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The Grim Implications of Obama’s New Defense Plan


In early January the Obama Administration released the Pentagon’s new Guidance, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. It is clearly designed less to cut U.S. military spending than to reorder Pentagon priorities to ensure full spectrum dominance (dominating any nation, anywhere, at any time, at any level of force) for the first decades of the 21st century. As President Obama himself said, after the near-doubling of military spending during the Bush era, the Guidance will slow the growth of military spending, “but…it will still grow:, in fact by 4% in the coming year.”

The new doctrine places China and Iran at the center of U.S. “security” concerns. It thus prioritizes expansion of U.S. war making capacities in Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans, by “rebalanc[ing] toward the Asia-Pacific region…empahsiz[ing] our existing alliances.” This means Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and now Australia and India as the U.S. “pivots” from Iraq and Afghanistan to the heartland of the 21st century global economy, Asia and the Pacific.  The implications for Okinawa and Japan should be clear: Washington will be doing all that it can to ensure that Japan remains its unsinkable aircraft carrier, including pressing for construction of the new air base in Henoko.

Russia “remains important,” but the priorities are ensuring that China’s rise occurs within the post-WWII global systems dominated by the West and Japan. The Iran focus is to ensure that Tehran’s ambitions do not jeopardize the West’s neo-colonial control of Middle East oil essential to their economies and militaries.

China and Iran are thus the primary targets of: weapons systems to be developed; of expanded U.S. military alliances, bases, access agreements and an increased tempo of military exercises; as well as advanced cyber and space war capabilities.

Related to Middle East oil, the Guidance explicitly stresses NATO’s out of area (read Global South) responsibilities “in this resource-constrained era.” This is to be reinforced by the counter-terrorist operations on a global scale, including increased emphasis on covert Special Forces operations. And, among the many fault-lines of the Guidance is the emphasis given to financial and war-fighting “burden-sharing” by NATO and other U.S. allies, goals unlikely to be achieved midst Europe’s economic meltdown.

The Guidance signals that the President’s National Security Council is currently conducting a nuclear posture review that could at least minimally reduce the roles of nuclear weapons in U.S. war fighting doctrines and the numbers of weapons in the U.S. arsenal in a second Obama administration. This needs to be seen in the contexts of the President’s Prague speech, as well as the political extortion that led him to embrace the $185 billion increase in spending for new nuclear weapons and delivery systems over the next decade in order to win New START Treaty ratification.

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Disarmament Coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee and Director of the AFSC’s Peace and Economic Security Program in New England.

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