THE UNITED STATES, INDIAN OCEAN REGION AND THE GULF
By Anthony H. Cordesman
16 Dec 13. The United States remains committed to the defense of the Gulf and maintaining a major presence in the Indian Ocean region. There has been considerable confusion over the level of U.S. commitment because of speeches referring to a “pivot to Asia,” U.S. and P5+1 negotiation with Iran, claims of U.S. energy independence, and the impact of sequestration and U.S. defense budget cuts.
The new U.S. strategic guidance issued in January 2012, however, gave the same priority to the Middle East as to the “rebalancing to Asia” – the phrase used in all U.S. strategic documents and budget requests, which refers to a 5-10% shift in U.S. forces away from NATO Europe and to the U.S. west coast and Pacific.
This has been regularly reaffirmed in U.S. budget guidance through FY2014, USCENTCOM commanders, and Secretary of Defense Hagel in a press release issued on December 7, 2013, during a trip to the Gulf:
Secretary Hagel made it clear that the U.S. negotiations with Iran were part of long standing P5+1 effort to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons programs. Hagel stated the United States was involved in a six month process to see if it could work through its differences with Iran and that it was it was his opinion that this represented a wise opportunity to probe in great detail the possibilities to see if Iran was serious about following through on its commitments in the nuclear area. As for the Gulf and IOR, Hagel said that,
“Nothing has changed in terms of our defense posture in this region as a result of the deal. The only reason we are at this point is because of the pressure from sanctions, the diplomatic isolation and unity of international community, those need to maintain to have continued progress.
“Going forward, the Department of Defense will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in order to complement our strong military presence in the region. Our goal is for our allies and partners in this region to be stronger and more capable in dealing with common threats…We won’t change any military posture during that 6 months. We will keep same partnerships as before we entered into 6 months. We are entering this clear-eyed. Whether we get to where we hope, we will see.
“As we strengthen our bilateral relationships throughout the Gulf, we are also committed to advancing multilateral cooperation between our allies and partners, especially through the Gulf Cooperation Council. Nations are stronger when they work together against common threats. Closer cooperation between the GCC and the United States is in all of our interests.
“There is a lot of stress here in the region. There is a lot of questions, there is a lot of uncertainties”
Secretary Hagel said he was ready to deal with those frontally and that is why he sees this as a huge opportunity to be here. He also said he understood Gulf concerns because he understood the source of these concerns: “When you sit in this part of the world and you look at the threats around you, that there are good reasons to be nervous.”
Secretary Hagel made it clear there were no reductions in the U.S. presence in the Gulf. The only major reduction in the region had been to remove a carrier group in the IOR dedicated to flying sorties in Afghanistan – a mission the United States no longer needed as it transition responsibility to Afghan forces.
Secretary Hagel stated to the press pool on December 7, 2013 that;
“We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf… Two years after our drawdown from Iraq, the U.S. Army continues to maintain more than 10,000 forward-deployed soldiers in the region, along with heavy armor, artillery, and attack helicopters, to serve as a theater reserve and a bulwark against any aggression.
“We have deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the re