Sunday, February 7, 2021

Biden reviews US global military presence with eye on China

One of the U.S. Navy's newest destroyers, the USS Rafael Peralta, arrived this week in Yokosuka, Japan, its new forward deployed location.

Shifting its home port from San Diego, California, the Rafael Peralta became on Thursday the 12th warship to be based in Yokosuka, alongside the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the command ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet, the USS Blue Ridge.

Adding a destroyer to a forward base is no small decision. The ship's 300-plus crew and their families move to the new location. But maintaining the most advanced ships as part of the forward deployment is vital for the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region, the 7th Fleet said.

And such moves are expected to increase as President Joe Biden embarks on a global force posture review.

"Defense Secretary [Lloyd] Austin will be leading a global posture review of our forces so that our military footprint is appropriately aligned with our foreign policy and national security priorities," Biden said Thursday during his first foreign policy speech. Any planned troop withdrawals from Germany will be put on hold until the review is complete, he added.

Trump last June unilaterally decided to cut the number of U.S. troops in Germany by one-third, saying the country was not paying enough for its own defense. The move, which came as Europe faced a growing Russian threat, was slammed by other NATO members.

"We will consult our allies and partners as we conduct this review," Austin said in a separate statement. Pausing the troop withdrawal signals the Biden administration's interest in working more closely with U.S. partners.

Aligning the U.S. military footprint with the administration's priority likely means a heavy focus on the Indo-Pacific region, where the U.S. and China are in a tug-of-war for influence.

Asia policy veteran Kurt Campbell, who Biden tapped to be his new Indo-Pacific coordinator at the National Security Council, proposed that Washington disperse American forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, in a Foreign Affairs article he co-wrote last month.

His co-author, Brookings Institution scholar Rush Doshi, has been chosen to serve as the NSC's China director.

The spreading out of troops "would reduce American reliance on a small number of vulnerable facilities in East Asia," Campbell and Doshi write.

Biden also is reportedly considering delaying the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Trump had pledged to reduce the U.S. military presence abroad during his campaign, and was eager to meet the May deadline under a peace deal reached with the Taliban. But some say Washington should plan its withdrawal in coordination with other NATO members in Afghanistan to ensure stability on the ground.

Every U.S. president adjusts the military in response to changing geopolitics. Following the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush placed a greater focus on mobile, asymmetric warfare against terrorist cells -- a shift from an army-led approach crafted during the Cold War.

Former President Barack Obama advocated rebalancing forces toward the Asia-Pacific, with the intent of reassigning units to Australia and the surrounding region from the Middle East and Europe. But the administration was unable to conclude its fight against terror groups like the Islamic State, so that vision failed to come to fruition.

Trump focused on spreading the cost of regional defense, so any security strategy tended to take a back seat. Japan and South Korea were pressed to pay more of the cost of stationing U.S. troops, with the less-than-subtle threat that those personnel would be withdrawn.

Those talks failed to reach a settlement during Trump's term, and Biden inherits the negotiations.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, proposed in a recent policy paper that the Biden administration declare that it will maintain current levels of U.S. forces in South Korea "until the North Korean nuclear, missile, and conventional force threats have been sufficiently reduced."

Europe is deepening its involvement in Asia. Germany looks to send a frigate to Japan while the U.K. will dispatch the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth to the Indian Ocean. These moves illustrate concern with Beijing's expansionist activity in the South China Sea.

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