AFTER a decade dedicated to the “war on terror” and two long and costly land wars, the US has already shifted strategic gears. It has left Iraq, mission largely unaccomplished; will withdraw most if not all its troops from Afghanistan; have a smaller footprint in the Middle East and Europe; fight terrorism mostly from the sky and through surrogates; lead from behind in regional conflicts; and pivot to Asia to contain a rising China.

According to a March 25 New York Times report, ‘Rethinking US Security Strategy’, by Hans Binnendijk, the new US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, has asked the Pentagon to review and develop a new US national security strategy. Apart from the aforementioned elements “already on the table”, the new strategy will compensate for the anticipated defence budget cuts by adopting one of two proposals for greater “burden sharing” between the US and its “allies and partners”.

One concept is “offshore balancing” — which would withdraw most US forces from Europe and the Middle East and exert US influence through “regional powers”. The second concept is “forward partnering” — which would continue the “stress” on forward force deployments but with a new purpose: “to enable America’s global partners to operate together with US forces and to encourage partners to take the lead in their own neighbourhoods”.

Apart from America’s traditional European and Asian allies, these partners would include “emerging democracies, like Brazil, India and Indonesia and “regional organisations, such as the African Union, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council…”.

The first concept is reportedly opposed by some as implying a significant erosion of US global influence. The second — forward partnering — may secure easier consensus in Washington.

But there are deep flaws in many of the assumptions underlying the proposed strategy. Most importantly, the US is unlikely to be able to rely on the will and capability of its presumed partners and allies.

While “leading from behind” has been advertised as a winning strategy in Libya and Mali, and its emulation advocated for Syria, the fact is that the Libyan operation revealed the restricted fighting capabilities and cohesion of the European powers. France’s Mali intervention will be short. Chadian soldiers were the only effective African partners. Beset by financial woes, Europeans are slashing defence budgets and have no stomach to fight in faraway places.

In Asia, the alliances being built by the US around China are likely to provoke the very Chinese reaction they aim to avoid. Only Japan could add weight to a US-led Asian alliance. But, as witnessed in the recent islands stand-off, Japan is chary of a confrontation with China. The South Korean military alliance is as much a liability as an asset for the US. Recent developments have added to the danger of an unintended conflict on the peninsula in which the US could become involved.

Smaller Asian countries, like the Philippines and Vietnam, if encouraged to confront China, will be shown up. This happened to Manila recently. Such incidents will erode US influence in these states.

Other significant Asian military powers — India, Indonesia and Australia — will “partner” with the US only when it suits their own regional interest. China is their largest economic partner. All three wish to maintain good relations with both the US and China. Even India’s ambitions to emerge as China’s equal have been tempered by its recent economic slowdown and its more immediate goal: to establish its dominance in South Asia and adjacent areas. India will be extremely cautious about provoking China, even if it enjoys US support.

US partnerships with chosen regional powers (called “regional influentials” in the Carter administration’s version of a similar strategy), will be opposed by their local rivals.

A few years ago, the attempt by the so-called G-4 to secure permanent seats on the Security Council provoked regional resistance, pitting Germany against Italy, India against Pakistan, Brazil against Argentina, Mexico and Colombia, Japan against China and South Africa and Nigeria against Egypt, Algeria and Kenya. American anointment of elite regional military powers could crystallise regional conflicts rather than contain them.

More fundamentally, is it essential for the US to “contain” China militarily as it did the Soviet Union? Where is the Chinese threat to America? What of the costs this will impose on the mutually dependent US and Chinese economies and on global growth? How will this affect the cooperative solutions needed to meet global challenges, such as climate change and world poverty?

Attempts to preserve the present US global pre-eminence are already evoking the anticipated responses. Last week, China made common cause with a disgruntled Russia. The common thread holding the Brics countries together is resistance to US and European domination of global affairs and institutions.

While its “new” strategy may precipitate new problems, the US has not found solutions for the challenges it confronted or provoked during the last decade.

In the absence of political solutions to local issues in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Sahara, killing terrorists with drones and in special operations is likely to reinforce rather than decimate Al Qaeda and its affiliates. A permanent “Fortress America” is not the “exceptional” country that Americans desire.

Nor does the new strategy, as outlined in the NYT article, address America’s deep problems with the Arab and Muslim world. This will require ending partisan support to Israel and acquiring the ability to partner with the “Islamists” who are winning elections in a growing number of Muslim countries. It will also require an informed strategy to steer a path between sectarian and regional schisms in the Islamic world.

Military strategies are important guideposts for policy and tactics. It is thus paramount that strategies be based on accurate assumptions and analysis of current and emerging circumstances. Mistakes can be costly — as the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have so vividly demonstrated.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

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Comments (15)

umesh bhagwat
March 31, 2013 2:57 am
The reality is that the US is largely a regional power now! The balance of power is shifting to the East and the US would be well advised to abandon its Domino theory!
Pavas Ambashta
March 31, 2013 5:04 am
Care to explain How military alliance with South Korea is a liability for the US??
pathanoo
March 31, 2013 3:02 pm
Do you have any suggestions for America, Mr. Munir Akram ? Or are you the arm chair critic with nothing else better to do but snort once in a while as your previous articles clearly show? Your article is so much a jumble of confused thoughts; it seems you are trying to fight your way out of a paper bag.
Anjaan
March 31, 2013 4:07 pm
This article is too predictable ..... promoting China's cause be a Pakistani..... discouraging the current American initiatives to strengthen the nations, that have long standing disputes with China. America's new policy initiative is likely to benefit many nations, particularly India, which no Pakistani would be happy about ..... this article all about India, in the garb of global concern ........
Robin Akbar
March 31, 2013 5:19 pm
Please do not predict the future of USA. She will remain a super power wether you like it or not. China and Russia will not stand against her. USA has a secret weapon which will keep her on the top.
Park Sung
March 31, 2013 5:21 pm
S. korea is a liability due to the fact. for the last 50 years plus .USA soldiers are stationed their. I am not mistaken .. 35000. Now the browl is between N and S. Korea. Not with USA AND NK. ipso facto it is a liability
GulabSing
March 31, 2013 5:39 pm
You may have noticed the shrinking of the US defence budget already. Year 2001 .. foreign investment in the USA was around 189 billions . Year 2002 it was around 90 billions . year 2003 it was less than 50 billions and spot for world number one was lost to China. Before wolrd trade was done in USD like 88%. now it has shurnk to 64% around. The toll of Afghanistan and Iraq war in dollars is not minimal nor after 9/11.. in security expenditure terms.. Not to mention first dessert storm war .. when President Bush was worried Saddam would sell the oil 35 dollar now it is 100 USD average. Thus it is impossible for the USA to carry out the large defence or CIA funded programs around the globe. Also other actors are on the stage . China. Brazil etc. Also in the 1980s when it was west germany . their world trade share was 17% and Japan 16 % together they both controlled 33% of the world trade . However now it combined Germany. and many Eastern European are much better off ..meaning not importing but manufacturing themselves..Housing market also played Havoc recently in the USA. Hence Global goal is not within graps.. President Obama fully aware of this ..
Beg
March 31, 2013 6:35 pm
Please read history of north and south Korea. To understand this article you should have some basic knowledge of world affairs
Beg
March 31, 2013 6:42 pm
Accept it or not taliban have put last nail in the coffin of American dominance and the end is close. A new power is emerging in Afghanistan. Don't laugh because when Americans invaded Afghanistan 10 years ago I predicted American defeat and people laughed but now last laugh is mine. Similarly I am seeing taliban as new super power and again the last laugh will be mine
lax
March 31, 2013 7:58 pm
Once Nato forces are withdrawn from Afaghanistan Pakistan will have no option other than declaring Bankrupsy. All free supply of Billions of US dollars will stop and Pakistan's economy is already in shambles. Pakistan will be another North Korea or Somalia. Wach out.
Ahmed
March 31, 2013 8:07 pm
Over the past 12 years America made sure those who carried out 9/11 had the sword of justice send them to hell. America took proactive action within its borders and nabbed scores of would-be terrorists through sting operations and had the court of law send them to long prison sentences. During the same period 40,000 Pakistanis were killed by terrorists with Pakistanis not having any clue on how to put an end to it and so take the convenient way out by cooking conspiracy theories. Mr. Akram ignores all this and grandly declares the US to be the country with mission not accomplished! Having demonstrated his ignorance of the present, and with the typical arrogance of an Islamabad bureaucrat, he proceeds to make half-baked predictions for the future.
Shochi
March 31, 2013 9:58 pm
Usually, I am not one to educate anyone here, but for you Pavas........ Please read todays article on the BBC: N Korea in 'state of war' with South. Perhaps that may help.
Shahpur
March 31, 2013 10:36 pm
So where does Pakistan stands now in this big mess. Why Arab States are investing in Pakistani politics.
Pavas Ambashta
April 1, 2013 5:07 am
Thanks for reminding me, but do you really think that a starving and technically vintage age country like North Korea is strong enough to take a comparatively far advanced,both militarily and economically, South Korea? The only thing that has been preventing the South to punish Its belligerent Northern neighbour is that it doesnt want to harm its stable economy and doesnt want to put its citizen at risk of war..On the other hand North Korea has nothing to lose as It is economically bankcrupt and its government is not responsible to its people..However if a war is imposed on it, South Korea with its far advanced military is fully capable of delivering a crushing defeat to the North..
Pavas Ambashta
April 1, 2013 8:32 am
US has deployed 35000 or so soldiers in south to safeguard its own interest in that region (like they have their presence in Middle East, Australia, South East Asia and elsewhere in the world)..In modern age countries advanced technologically and economically will Always have an upper hand in any warfare..South Korea has a fairly well developed military and well developed industrial base along with a highly developed economy..It doesnt need any protection of US and that even against malnourished and technically 2nd World Was era North Korean military..
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