West 2012 Online Show Daily: Day 3
Quote of the day: ““We have become the Department of War. We must revitalize our economy and stop using our military instrument as long and as hard as we have been.”—Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work
The third and final day of West 2012 in San Diego combined the thrusts of the first two days: an overview of the future military force and a breakdown of specific issues and challenges. The overview came just before the release of U.S. defense budget figures, and their relationship to the recently announced strategy was the focal point of the day’s first presentation.
Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work was not shy about explaining the hows and whys of the Defense Department strategy. The restructuring is necessary both as part of national fiscal repair and to address the changing threat picture worldwide, he explained. At the nexus of both is a military that is stressed from a decade of conflict, and Work said it is time to give the military a break.
Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work delivers a powerful presentation on the new defense strategy during his Thursday plenary address at West 2012.
“We have become the Department of War,” he declared. “We must revitalize our economy and stop using our military instrument as long and as hard as we have been.
“We are going to pull back a little on the accelerator.”
After explaining how important a respite is for the military as a whole, Work delved into the changes looming for the force. He cited the Eisenhower administration defense policy as an example of how to realize savings by ending a war and restructuring the military by focusing on different capabilities. Amid a host of international challenges, that administration cut defense spending and balanced the budget while maintaining U.S. military superiority during the Cold War.
The new strategy does take into account fiscal realities in setting military priorities, Work allows, emphasizing that this is absolutely necessary. “There is no such thing as an unconstrained strategy,” he charged. “That is patently stupid.”
Among the new priorities will be unmanned vehicles, special operations forces and offline activities such as going into financial houses to disrupt terrorists’ sources of funds. The Navy undersecretary also said that maritime forces will be central to the new strategy, predicting that the 21st century would be “the maritime century.”
That maritime force may have its hands full dealing with the Asia-Pacific region, which the new defense strategy identifies as a new focal point of U.S. military activity. And, at the heart of Asia-Pacific geopolitics is China, which will play a growing role in that region. A panel of experts focusing on U.S.-China relations described how relations between the two countries could range from beneficial cooperation to armed conflict. At the heart of this ambiguity lies misunderstandings and cultural differences on both sides.
Vice Adm. John M. Bird, USN, director of Navy Staff and former commander of the Seventh Fleet, said that China and many in Asia view the world differently than the United States does, especially when it comes to values. “We fall victim at our peril when we try to apply our mindset to them,” he warned. “For example, our idea of deterrence is their idea of containment. We want to deter access denial; but they don’t see it that way.”
Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau, USN, president of National Defense University, pointed out that China is going through its own vertigo on how to interact with other nations as a world leader. One People’s Liberation Army general referred to a “strategic trap” in which the China and the United States may soon find themselves. The admiral called for new scholarship about China, pointing out that the United States does not have the broad outline of China scholars the way it did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
All of the panelists called for both nations to aim for cooperation rather than confrontation. Adm. Bird said that the United States should interact with China on a military-to-military basis. It will be to the U.S. benefit, particularly given the “astounding” growth of China’s naval capabilities. “All the adjectives that you could apply to their economy, you could apply to their navy,” the admiral said.
Dr. Alan J. Vick, senior political scientist at Rand Corporation, described the U.S.-China relationship as complex with good and bad elements. He emphasized that China is not another Soviet Union, so the United States should not adopt Cold War practices. A NATO of the Pacific is “neither likely nor needed,” he said.
However, if the best efforts of both nations lead to conflict, then China is more likely to write the rules than the United States. Vick noted that the recent U.S. conflicts all started at a time and in a manner of U.S. choosing, and this followed a rapid deployment of U.S. forces to forward basing locations. China would not permit that, he said. It would argue that deploying forces to forward bases is an aggressive action, so it would feel free to launch pre-emptive strikes using its newly incorporated tactical ballistic missile strike capability.
Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, USMC (Ret.), principal, WC Gregson & Associates, Inc., and former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, warned that the United States should investigate space/counterspace capabilities and cyber. A Chinese cyber weapon can attack from its sanctuary without warning, and it could cripple or shut down essential networks in the United States.
And Vick pointed out that Chinese and U.S. military forces could confront one another in a number of potential situations, and China is the only country that could do that. Potential flashpoints Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan. He added that a North Korean implosion may be more risky than an invasion of the South by the North. China fears that U.S. forces may wind up on their border if the North collapses.
After all of the West 2012 plenary sessions and panels were completed, one very special event was held before a packed luncheon in the speaker’s area. David Hartman, former host of Good Morning America, conducted an interview with Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, USA, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Petry received the Medal of Honor after saving other members of his Army Ranger unit by picking up and hurling a grenade that had landed near them. The grenade exploded, and the blast cost him is right hand and part of his forearm. He now wears a plaque on his prosthesis that lists the names of the members of his Ranger battalion who have given their lives in the Global War on Terrorism.
For conference attendees who heard three days of budget analysis, predictions of force reductions and outlines of challenges faced by the men and women of the military, Sgt. 1st Class Petry’s appearance and his words about his Army family brought home the military mission, and those who are carrying it out, in the purest form.
West 2012 set new records for attendance. Plan now for West 2013, to be held January 29-31 in San Diego.