Obama Outlines New Defense Strategy Amid Pentagon Spending Cuts

President Barack Obama unveiled a new defense strategy on Thursday as the result of a strategic review he initiated last summer after asking the Pentagon to begin planning for major cuts to defense spending after a decade of growth.

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In August, Obama and Congress agreed to reduce projected national security spending by more than $450 billion over the next decade, and also agreed to automatic spending cuts that could slash another $600 billion from the Pentagon’s budget unless Congress can find an alternative source for such funds.

Obama’s strategy is meant to guide defense spending, focusing on strategic priorities while cutting back. In a Pentagon news conference alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president released a document today that calls for the U.S. to maintain a force that can win one war while still having the capability to deter the objectives of another adversary in a second conflict — a shift away from the military’s often repeated goal of being able to fight and prevail on two fronts simultaneously.

The strategy also calls for greater military presence in Asia as the U.S. cuts down on troops in Europe. “Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding,” Obama said at the news conference. “Even as our forces prevail in today’s missions, we have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to look ahead to the force we need for the future.

The Pentagon has become increasingly concerned over China’s strategic goals as it begins to field a new generation of weapons that could prevent U.S. forces from projecting power into the Far East. Iran’s nuclear push also remains a threat, and with China, could make it difficult for U.S. armed forces to project power abroad.

“U.S. policy will emphasize Gulf security, in collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries when appropriate, to prevent Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon capability and counter its destabilizing policies,” the strategy document says. Obama said the U.S. will also continue to halt nuclear programs in North Korea, while working to maintain stability in the Middle East.

Though the strategy underscores “enduring interests” in Europe and the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Obama said the force posture in Europe must “evolve” with the changing times.

In introducing his strategy, Obama also called for increased investment in cyber capabilities, and suggested that the U.S. might be able to shrink its nuclear arsenal without jeopardizing national security, but did not get into specifics about how many troops would be reduced or deal with specific budgetary issues.

Administration officials speaking ahead of Obama’s news conference said Army and Marine Corps personnel numbers would be cut by 10 to 15 percent over the next decade, a figure that translates into tens of thousands of troops. The U.S. is likely to further reduce the number of ground forces in Europe by another combat brigade — a unit generally comprised of 3,000 to 4,000 troops — according to administration officials.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

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