For the past six decades the U.S. military has enjoyed preeminence in the Western Pacific, but there are increasing questions about whether this advantageous position is sustainable given a combination of budget cuts, asymmetrical military threats, and local opposition to bases. The bottom line is that the United States can and must retain a robust military presence in the region, taking advantage of new partnerships, technologies, and operational concepts—while recognizing that many of the challenges we face are not entirely new. Inertia and incrementalism will not work, however. The United States will need to develop a holistic strategy that builds on all the instruments of national power as we rebalance toward Asia.
U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) faces a fundamental budget challenge: even with an administration pledge to hold U.S. capabilities steady in Asia while cutting force structure elsewhere, $487 billion in planned cuts means hollowing out other commands’ assets in ways that will ultimately force cannibalizing of PACOM assets when crises hit the Middle East or elsewhere. Moreover, upgrading, consolidating, and dispersing U.S. bases and facilities in the PACOM area of responsibility will cost money–even if the result is a smaller footprint. Any serious strategy for sustaining a presence will have to take this into consideration.