US: Pentagon to trim armed forces; talks to expand military cooperation with Philippines

Updated On: Jan 27, 2012

The Pentagon has made public a planned cut of $487 billion in military expenditures over the next decade, but is in talks with its ally the Philippines to ramp up military cooperation.

Pentagon to cut military spending and shift strategic focus

The Pentagon has released a 2013 budget involving a reduction of $487 billion in expenditures over the next decade by eliminating close to 100,000 ground troops and trimming its navy and air force to create a smaller and more flexible military with a new strategic focus. This budget comes at a time when the US is winding down its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and shifting its focus on the Asia-Pacific.

The budget was sharply criticised by some Republican lawmakers and sets the stage for a new political fight between President Barack Obama’s administration and Congress over the Pentagon’s expenditure on defence as the US struggles to halt its trillion-dollar deficits.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta remarked that the proposed savings “will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action.” He said he hoped once lawmakers understood the sacrifice involved in such a sharp reduction of the defence budget, they would prevent another $500 billion in additional cuts that would “inflict severe damage to our national defence for generations.”

Mr Panetta added, “To ensure an agile and ready force, we made a conscious choice not to maintain more force structure than we could afford to properly train and equip.”

The cuts are part of a broader effort by the Pentagon to decrease projecting spending by $487 billion over the next ten years, as required with a deficit-reduction deal reached by President Obama with Congress last August.

Those reductions could increase substantially if President Obama and Congress are unable to agree on another set of spending cuts or tax hikes by next January, causing the Pentagon to slash an additional $600 billion over 10 years. However, many analysts say that the chances of that occurring are small, and that President Obama and Congress are likely to strike a compromise ahead of time.

But even if they do, it is believed that the Pentagon may suffer more as lawmakers continue to search for a long-term solution to the US deficit.

Amid the cuts, the Pentagon would boost its emphasis on special operations forces, cyber operations and drone aircraft. It would also proceed with a long-range bomber and other weapons that would allow it to project power from a greater distance. It is reported that such capabilities are required as countries like Iran and China develop weapons that could threaten US aircraft carriers in international waters near their coasts.

Report: Pentagon cuts reshape military, trim costs (Reuters, 26 Jan 2012)

Report: Pentagon budget set to shrink next year (Washington Post, 27 Jan 2012)

Philippines, US in talks for greater military cooperation

The US and its ally the Philippines are in discussions to ramp up joint military exercises and other military cooperation that would not involve a major build-up or the re-establishment of permanent bases, officials on Washington and Manila said on Thursday.

Foreign affairs and defence officials from the Philippines are visiting Washington for preliminary talks, and last week in Manila, Philippine leaders told a visiting US delegation that the government would welcome closer military ties.

The talks in Washington will involve US envoy for East Asia Kurt Campbell and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence Peter Lavoy. Their visiting Philippine counterparts are Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Defence Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. The Philippines will discuss requests for an additional US Coast Guard cutter, F-16 fighter jets and other arms needed by the Philippines, according to Philippine defence spokesman Peter Paul Galvez.

The Philippines used to host large US military bases with tens of thousands of airmen and sailors until 1992, but they pulled out after a 1991 vote in the Philippine Senate. Nonetheless, the two countries maintain a mutual defence treaty which was signed in 1951, and worked out an agreement in 1998 that allowed the US military to visit and conduct joint operations in the Philippines. Since 2002, US special operations forces have trained Filipino troops fighting militants in the southern Philippines.

More recently, the Philippines had requested that the US provide military hardware after alleging that Chinese ships repeatedly intruded into Philippine-claimed territorial waters and disrupting Philippine oil exploration efforts. The US says it has a national interest in a peaceful resolution of the territorial disputes and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Despite impending budget cuts, the US has signalled its intent to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific, where there is some nervousness over China’s rising military prowess. In recent months the US has announced plans to station troops in Australia and dock Navy ships in Singapore. Additionally, it has also provided the Philippines a coast guard cutter last May, and the two countries have been holding joint military exercises near the islands at the centre of the territorial dispute with China.

Speculation is rife that the US could seek to re-establish the permanent military presence it previously had in the Philippines. But Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby said,“This is not about looking for US bases in the Philippines... This is simply about trying to move our relationship with the Philippine military forward.”

Philippine officials have been advocating greater US military involvement. Philippine Senator Richard J. Gordon said in a recent interview that increased American military engagement had become crucial. “The United States has been losing ground in this region,” he said. “You have a China that is beginning to flex its muscles, and it is pushing us around. I don’t like that. Its record with its neighbours is not very good. We need to have a fireman nearby.”

A commander in the western Philippine naval forces agreed that a greater US presence in the region, particularly in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, would enhance security. He said, “The presence of US Navy in Philippine waters could be an effective deterrent and increase our domain awareness in the disputed areas.”

However, US Defence Department spokeswoman Commodore Leslie Hull-Ryde denied that the US was targeting China, saying, “The idea that we are looking to establish US bases or permanently station US forces in the Philippines, or anywhere else in Southeast Asia, as part of a China containment strategy is patently false.”

James Hardy, a London-based Asia-Pacific specialist at IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, downplayed media hype about US troop positioning, noting that “Compared to the Cold War position that the US had, there's no comparison in terms of boots on the ground and force posture.”

Meanwhile, a research note published on Thursday by Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, cautioned that moves to hedge against the rise of China by the Philippines and Vietnam could speak tensions in 2012. “While a direct confrontation remains unlikely, tensions over territorial disputes increase the risk of a miscalculation by Hanoi or Manila and of an overreaction by Beijing,” the note stated.

Report: Manila Negotiates Broader Military Ties With US (NY Times, 26 Jan 2012)

Report: US and Philippines eye stronger defense ties (Reuters, 26 Jan 2012)

Report: US says it seeks more military cooperation with ally Philippines, not a permanent base there (Washington Post, 27 Jan 2012)

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