In a speech at Duke University, Durham, N.C., Nov. 29, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined new security strategies and challenges that he said will define the nationís future in a post-war era of fiscal constraint.
Carter said the need to keep the departmentís ìfiscal house in orderî after more than a decade of war and under the threat of sequestration has spurred an approach of rebalancing and innovation as the Defense Department pivots to the Asia-Pacific region.
We in the Department of Defense are at a moment of great strategic consequence and great strategic transition; weíre at the confluence of two great forces,î Carter said. After almost 12 years of unrelenting and uninterrupted war Ö in two particular places, Iraq and Afghanistan – that era is coming to an end.
While Carter acknowledged the war in Afghanistan persists, he expressed confidence in the strategyís probability of success as U.S. forces draw down and Afghan security forces maintain stability.
ìÖ The principal requirement [is] to ensure the country is no longer a danger to the U.S.,î he said.
Looking forward, Carter said, military leadership determined that U.S. forces must be leaner, more agile, ready, and technologically advanced.
ìWe wanted to take steps to make the most effective use of our force in the era after Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
The new concept of readiness, according to Carter, nvolves preserving and building on the strength of the all-volunteer active duty, Guard and Reserve force developed during the last decade.
ìWe wanted to retain [the force] and we wanted to respect it [with] no sudden changes as the war came to an end, he said.
Carter said he also aims to shift the weight of intellectual effort to future challenges by continuing to invest in special operations forces, electronic warfare, and space and cyber technology.
These investment areas, he explained, will be best leveraged in the Asia-Pacific region, where a considerable amount of the U.S. future security and economic interests lie.
Carter noted the unique history of the region that he said never had NATO nor ìany structure to heal the wounds of World War II and yet it has had peace and stability for 70 years.
Because he credits sustained American military presence in the region with the long span of peace, Carter said his goal as the U.S. pivots to the Pacific is simple.
We want to keep on keeping on with what that region has: an environment of peace and stability in which the countries of the region — all of them — can continue to enjoy economic prosperity, Carter said.
As partnerships with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Australia continue to blossom, Carter said he urges broadening the U.S. military strategy to one of national strategy including economic engagement, long-standing principles of self-governance, and free, open access to commerce.
That environment is not a birthright, Carter said. ìItís something that results in important measure from the continued pivotal presence of the U.S. military in that region.
The U.S. will continue to work with new security partners such as India, Philippines, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations collective, and China while setting priorities for the kinds of capabilities that are relevant for the Asia-Pacific region, Carter said.
ìÖ We can enhance our Asia-Pacific region posture Ö because of the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which frees up capacity,î he added.
Therefore, Carter said, the U.S. will move more security assets into the region, such as the deployment of F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Japan and an expanding rotational bomber presence on Guam.
Key defense investments that remain shielded from budget cuts include KC-46 tanker aircraft, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technology and the Virginia Class submarine, which Carter said maintains ìunrivaled undersea dominance.î New training infrastructure involves joint, multi-lateral exercises designed to strengthen partnerships with nations in the Asia-Pacific region, he added.
ìPartners are a force multiplier for us, Carter said. ìWeíre not only emphasizing our existing alliances and partnerships, but [weíre also] trying as hard as we can to build new ones.
It is for these reasons, he said, that the U.S. can and will find the military capacity and intellectual resources to support the strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
But Carter shared a question he said is on the minds of many Americans: Can the U.S. accomplish these endeavors with the anticipated budget cuts?
As the DODís strategic juncture in history and the current era of fiscal belt-tightening overlap, Carter described the defense strategy as an ìan unprecedented processî in terms of the depth of presidential involvement.
Carter said President Barack Obama invested significant time and effort with defense leadership to develop strategic budgetary cuts.
Still, Carter explained, absent swift Congressional approval for follow-on measures to the Budget Control Act, sequestration could be disastrousî for national defense.
If it comes to pass, it will hollow out the force, he said.
In the meantime, Carter said he and other DOD officials remain resolute in the task of providing U.S. national security while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
We hope that by being good strategists and sound managers, we can continue to defend the country and enjoy the trust of the people itís our responsibility to defend, Carter said.