After cuts to the national defense budget, allies are beginning to wonder about the country’s role in world security, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine. The United States Defense Secretary is away on business in Asia right now, attempting to allay Japan’s fears that the U.S. is withdrawing from the world. At the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Chuck Hagel talked about the repercussions of the Ukraine invasion and reassured everyone that the United States is still the same world military power it always was.
Hagel emphasized that his message to the world at this time was that America is not “retreating from the world” with its cuts to military spending. They do not affect the military’s power at this time, though he did urge the American Congress to act before automatic sequestration went into effect. Failure to do so would expose U.S. troops to more risks and affect readiness and resources.
Meanwhile, Hagel has hosted a forum for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Honolulu which included a stunning show of military power. The former Nebraska senator and a delegation to the forum visited the USS Anchorage, one of the newest ships that boasts a carrying capacity of 800 marines, as well as their vehicles and other equipment. He also discussed the forum’s role, saying that it was about stability, trade, and exchange, not just a military-to-military exercise. Despite the focus on military power aboard the USS Anchorage, Hagel made it clear that he has other goals in mind rather than just military showmanship.
This discussion of other, seemingly non-military issues has been a theme for Hagel during his tour through Asia, most recently in Japan. He discussed the growing anxiety in Japan after Russia invaded Ukraine, especially since the country is involved in its own territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands. The United States recognizes Japan’s administration of the islands and has a treaty with the country to provide protection when needed. Should China act in any way that is similar to Russia, the United States might be called to intervene militarily, unlike it did in Ukraine where sanctions have been the response so far.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel does not look at his country’s diplomatic actions as a failure to respond, however. He said that the U.S. was not afraid to use force, but it had to decide when the use of force was an appropriate reaction. Much as President Obama has been saying since the situation arose, Hagel seemed to indicate that the good call for the time being was to use diplomacy to help Ukraine rather than sending a military force. That is a much “tougher call,” according to him, and one that he supported in discussion in Japan, calling them significant.
Meanwhile, the United States is going to deploy two additional ballistic missile defense destroyers to Japan in order to protect against a possible attack from North Korea. North Korea and South Korea have traded artillery fire recently and the anxiety in Japan over whether North Korea will attack them next has been growing. This might also be a strategic call when it comes to Japan’s territorial dispute with China. Should that situation come to physical conflict, the U.S. would easily be able to support its ally with these two new ships.
The next stop for Hagel’s Asian tour is China, where his talks are expected to become far more difficult. Already, the Defense Secretary seems to be gearing up for a hard time, stating that what is necessary for discussion between the United States and China is “straight up” and honest talk. No doubt he will bring that with him to the country he has already called a “great power,” even as he stated that power comes with responsibility. For the moment, however, Chuck Hagel’s talks about the repercussions of the Ukraine situation have calmed speculation in Japan and shown America’s continuing commitment to its international allies.
By Lydia Webb