edge global consultancy.

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Topics: East Asia • Military • Strategy • United States

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