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The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance – What It Means

January 8, 2012

A quick take on the Administration’s defense plans as revealed on Thursday by President Obama, Defense Secretary Panetta, and U.S. military leaders.

“Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” is the public name for the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, a list of intentions that are expected to guide the review for the President’s defense budget for fiscal year 2013 and following years. What that means is that no specific budget numbers have been released and, therefore, there is at present no ability to see how these changes will be implemented. That cannot happen until the Fiscal year 201313 budget is submitted to Congress next month. Nevertheless, the broad ideas shaping this ‘new look’ defense can be understood within the context of the overarching goal – to reduce the defense budget by $470 billion over the next ten years.

Here are the major intentions and what they mean:

• A “rebalancing” of U.S. force structure and investments to the Asia-Pacific area and to the Middle East, as well as advanced capabilities to maintain access and power projection which are relevant globally. What this means is that we will be drawing down U.S. forces stationed in Europe and reorienting our posture with the intent to stabilize the Middle East and counter China’s military buildup in the western Pacific.

• A different approach to force size and structure. Specifically, ground forces sufficient for large and prolonged stability operations like Iraq and Afghanistan will not be maintained. The Administration says it does not foresee the U.S. conducting such operations on its own in the future. Defense planners view the likelihood of the United States needing large numbers of troops to invade and occupy a country, like Iraq, to be very low. What this means is that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are going to shrink in size. via personnel cuts.

• As a hedge to the expected criticisms of the above troop reductions, it was explained that there will be plans in place for readjustment of those plans since the future is uncertain and the reductions will occur over several years. What this means is that the U.S. will not be able to use ground troops on the scale of the Afghanistan or Iraq missions without a delay to build up the required forces.

• The U.S. force structure sufficient for our armed forces to prevail in more than one conflict at the same time will be maintained. Therefore, greater emphasis will be placed on what have been called new types of advanced and agile forces. Also, ways for the U.S. armed forces to meet its objectives and deny the enemy victory other than by land invasion and occupation will be evaluated. To do so, the Administration said, investments will be maintained and possibly increased in such areas as special operating forces, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, building partner capacity, cyber security, and aspects of science and technology investments. What this means is that we may ask our armed forces to do as much as today with much less.

• The Administration made it clear that despite these massive budget cuts, critical investments in wounded warrior care and other aspects of taking care of the troops would be maintained. What this means is an acknowledgement that the public will not accept defense cuts that short-change those who have suffered in battle for their safety and security.

We can expect an avalanche of commentary and analysis related to what will surely be one of the greatest defense drawdowns in American history. The difference is that this time around we are not in a period of relative calm after a war, but count enemies still standing on the battlefields we are leaving. Even more alarming is the threat of sequestration cuts of an additional $500 billion or more because the Congressional “Super Committee” failed to find mandated deficit savings. This could result in a return to the bad old days of the “hollow” military.

James Colbert is Policy Director at JINSA and is the Deputy Editor of JINSA’s semiannual scholarly journal, The Journal of International Security Affairs.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen permalink
    January 8, 2012 10:37 pm

    Not only is this going to leave our military weakened but so many of our technological advances have originiated with our military. This is going to cut into our technological superiority as well. There is also all of the job losses to consider.

  2. February 9, 2012 7:08 pm

    Obama acts like he wants the US to be a second rate military power, not a world leader in strength.

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