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DoD official: Asia pivot 'can't happen' due to budget pressures

Mar. 4, 2014 - 01:18PM   |  
USS Boxer
Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, said on Tuesday that, due to cuts to the defense budget, the Pentagon's plans to pivot to Asia 'can't happen.' Shown is the amphibious assault ship Boxer during a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific Ocean. (MC3 Trevor Welsh / US Navy)
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. to reflect McFarland’s clarification.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday that, due to cuts to the defense budget, the Pentagon’s plans to pivot to Asia “can’t happen.”

The pivot, part of a larger plan to focus deployments and military ties to the Asia-Pacific region to combat the rising threat of China, has been a central tenet of Pentagon strategy as the agency looks to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

But Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, said the agency is now reconsidering the strategy in light of the budget pressures it faces.

“Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen,” she told Aviation Week’s Defense Technologies and Requirements conference in Arlington, Va.

Officials have previously insisted that the pivot, or “rebalance,” would proceed regardless of funding levels due to strategic needs.

McFarland said the Pentagon is trying to create rotational models to make sure that the US can live up to its promises to regional allies.

After this article was posted online, McFarland clarified her statement through a DoD spokeswoman that the pivot will still continue.

“This a.m. when I spoke at a conference, I was asked a question about the budget, that will be officially released today, and how it relates to our pivot to Asia. I was reiterating what [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel said last week: That the shift in focus to the Asia-Pacific requires us to ‘adapt, innovate, and make difficult (budgetary and acquisition) decisions to ensure that our military remains ready and capable.’ That’s exactly what we’ve done in this budget. The rebalance to Asia can and will continue.”

“She kind of said the obvious,” said Byron Callan, a defense analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, who was in the audience during McFarland’s remarks. “It’s an observation on a reality. Europe was an afterthought, now it’s on the front burner. The reality can change until this whole thing gets settled.”

National security leaders have voiced concerns over the cost of the pivot. According to a Jan. 5 Defense News Leadership Poll, underwritten by United Technologies, 62 percent of respondents said “no” when asked if the rebalance was affordable.

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