U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the Pentagon has the resources to implement its strategic re-balance toward the Asia-Pacific, despite increasing budget restrictions in Washington.
Speaking Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, Carter acknowledged that it is fair to question whether the United States has the ability to meet the objectives of the "pivot" toward Asia announced by the Obama administration last year.
The plan was recently criticized in a U.S. government-mandated report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which found that the pivot has not been presented in a way that reflects "current budget realities."
Washington "watching every dollar"
But Carter insists the Pentagon has the capacity to resource the re-balance, saying defense officials are "focused intently" on seeing it through.
"We're watching every dollar, every ship and every plane to make sure that we execute our re-balance effectively," said Carter.
Under a bill passed by Congress last year, the U.S. Defense Department is required to cut $487 billion from its budget, in the next 10 years. Carter says his department can handle the cuts, but he warns of a potentially "disastrous" part of the bill, known as sequestration, that would trigger another $500 billion in automatic defense cuts.
"It's chaotic, wasteful and damaging, not just to defense, but to every other function of government," said Carter. "It's no way to do business. The nature of sequestration makes it impossible to devise a plan that eliminates, or even substantially mitigates, its foolish impacts."
Carter says the Pentagon considered future budget cuts in its new defense strategy and vows that it will be able to invest and sustain peace and prosperity in Asia as part of that plan.
Pivot not aimed at containing China
The U.S. military's new focus on Asia has also been received skeptically in China, where leaders view it as an attempt to halt its rising influence. But Carter repeated the administration's insistence that it is not aimed at containing the emerging country.
"Our re-balance is not about the United States. It's not about China. It's not about any other individual country or group of countries. It's about a peaceful Asia-Pacific region, where all countries can enjoy the benefits of security and continue to prosper," he said.
Echoing recent comments by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Carter says that an essential part of the re-balance is strengthening, not limiting, the Chinese military's ties with its U.S. counterpart. He said a "healthy, transparent, and sustainable" Sino-American defense relationship is important for global security.
US sends "newest assets" to Asia
But he also outlined details of plans that have angered Beijing, including the transfer of U.S. military ships to the Pacific and the stationing of U.S marines in Australia.
"By 2020, we will have shifted 60 percent of our naval assets to the Pacific. That's an historic change for the United States Navy. The Marine Corps will have up to 2,500 marines in rotation in Australia. We will have four littoral combat ships stationed forward in Singapore," said Carter, "And, we'll proceed to fully build out our military presence on Guam and surrounding areas."
As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, Carter says the United States have more flexibility to send its "newest assets" to the region, including warships, aircraft carriers, B-1 bombers and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
No position on territorial disputes
Regarding recent heated territorial disputes between China and several of its neighbors, Carter says the U.S. does not take a position, other than to defend the principles of freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution.
China has accused Washington of trying to build military alliances with China's foes in the region and says an increased military presence is emboldening its neighbors to assert their claims to disputed territory.
But Carter says the disputes should be "kept in proportion" and says all sides should not allow "small things" to endanger the prosperity and development of the region as a whole.