A pivot to Asia, but how much is changing?
June 6th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

A pivot to Asia, but how much is changing?

By Mike Mount

A funny thing happened to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on his trip to Asia this week. He became a secretary of State of sorts. While he was going to a major regional defense conference to sell the new U.S. plan to shift more military focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, he was actually selling a diplomatic plan for the United States.

On the surface it looks very much like a Pentagon plan to bolster troops and equipment to the region. Panetta had plenty of defense talk at the Shangri-La Dialogue conference in Singapore to back that up.

"Over the next few years we will increase the number and the size of our exercises in the Pacific. We will also increase and more widely distribute our port visits, including in the important Indian Ocean region," Panetta told the conference-goers, who were from all over Asia.

"And by 2020 the Navy will re-posture its forces from today's roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans. That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines," he said.

But while Panetta extolled the virtues of the "pivot," the rebalance of U.S. forces to the Asia-Pacific region, below the surface very little will be changing militarily. Despite much of the rhetoric focusing on a build-up of forces to face off with a growing threat from China, it's more about Asia rise in importance overall. said Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"It's the place to be," he said.

"We are entering a period where the U.S. is really becoming more diplomatically and politically engaged in Southeast Asia, which is something the U.S. really has not done before," Cha said.

All in all, these moves will represent little change to the size of the U.S. military force in Asia, but will posture it for more mobility and better access to the regions where the United States is still very active, Cha said.

Ahead of Panetta's trip, the United States announced the movement of Marines from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to the U.S. southern Pacific territory of Guam. The move ended much of the controversy in Japan over the Marines, who were thought to have overstayed their welcome. There had been a U.S. base there since the end of World War II.

In Korea, thousands of U.S. troops will be moving out of the center of the capital city of Seoul to garrisons that are better suited for current U.S. and Korean military needs.

In Australia, the United States has rotating Marine units in the northern part of the country for the first time.

All the moves update Cold War postures the United States has had in the region and required new strategies, but the moves were what the United States has to have in the region, customized military relationships that show each country the United States is invested and paying attention to its needs, Cha said.

In Vietnam, Panetta was slowly trying to do the same, building a customized military relationship, and showing the United States will there for Vietnam. But because there is not a longstanding relationship, that trust will take some time.

While at the Singapore conference, Panetta said the new Pentagon effort will also be placing a premium on building partnerships with the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

"For the U.S., being able to deploy out of this part of the world in many ways is important. It's important that the force can get to Northeast Asia as well as swing through Southeast Asia as well as to get into the Indian Ocean," Cha said.

Others said the Pentagon is not telling the whole story, and this is not all about diplomacy.

"The administration's insistence that this is not really all about China is somewhat disingenuous," said Michael Mazza, a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research group.

"Chinese military modernization and its behavior in recent years, that is really driving our concerns with stability in the region," Mazza said.

In addition to the well publicized refurbished former Russian aircraft carrier the Chinese Navy has announced as its first, and the anti-carrier missiles the country is stockpiling, the Chinese are establishing a new range of ground, sea and air capabilities that are designed to hold off the United States.

If the Chinese are able to tie these capabilities together it will allow them to more easily pursue unification of Taiwan, their goals in the South China Sea and on the Korean peninsula, according to Mazza.

China's heavy-handed attitude in the region has made neighbors and regional countries worried. The Philippines is struggling with territorial rights over the Scarborough Shoals and China claims a large swath of water as its own in the South China Sea despite protests from at least six other countries.

While the United States is starting new plans to be more politically and diplomatically active in Southeast Asia, China is also trying to get in the game and has been cozying up to the same countries as the United States as it expands its influence in Southeast Asia. The relationship can seem attractive to these countries as they realize there are benefits to relationships with both the United States and China, economically and militarily.

Cha said that will not add up to military conflict between the two superpowers, but, "We are going to see a lot more activity, political and diplomatic competition in Southeast Asia as a result of this rebalance."

While Mazza thinks the Pentagon's rebalance plan is a sound one overall, the severe budget cuts facing the military will not allow the United States to follow through with its goals, leaving the United States in a vulnerable position inside Asia, despite Panetta's assurances.

Such a collapse militarily and diplomatically could be disastrous as the region is key to billions of dollars worth of trading and many of the countries are economic boom towns for U.S. investments.

"The air-sea battle, key to the rebalance plan against a threat from China, is a very capital-intensive effort and requires a lot of high-tech capabilities and the $500 million in budget cuts over the next 10 years are weakening our ability to carry out those plans," Mazza said.

China has been closely and quietly watching the U.S. plans unfold, casting a wary eye.

"All sides should strive to maintain and promote regional peace, stability and development," said Liu Weimin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, at a press conference this week. "Deliberate emphasis on military and security agendas, and strengthening military deployment and alliances are not in step with the times."

Weimin noted the region is where Chinese and American interests "converge the most."

"We welcome the United States to play a constructive role in the region, and hope the U.S. side will respect the interests of other relevant parties in Asia-Pacific including China," Weimin said.

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Filed under: Asia • Panetta
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Generally there is always a high percentage that you will be betrayed, so it is best to plan a response for the future, because you know you are going to be burnt.

    June 18, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      I converted to Islam last night, thus all the operations I conducted in the past went with me. Now I do not have to do anything.

      June 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
      • Matt

        I always had a prayer rugs hanging on the wall as a decoration, now I have cut it down so it can be used.

        June 18, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  2. SayanIndia

    To CNN moderators: Do not display any of my comments unless they come from my IP address.

    Plus permanently ban those IP addresses bent on abusing the forum.


    June 7, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  3. Ehud Meir

    Gentlemen...I am pleased to introduce.....

    PAKISTAN.....The New Gateway to Central Asia and Europe.
    With a population of over 180 million most of whom are well educated, English speaking, entrepreneurial and a cultural and social fit with Central Asians...Pakistan will now become the new face and gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan will thus span this region and provide the impetus for growth, prosperity and unity among these countries. These are new and exciting times for Pakistanis who should now look forward to their new leadership role aligned with Central Asia and Europe rather than the Subcontinent. We wish them much success as they have sacrificed the most during the past 30 + years creating a new world order.

    June 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • John

      Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce to you:

      The collapse of Pakistan.

      Pakistan is the region's most unstable, unreliable, and untrustworthy country in Asia, if not the world. It's economy is growing slower than most of sub-Saharan Africa, and its development indicators are worst than countries like Nigeria: with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. It's economic growth is outstripped by its uncontrolled population growth, it has no real functioning university system, and no successful companies have been founded or are established there.

      Concerning terrorism and instability, AQ Khan was at the centre of the worst nuclear proliferation scandal in recent history. Despite this, he's hailed as a hero in Pakistan. As well, Osama Bin Ladin called Pakistan home for years. The ISI and the "free" press routinely work together to put out propaganda (like the fake Wikileaks "Enough Evidence" article), and most of the terrorism networks in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, are based in Pakistan.

      In order for Asia to have a prosperous future, Pakistan should be divided into separate countries which would better manage the prosperity of their respective populations.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:06 am | Reply
  4. Ashok L. Krishnamurthy

    On behalf of all Indian Hindus, I apologize for the moronic and hateful being posted by my fellow Indians. I am ashamed of it. It reflects the deep rot that exists in our decadent Indian society.

    June 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  5. Sadiq Sabzwari

    Pakistan’s WMD Assets keep the neighbors and the world awake by its mere military symbolism both defensive and offensive. Therein lies its beauty as a deterrent.

    June 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • Albert Luskey

      India poses a clear and present danger to the regional security of the world. ...to USA...NATO...Pakistan and Afghanistan people and armed forces. Hindu cult extremism is on the rise and fanning all terrorism worldwide. Indians are the bankers to and financing terrorism and supporting Talibans and Al Qaeda and harboring them in India. These terrorists are being entertained in the Indian parliament building in New Delhi where they are residing and then smuggled over to Pakistan in Indian Army helicopters. Shame on these Indians. Like the NAZI's they need to be stopped forcefully and immediately.

      June 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
      • Brijesh

        Seriously Albert – you should look at a career in writing fiction!

        June 16, 2012 at 4:55 am |
      • Firoz Khan

        To Albert Luskey:
        Dude what the heck are you smoking? I mean I love my country too but this is outright fiction. Unfortunately I have to agree with Brijesh here. You know how stupid you sound here? It’s not like the old times when people in world knew only what was written on the newspaper or saw on TV. Everyone knows what’s going on around the world where or at least if they don’t know they can find out easily. So I suggest you stop making a fool of yourself.

        June 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  6. Gulgee - Pakistani

    Pakistan “RISING” has established itself as part of a very dynamic regional paradigm amalgamating it geographically with Central Asia, Middle East and Europe. While also situated at the gateway to the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan will also have access to the waters of the Caspian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Arabian Sea, China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This positions Pakistan at the crossroads to peace and prosperity in the world and economic well-being as well as military clout.

    June 7, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  7. Jim Rich

    Once I sat next to an Indian from Bangalore, India on a plane. I puked due to his body odor and had to change seats.

    June 7, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
    • krm1007 ©™

      you must have smelled paki my white friend lots of white pple confuse pakis and indians ... u should smell my ammis sn@tch ... its stinks lol

      June 7, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
      • Jim Rich

        For certain he was INDIAN HINDU as he said he was from Bangalore, India. I don't believe Bangalore is YET a part of Pakistan. yeah..You Agree?

        June 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
      • krm1007 ©™

        I agree @Jim Rich. Indians stink in all respects.

        June 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Brijesh

      So Jim – which part of his body were you sniffing? Lol

      June 16, 2012 at 4:57 am | Reply
  8. krm1007 ©™

    pakistan is our land of salwaars for men .. goats for boys ... donkeys for wives ... bras for taliban ...

    lullywood way better then bolywood .. brad pit and tom cruze was born in Pakistan ,,, we have 400 miss universe and

    3000 miss world most beautifull women in world

    June 7, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
    • SayanIndia

      It is a shame that China is kicking us Indians around like a football. Now they want to kick us out of the Chinese sea.

      June 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  9. krm1007 ©™

    isreal pakistan friendship forever ...

    we pakistanis invented air , cells, trees , salwaars and bras for men

    bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw

    June 7, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
  10. deepak ramaswamy

    i born in pakistan. i am indian hindu and love pakistan. Indians very bad people..please no trust them.

    Land that we love.
    Stand beside her, and guide her
    Thru the night with a light from above.
    From Kashmir to Karachi and onto New Delhi,
    And to the oceans, white with foam
    GOD BLESS PAKISTAN, Our home sweet home.

    June 7, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
    • krm1007 ©™

      i born in pakistan. i am indian hindu and love pakistan. Indians very bad people..please no trust them.

      bhaw bhaw bhaw
      bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw
      bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw

      June 7, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
  11. The American Patriot

    Now that we have annihilated the Al Qaeda and Talibans, it is time to focus on the terrorism in India against the Christians bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw
    bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw salwaaars .... khurse paki ..bhaw bhaws bhaw bahw

    June 7, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
  12. Ashok Mehra

    In some Haryana villages in India, the young girls are routinely threatened, abused and killed all under Khap (tribe/clan) verdicts. It is acceptable for the families to feed pesticide pills to the teenage girls and then dispose off their bodies by burning them without any police records.

    June 7, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply
    • The American Patriot

      you are right my hindu friend ...bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw

      June 7, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
  13. krm1007 ©™

    PAKISTAN.....The New Gateway to Central Asia and Europe.
    bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw
    bhaw bhaw bhaw ammmi jaaaaaan bhaw bhaw bhaw nuclear power bhaw bhaw bhaw

    June 7, 2012 at 9:52 am | Reply
    • No indians in my back yard

      you hit the nail on the head sir ..we need to split India and bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw
      bhaw bhaw nuclear power bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw ...kashmir bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bahw

      June 7, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
  14. SayanIndia

    Sadly Gandhi
    Among the various charges disclosed in the book: Gandhi not only slept in beds with young women under the age of 18, but also engaged in a long-term, gay affair with German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach, for whom India's peace icon at one point left his wife in 1908. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

    June 7, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  15. SayanIndia

    The bottom line is that the only way to have peace in Afghanistan and lessen regional tension is split India into pieces. It has become too big to govern or create any value for western countries or even for its own population. We have invested a lot of resources in India over the past two decades and given a lot of aid to prop it up. There has been no investment on this return. Instead India has squandered all the resources in building nuclear weapons while poverty remains rampant in the country. We need to revisit our relationship with India. American taxpayers will not tolerate this anymore. We need to take care of our own populace going forward. We cannot be exporting jobs to India or giving it financial or technical handouts.

    June 7, 2012 at 9:38 am | Reply
  16. krm1007 ©™

    as a pakistani i would say bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw bhaw

    June 7, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply
    • SayanIndia

      Based out of Goa, a western state in India with a substantial number of Christians, the Sanatan Sanstha provides the ideological base for Hindu militant groups. It has close links with the Sri Ram Sene and publishes a periodical, Sanatan Prabhat, which occasionally spews hate against Christians.

      June 7, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
  17. krm1007 ©™

    all know we pakistanis suck good d!ck 🙂

    June 7, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
    • SayanIndia

      The Hindu Dharam Sena has become especially terrifying for Christians in Jabalpur. Between 2006 and 2008, Jabalpur was plagued by at least three anti-Christian attacks every month, according to The Caravan magazine. In the western state of Gujarat and other parts of the country, the Rashtriya Jagran Manch has also violently attacked Christians, according to news website Counter Currents.

      June 7, 2012 at 9:43 am | Reply
  18. some guy

    Im bored of my mundane office life, lets attack each other and start WW3 ( M W 3) already.
    Christ man !! , No wonder women want to be in the armed forces , because its all yap yap yap !!

    June 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  19. SayanIndia

    I am looking foreword to Leon Panetta’s speech in New Delhi.

    In fact United States State Department will do a great favour it clears the sale/transfer of Israeli/United States Arrow 2/3 Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile (ATBM) to India and Elta El/M-2052 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for India’s ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

    Since the above mentioned facts require deliberations in both political and administrative levels I do not wish to elaborate the issues at present point.


    June 6, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • R Tagore

      The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power. The Talibans brought them down in a few days with some BB guns. It is all over for India. Its demise is in process and should be completed with Afghanistan withdrawal.

      June 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
      • SayanIndia

        @the coward Pakistani impersonator, If you compulsively love to display your idiocy and ignorance do find another forum, here you have already established yourself as a laughing stock.

        In fact in case of a major conflict how long Pakistan survives as a nation is now open to question.


        June 7, 2012 at 6:15 am |
  20. krm1007 ©™

    PAKISTAN.....The New Gateway to Central Asia and Europe.
    With a population of over 180 million most of whom are well educated, English speaking, entrepreneurial and a cultural and social fit with Central Asians...Pakistan will now become the new face and gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan will thus span this region and provide the impetus for growth, prosperity and unity among these countries. These are new and exciting times for Pakistanis who should now look forward to their new leadership role aligned with Central Asia and Europe rather than the Subcontinent. We wish them much success as they have sacrificed the most during the past 30 + years creating a new world order.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
  21. skeiron

    Well it makes sense to deploy more warships to the Pacific than to the Atlantic, first of all there's not much of a need for em in the Atlantic and if there should really be a major problem, the European countries also have a whole lot of warships including a couple of aircraft carriers.
    By 2020 also the Brits will have one or two active Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the French might add a second aircraft carrier to their fleet and there are also a couple of smaller aircraft carriers operated by Italy and Spain.

    June 6, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
  22. Clinton heads for freedom from obama

    the obama camp will continue to scatter as the polls falls , and Clinton is leaving and this may be a hint as to where Leon is going . But the election will remove that move from occuring

    June 6, 2012 at 1:52 am | Reply

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