x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Obama to unveil strategy for a slimmed-down military

The US president is putting his personal stamp on a shifting Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defence budget cuts.

WASHINGTON // The US President, Barack Obama, is putting his personal stamp on a shifting Pentagon strategy for absorbing hundreds of billions of dollars in defence budget cuts, marking a turning point in security policy.

Mr Obama planned to announce results of a strategy review that he ordered last spring.

The aim was two-fold: streamline the military in an era of tighter budgets and reassess defence priorities in light of China's rise and other global changes.

The administration says smaller Pentagon budgets are a must but will not come at the cost of sapping the strength of the military.

In a presidential election year, the strategy gives Mr Obama a rhetorical tool to defend his Pentagon budget-cutting choices.

Republican contenders for the White House have criticised Mr Obama on a wide range of national security issues, including missile defence, Iran and planned reductions in ground forces.

Mr Obama wants the new strategy to represent a pivot point in his stewardship of defence policy, which has been burdened throughout his presidency by the wars he inherited. A prominent theme of the Pentagon's new strategy is expected to be what the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, called a renewed commitment to security in the Asia-Pacific region.

China is a particular worry because of its economic dynamism and rapid defence build-up.

A more immediate concern is Iran, not only for its threats to disrupt the flow of oil but also for its nuclear ambitions.

The strategy is not expected to radically alter defence priorities. But it may set the stage for expected cutbacks in Europe and big weapons programmes.

It will also move the US further from its long-standing goal of being able to fight two major regional warsat the same time. This takes into account a bigger focus on immediate threats such as cyber warfare and terrorism.

The administration and Congress are trimming defence spending to reflect the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan.

The $662 billion (Dh2.4 trillion) defence budget planned for next year is $27bn less than Mr Obama wanted and $43bn less than Congress gave the Pentagon this year.

Factors guiding the Obama administration's approach to reducing the defence budget are not limited to war-fighting strategy.

They also include judgments about how to contain the growing cost of military healthcare, pay and retirement benefits. The administration is expected to form a commission to study the issue of retirement benefits, possibly led by a retired military officer.

The administration is in the final stages of deciding specific cuts in the 2013 budget, which Mr Obama will submit to Congress next month.

On a trip to Asia last autumn, Mr Panetta made it clear that the region would be central to American security strategy.

"We are at a turning point after a decade of war," Mr Panetta said in Japan. vHe added that Al Qaeda was among a range of concerns that would keep the military busy, but as a traditional Pacific power, the US had to build a wider and deeper network of alliances and partnerships in that region.

Also looming over the defence budget debate is the prospect of reducing spending on nuclear weapons.

Thomas Collina, a research director at the Arms Control Association, believes the US nuclear programme can cut $45bn over the coming decade without weakening the force. He estimates that reducing the US strategic nuclear submarine force from 12 subs to eight could save $27bn over 10 years. A further $18 billion could be saved by delaying the building of a new fleet of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, he says.