U.S. strategy doesn’t spell Asia troop cut

TOKYO, Reuters

A possible shift in U.S. military strategy to focus on the capability to win one major conflict and defend against new threats would not spell a reduction in forces in Asia, Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said on Thursday.

U.S. President George W. Bush has vowed to modernize the cumbersome U.S. military, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last month that the current U.S. strategy built on readiness to win two major wars at once was “not working” and he hoped to recommend changes.

“The review of defense strategy that is now going on, I am participating in, and I see no real reduction…I see an increase in emphasis on Asia as a region of both potential opportunities and of potential threat,” Blair told a media luncheon.

“Within the type of strategies being considered, the overall structure of the U.S. forces is, I think, going to remain pretty well the same,” he added.

Blair was in Japan as part of a swing through the region and has been holding talks with Japanese officials.

In terms of regional threats, Blair said mainland China has been giving mixed signals about whether it is likely to become a force for instability in the region.

“I think that if China develops and presses its claims and influence in a multilateral cooperative way, then it can be good for the region, and I think that China’s ideas and influence, and certainly economic activities, will be welcome,” he said.

“If China chooses to turn its growing influence and power into aggressive bullying behavior, then I think it’s quite a different story for the region,” he said.

Sino-U.S. relations have been strained by a number of issues since U.S. President George Bush took office in January, while Tokyo’s ties with Beijing, always touchy, have also been frayed of late by renewed disputes over wartime history and trade.

Blair, echoing the Bush administration line, said it was important to pursue talks with North Korea on conventional forces in tandem with talks on its missile and nuclear programs.

North Korea has said it would not discuss its conventional forces with the United States before Washington withdraws its 37,000 troops from South Korea, a condition unacceptable to the United States.