Monday, July 02, 2012

To the Shores of the Pivot

I like Max Boot's writing, but in regard to the pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, I can't go along with this argument against a ground force pivot--even though he argues for maintaining ground force strength--at all:

Naturally the Army and Marine Corps have been compelled to march in step. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, seldom lets a speech pass without noting that "seven out of the 10 largest armies are in the Pacific, and 22 of the 27 nations in the region have an army officer as chief of defense." Hence, he argues, the Army has a vital role in building "relationships [that] will help us in the long run in the Pacific." Not to be left behind, the Marine Corps has already dispatched 2,500 Marines to Darwin, Australia, where the greatest danger they are likely to face is alcohol poisoning. ...

To be meaningful, the "Pacific pivot" would need to reverse the decline in procurement of aerial and naval weapons systems — and that, in turn, would require reversing the decline in the defense budget.

As for the Army and Marine Corps, shifting their focus to the Pacific would be ill-advised.

The only contingency that could call for a substantial deployment of ground troops to the region would be another Korean war or an implosion of North Korea — and even then, the large and capable South Korean forces would be in the lead, with the U.S. primarily providing intelligence and air power. Korea aside, the Army and Marines in the Pacific will in all likelihood be limited to exercises with allied ground forces. No one imagines U.S. troops marching on Beijing.

In a sense, I have no problem with saying that the Army shouldn't shift their focus to the Pacific at the expense of the rest of the world. The Marines, too, for that matter, although they have more reason to shift focus there.

And I certainly don't think that we need to shift forces. I don't think we need to move Army brigades to the Pacific.

But the idea that the Army and Marine Corps have no missions in the Pacific is nonsense. Saying South Korea can handle North Korea, so we don't need troops there; and then saying we won't be marching on Peking, so there is no mission at all, is nonsense.

Since I recently submitted a paper on this issue, I won't go into it too much. But I've already noted that the South China Sea is a perfect mission for those Australia-based Marines. Alcohol-poisoning, indeed. A very clever line, but useless for strategy.

And I can think of more than a handful of missions for a 5-division ground force from Russia in the north to India at the other end of that arc. Keep going west from there and you get to CENTCOM, of course. I'd never argue we have no potential ground missions there.

Yes, we aren't going to march on China's capital. But there are plenty of missions for small and medium-sized armies on and near the continent of Asia.

And including ground forces in our Pacific pivot has nothing to do about trendiness. I want enemies to worry about our excellent and victorious Army and Marine Corps showing up to deal with them. And I want our friends to have the warm feeling of protection when pondering that Army and Marine units could deploy or fight at their side.