Pentagon Announces New Military Strategy

Thursday, the Pentagon announced its new strategy for dealing with threats around the world. The goal is to use the new blueprint to guide difficult budget choices in the coming years. The new document is released as the U.S. winds down two long wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — and embarks on a period of defense budget cuts.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama made a rare visit to the Pentagon today, to outline his new military strategy. The plan lays out the roles and missions of the armed forces at a time when defense budgets are being trimmed. It calls for a smaller military, cutting the Army and the Marine Corps. It also calls for a new focus on the Far East, shifting U.S. troops, planes and aircraft. Here's the president speaking earlier today.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific and budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region.

SIEGEL: As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, Pentagon officials now have to figure out how to cut half a trillion dollars while making sure the military can still meet any threat.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the nation is at what he called a strategic turning point. The Iraq war is over. The Afghan war is winding down. So now, the U.S. military will be smaller and leaner.

LEON PANETTA: But its great strength will be that it will be more agile, more flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative and technologically advanced.

BOWMAN: Still, Panetta insisted that this leaner military will still be able to do pretty much all it does now.

PANETTA: United States military - let me be very clear about this - the United States Military will remain capable across the spectrum. We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. We will be fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities.

BOWMAN: All that will have to be done by a smaller force. Officials say the army could drop by some 70,000 troops, down from more than half a million troops. The strategy states is pretty much just one thing that the U.S. military will not do in the future. It says U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale contingency operations. That means no more nation-building in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week, there was speculation that the military cutbacks mean the U.S. would abandon its ability to fight two wars simultaneously. That's been a Pentagon mainstay for two decades. An early draft of the strategy said the military could win one war and spoil an adversary's efforts in a second war. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed that today.

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Now, there's been much made, I'm sure will be made, about whether this strategy moves away from a force structure explicitly designed to fight and win two wars simultaneously. Fundamentally, our strategy has always been about our ability to respond to global contingencies wherever and whenever they occur. This won't change.

BOWMAN: Panetta was even more pointed.

PANETTA: We will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time.

BOWMAN: While the army will shrink, other parts of the military will get more money. That includes special operations commandos like the Navy SEALS who killed Osama bin Laden and the unmanned drone aircraft that bombed al-Qaida hideouts in Pakistan.

PANETTA: We will protect and, in some cases, increase our investments in special operations forces, in new technologies and unmanned systems, in space and, in particular, in cyberspace capabilities.

BOWMAN: Cyber war, the ability to attack an enemy's computer's satellites is becoming a growing part of China's arsenal. That's a big reason why the strategy places a focus on the Pacific, to keep an eye on China. The strategy says China's growing military power could create what it calls friction in the region and effect not only U.S. security but the economy as well. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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