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In Asia-Pacific, Army policy not one of containment

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2013) -- Despite a Department of Defense focus on the Asia-Pacific region, there is no Army policy to "contain" China, said the service's senior-most officer.

Speaking before an audience July 29, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno explained the service's new interest in the Pacific region -- a focus driven by a national defense strategy released in 2012.

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Speaking before an audience July 29, 2013, at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno explained the service's new interest in the Pacific region -- a focus driven by a new national defense strategy released in 2012.

While the Army has interest in that part of the world, Odierno said, it does not have an interest in "containment."

"Where you get into that policy of containment is where you start having large land forces forward-stationed in countries. That is not our plan," Odierno said.

Instead, the Army plans to develop military-to-military relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, a location where, he said, it is the army that is most often the largest and most prominent military service. One such example is India.

"We'll continue to build partner capacity, continue to do exercises ... missions from humanitarian assistance to disaster relief," Odierno said. "It's about building cooperation, about building confidence, so we can work together to resolve and continue to move forward together in the Asia-Pacific region -- to include China. This policy is not to exclude China, it is to work with China. So everyone has the opportunity to continue to move forward."

More specifically, Odierno said that as the Army partners with countries in the Asia-Pacific region for exercises and other cooperative engagements, it is doing so to help the U.S. Pacific Command commander develop relationships in that part of the world -- not to exclude anyone.

"Ours is not to contain China, ours is to build relationships, to build better support to the U.S. Pacific Command commander as he attempts to ensure that we don't get into conflict -- that we don't build animosity between all the major powers in Asia-Pacific," Odierno said.

Most recently, the general returned from a trip to the Asia-Pacific region, where he visited India. During that trip, he met with defense leaders in that country, including his counterpart there, India Chief of Army Staff Gen. Bikram Singh.

Odierno said that while talking, the two realized how much the United States and India have in common.

We are "the two largest democracies in the world," he said. "We are based on a professional army. Two very professional armies. There is much that we can do together to learn from each other."

The general also said the two discussed "the way ahead" in that region of the world and the importance of operations there. He was also able to visit the India Northern Command, responsible for borders with Pakistan and China, and was able to meet with staff and commanders there.

"What really caught me was is what they have been doing for the last 20 years, is what we've been doing for the last 12 years -- counter-insurgency," he said. "There is a lot of knowledge we can share. I think that will be the basis of our continued relationship -- the sharing of information about what they face on a day-to-day to basis."

He also said that with India, as with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, there are opportunities for professional development, development of leaders, and sharing of techniques.

"It is important for us to build Army-to-Army relationships with them as we continue to work our strategy, as we continue to rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region," Odierno said.


Odierno also addressed the effects of budget cuts on readiness and troop strength.

Initial budget cuts aimed at the Department of Defense as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 -- about $487 billion over ten years -- meant the Army had to reduce its size to about 490,000 Soldiers. That's a reduction of about 80,000 Soldiers.

Though "sequestration" was described in the act, that part of the law was not guaranteed to kick in unless members of a congressional "super committee" failed to come to a budget-cutting agreement on their own. When that failed to happen, the sequestration kicked in, January 2013. That meant for the DOD an additional $500 billion in cuts over the next ten years -- for a total of about $987 billion in cuts over a decade.

It is possible that Congress could find a different way than the current sequester to save money, and that the $500 billion in cuts to DOD over the next ten years might not continue. If the sequester does continue, however, and cuts continue to come at the same pace, Odierno has said that additional cuts to end strength will be needed. More than 100,000 Soldiers, in addition to the 80,000 already being cut, may need to go, if sequestration continues as planned.

Those cuts do not bode well for the Army's mission of providing ready-troops to combatant commanders, Odierno said. As the chief of staff of the Army, Odierno' s role is to maintain a balance between modernization, readiness and end-strength.

"I would tell you the way we go about it is not right," he said of the cost-cutting efforts implemented by sequestration. "It's so fast, it gets us really out of balance."

The general said the rate that continued sequestration would force him to cut Soldiers from the ranks will create an imbalance that affects both modernization and readiness.

"If I am asked to deploy 20,000 Soldiers, I'm not sure I can guarantee they are trained to the level I think they should be over the next two or three years, because of the way sequestration is being enacted," he said.

He said if he is asked to deploy Soldiers for instance, the Army will have them ready to go; but the cost to do that could be high.

"They will not have been able to train collectively to a level we like," he said. "Operations will take longer. But most importantly, it probably means more casualties."

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