June 9, 2012
NEW YORK – US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the major portion of US naval power will shift to the Pacific by 2020 as part of the Pentagon’s new “pivot to Asia” strategy. Though not totally unexpected, this news has caused quite a stir across Asia and raised tempers in China.

However, there’s rather less to this redeployment of naval forces than meets the eye. The US Navy has long kept half of its warships, aircraft, and logistics vessels in the Pacific. The new plan will see a modest increase in US naval forces in Asian waters; the ratio of Pacific to Atlantic naval units will increase to 60/40 or slightly more.

More of America’s 11 attack carriers will sail the Pacific. The Marine Corps, with its own air wings (“the Navy’s army” as wags call it), will increase its presence in the Pacific theater.

A 2,500-man US Marine expeditionary force is being stationed in remote northern Australia. It is far enough from China to be of little military use, but close enough to raise tensions with Beijing and Jakarta. Its mission, besides bracing Aussie spirits, is uncertain.

But US grand strategy is clear. Just as the US sought to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War by surrounding it with American allies and bases, so Washington plans to do with China.

America is creating a sweeping arc of allies and bases that begins in Singapore, and moves northeast to the Philippines, then Taiwan, Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea, neatly bottling up China’s expanding naval forces. India is being encouraged to build powerful naval forces that can threaten China’s oil routes to the Mideast and keep its navy out of the Indian Ocean.

Other US navel forces – the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, and units patrolling the Indian Ocean – will support the US 7th Fleet that has ruled the western Pacific since 1944.

Shifting naval units from the Atlantic to Pacific is not a major undertaking for the US. After the severe decline of Russia’s once mighty Red Banner Northern and Baltic fleets, there is no longer any major naval threat in the Atlantic. The days when packs of Soviet submarines were poised near Iceland to break into the North Atlantic to cut North America’s links with Europe are long gone.

The Mediterranean is an American lake.

But even with the new Pacific redeployment, the US Navy will be hard-pressed to maintain its former domination of the region.

America’s navy has shrunken to around 310 warships and 3,700 aircraft from the 600 ships planned during the 1980’s. Even so, the mighty US Navy remains larger than the next eleven navies combined. As a French admiral told me, the US Navy’s budget exceeds France’s total defense budget.

China’s rapid development of anti-ship missiles, submarines, space-based sensors, and a new anti-carrier ballistic missile, the DF21-D, increasingly alarms the US Navy and may force its attack carriers to operate far from Asia’s coasts. In fact, huge aircraft carriers are ever more vulnerable to attack and will eventually be made obsolete by drones and missiles.

However, naval forces are no longer the primary expression of America’s power. The US Air Force has dominated much of the non-communist globe since the 1950’s and serves America’s strategic interests in the same way the Royal Navy imposed the British Empire’s military and commercial power. Air power has played the decisive role in all of America’s military victories since World War I.

The Pentagon plans to strengthen its Pacific air power. This likely includes re-establishing US air bases in the Philippines and Australia, and expanding air bases in Guam, Okinawa, and South Korea.

America has been at war for decades. Its aircraft and warships are aging rapidly. Equally threatening, Congress may force deep military spending cuts as deficits worsen – at a time when the US military is being ordered to keep China bottled up on the Asian mainland.

China need only build its military power close to home. The United States must project and maintain its naval and air power 10,000 km across the Pacific Ocean, a hugely expensive, complex undertaking that gives cash-rich China an important, even decisive advantage.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2012

For German translation of above column please go to:

This post is in: Asia, Military and Security Affairs


  1. oshii_midori says:

    I wish we (Japan) can get the U.S. military out of our country and remove the bullseye that they paint on us for China. We do not desire the war with China that the Americans want so badly that they drool over the thought. My father is retired JASDF pilot and his friends come to the house often and they secretly say that the U.S. is more of a threat to Asia than China.

  2. War and Peace says:

    Now this might be the news. why 65 nauticles away go even closer so that the Baluch atleast enjoy this amazing piece of engneering.


    • Zeeshan7 says:

      There has been a decades long insurgency in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan that remained largely unknown to the world and uninteresting to world leaders; until now. With the US-Pakistan relationship on tenterhooks over increasing differences about Afghanistan, the US recently passed a bill in the house, recognizing the Baluch uprising and sending Pakistan a strong message.
      Needless to say, the hypocrisy factor stinks like high hell. No one cared for a few Blauch insurgents, but now they will suddenly be called freedom fighters in the US press (Oh, and they also has the second largest deposit of natural gas in the world)

  3. philmar says:

    “The US needs to take a real hard look at its own shortcomings. Otherwise, in failing to do so, it will likely follow the same path as those of the old colonial empires.”

    America is controlled by a ruling oil-based oligarcy. It rules under their own self-interest, not that of the country or it’s people. It props up compliant dictators (House of Saud in Arabia) and discards ones no longer of use (like former client Saddam). The current path may lead to American bankruptcy and collapse but the current crop of scumbags pulling the strings will be dead by then. It is short-term thinking in the interests of a few old men and stockholders.

    • solum temptare possumus says:

      “The wrong sort of people are always in power,
      Because they would not be in power,
      If they were not the wrong sort of people”
      Jon wynne-Tyson
      British Humourist

      Not really so funny in todays context!

      This is more realistic and appropo:

      “The good old rule
      Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
      That they should take, who have the power,
      And they should keep who can.”
      [ from Rob Roy’s grave stone ]
      William Wordsworth
      British Poet 1676-1745

      They have the power and they can keep it.
      Ad iudicium

  4. philmar says:

    “The second world war was won by the Germans.”

    And another such victory will destroy them.
    The truth is that NOBODY won WWII. EVERYBODY lost.

  5. War and Peace says:

    For an attack you need at least three aircraft carriers which cost somewhere between 5 to 10 billion dollars + the 3000+ crew and 60+ aircrafts and if they somehow sink these carriers would we be able to absorb these cost not to mention the trade dimension between US and China how it’s gonna impact the economy.  

    So, we can move around these toys I don’t think they bear any significance to China. It might to us but not to Chinese.

  6. Eric states, “But US grand strategy is clear. Just as the US sought to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War by surrounding it with American allies and bases, so Washington plans to do with China.”

    From the BBC:

    “The US has exempted seven countries from economic sanctions in return for cutting imports of Iranian oil.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said waivers were granted to India, South Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Turkey.

    Under a US law signed in December, countries have until 28 June to greatly reduce oil imports from Iran or be cut off from the US financial system.

    Pressure on China

    In March the US granted exceptions to Japan and 10 EU countries for cutting their imports of Iranian petroleum.

    Correspondents say the latest move puts pressure on China, which is Iran’s biggest oil customer, to also cut its imports.”

    Coincidence… I think NOT!

  7. War and Peace says:

    Chinese are very creative bold and brave nation. Long March and how they get rid of opium are two examples that comes to mind. Now that they are covering grounds on economic front it will be real hard for any nation to challenge them.

    The nation with 1.3 billion population of which 815 million are in labor pool. In 2010 Chinese bought 11 million cars and US consumers bought nine million cars. They recently made an agreement with Japan to trade in each other currencies which makes you wonder, as these are the two countries that are major buyers of US treasury bonds.

    China is not Japan in Second World War where the blockade did the magic trick for allied forces. US can not out smart Chinese if it came to confrontation. They have the wits and guts to pull something
    out of their hiny.

    The question for USA is of survival forget about China or any other country or mythical bonanza such as Turrarezim. The BRIC being the core and eleven growth economies on the periphery are fast becoming a giant storm that will kill the US dollar before its natural death. If you are not worrying about it then don’t go to the nearest bar and have champagne 😉 because I am already there.

  8. Eric states, “China’s rapid development of anti-ship missiles, submarines, space-based sensors, and a new anti-carrier ballistic missile, the DF21-D, increasingly alarms the US Navy…”

    With the increased dependence on satellite imagery and GPS, he may have included China’s anti-satellite weaponry… there was a bit of a fluff when China successfully tested this.

  9. A year back I came across an article by Paul Craig Roberts which alleged that Washington would attempt to thwart China’s rise by fomenting war between China and India.Roberts does not seem a nutcase-he was part of the ‘Reaganomics’ team during the Reagan administration.The Chinese leadership is probably too smart to fall for this ploy.I have my doubts about the populist Indian leadership not to mention the jingoistic Indian public and media-as Mr margolis has pointed out in “War on top of the world’.The worst atrocities of the ‘British Raj’ in India were committed by imbecilic Indian soldiers and politicians willing to follow the Brits.

  10. solum temptare possumus says:

    Britain ruled the waves. The sun Never Set over the British Empire.

    “Rule Britannia, Britannia Rule the Waves,
    Britons Never, Never, Never Shall be Slaves”

    And look where it got them!

    I wonder why the US of A can’t learn from recent History?

    Ad iudicium

  11. Mike Smith says:

    ” More of America’s 11 attack carriers will sail the Pacific ”

    A bit of an exaggeration..
    Enterprise is scheduled for deactivation in December
    the Ford will not enter the fleet until 2015, when I suspect they will announce the deactivation of the Nimitz.
    Still Ten Carrier groups is more than the Americans can afford to operate
    and with maintenance and training cycles I would suggest they could field no more than six at one time while maintaining any sort of depth.
    Say four of those six in the Pacific area (I still think that is a stretch)
    you would have around 300 aircraft facing around 2000 Chinese aircraft operating from the mainland, 2 to 4 aircraft carriers of their own, land based missiles of both the cruise missile and ballistic missile variety, plus the ships of the PLAN.
    I read a interview with a retired Chinese Admiral suggesting the Chinese would attack in successive waves, using older cheaper missiles to cause the Americans to expend their SM2 defenses, followed by their first line weapons.
    The USAF would face a gauntlet of defenses to attack into China, and I would also suggest the few Stealth bombers the Americans have would not function well against China with its newer radar systems designed to defeat just such an attack.
    Any American force off mainland China is toast.
    The idea of cutting off China from the Persian Gulf and its oil might appeal to the Americans, this is similar to their naval strategy in WW2 against Japan
    China is building a port in Pakistan giving them a forward base
    China is also enjoying warming relations with Russia, who could also supply their oil needs.
    My take is the American Military is rattling their bankrupted sabers in an effort to keep their funding from being cut back.

  12. malk1956 says:

    Eric, this is a brief, yet insightful, analysis of America’s road to self imposed decline as the world’s last superpower.
    The US needs to take a real hard look at its own shortcomings. Otherwise, in failing to do so, it will likely follow the same path as those of the old colonial empires.

  13. It is all part of slowly bleeding your enemy to death. What a beautiful system. And you don`t even have to make anybody hate anybody else. You don`t need religion to accomplish your goal. Your enemy will self destruct by falling victim to his own vices. Unlike the US, China has its own money and runs its own show. They do not let any foreign power take over their government. Sure money is important to them, but it is not a priority above their culture and identity. China has a very cohesive culture and they never sacrificed discipline on any level and that is, where they come out ahead. All the American sabre rattling in the Pacific is not going to win any wars.
    Which was the last war, they actually won? The second world war was won by the Germans. Sure they lost the battle, but won the war. Look where Germany is today. The US sure did not win the Vietnam war. Iraq is a mess and Afghanistan is like a millstone around their neck. Then there is Lybia, another invalid excuse to invade an oil-rich country with a leader, who tried to do something for his country and African continent, by creating his own style IMF. That was just as dangerous as Saddam asking to be paid for his oil in currency other than the US dollar and look what happened to him and his country. And who ends up paying for all the expenses and damages? Whose lives are wasted? Not the rich. They get richer from all these wars. The US have made too many enemies around the world to go to sleep with both eyes closed.

    • I think your observations are generally correct with the exception, “They do not let any foreign power take over their government. Sure money is important to them, but it is not a priority above their culture and identity. China has a very cohesive culture and they never sacrificed discipline on any level…”

      I think the Chinese are slowly developing ‘American creep’, and greed is becoming more prominent…

    • Zeeshan7 says:

      “The second world war was won by the Germans.”

      Cicero, it is interesting you say that. I heard the same comment almost 15 years ago when I worked as a summer intern in Dubai for a small local company. The director there was an older German guy, who had lived in the middle-east for decades. He made that comment once and I was too young and tuned-out to understand what he meant.
      In the years ahead, as my interest in history and WW2 grew, I often wondered about what he said. I suppose militarily, one may win a battle. But the outcome of the war is at times decided years after the actual military conflict is over.
      My sentiments were that Germany had risen out of the economic stranglehold as a result of the war, before which it had plunged and caused skyrocketing inflation (a famous cartoon from the 30s of a German citizen carrying a wheelbarrow of deutschmarks to buy a loaf of bread)
      In the end, the war served to level the playing field, so to speak. Germany came out strongest than the rest of Europe and is standing firm in the midst of the euro economic crises.
      The propaganda makes the German’s look inherently evil. The Allies weren’t the ‘good guys’ in this story, as they are often portrayed on the History Channel.
      My grandfather grew up during the days of the British Raj in India, and would tell me how the British hung signs outside government buildings that said , ‘Dogs and Indians Not Allowed’….it was a psychological effort at breaking the generational Indian psyche and has its effects to this day. The US wouldn’t let colored people sit on the same side of the bus. So in the midst of all this, were the nazis any different than those around them?

  14. Although many Americans believe that Reagan was responsible for ‘spending’ the Russians into bankruptcy… we now have the Chinese doing this to the Americans…

  15. The continents of Asia and Africa contain a full three-quarter’s of the world’s population. Just sayin’…

    Jerusalem to become Egypt’s capital under Mursi’s rule, says Muslim cleric

    Better get your ducks in a row!

  16. JEOutram says:

    China is paying for the US military. The Chinese government needs only to figure out how to maintain economic stability if not modest growth while denying the US money and wait. Until the US learns how to stimulate real growth and stop using other peoples money China really does not need to worry. It seems to be self destructive for the US to bite the hand that feeds them by surrounding China with military might. Why does America always need an enemy anyway?
    Maybe you can answer that question Eric.

    • America needs an enemy to justify it’s insane military spending. The public will no longer buy the imaginary threat of terrorism. It’s pure Machiavelli A Government needs an outside enemy for the people to cling to it’s government for protection. Without the enemy the public will turn on the government.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.