Defense budget cut constrains US pivot to Asia
In recent years, the US’ rebalancing strategy has achieved remarkable results, which has gained praise from domestic politicians and diplomats. But the implementation of the strategy has started to face challenges and doubts.
The Obama government has repeatedly stressed that the rebalancing is not limited to the military field, but also spans the political, economic and cultural fields. However, even the United States Senate said in a report that, to date, the strategy only has an outstanding execution in the military field. The US has redeployed 60 percent of its navy forces to the Asia-Pacific region. The US has enhanced the relationship with its allies and developed new partnerships with some other countries. Among these countries, Japan, India, the Philippines and Vietnam have territorial disputes with China, and the US apparently favors them.
The US rebalancing strategy started in 2010 when the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the call twice at Honolulu that the US would return to Asia. In 2011, Hillary said in an article in the Foreign Policy magazine that the US has allocated too much resources to the Middle East in the past decade, and the US will change its focus through the rebalancing strategy in the next decade, devoting more diplomatic, economic, military and other resources to the Asia-Pacific region.
Barack Obama himself announced that the US will rebalance its global strategy, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.
The key rationale behind the US rebalancing strategy is a realization that the global economic and political center is shifting to the Asia-Pacific region. The region’s importance in the economic field has increased day by day. Along with growing economic strength and influence, China has been challenging the leading US position in the region. If it was still vague that the strategy targeted China in the beginning, the intent has become clearer in the implementation.
The US increasingly enhanced its security relationship with Southeast Asian countries, holding joint military drills frequently with them, and containing the growth of China’s influence in the region. Even some Americans also said that the rebalancing strategy has unnecessarily led to China’s confrontation and more aggressive diplomatic policies, and the policy lacks significance.

Economic and other reasons have led to a major cut in the US defense budget, which poses difficulties for the implementation of the rebalancing strategy. A huge deficit in the US federal budget has created differences between the Republicans and Democrats and started a tug of war in the US Congress on cutting defense budget. The cut will affect the Obama administration’s ability to implement the rebalancing strategy.
Since 2010, the US defense budget has been gradually cut. The defense budget as well as the defense department’s budget peaked in 2010 to reach separately $721.3 billion and $695.6 billion (data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies). After that, the military spending declined. Despite inflation, the defense budget declined to $581.3 billion in 2015, down $100 billion from 2010, a drop of about 16 percent. The ratio of US defense budget against its GDP dropped from 4.62 percent in 2009 to 3.37 percent in 2014.
Another challenge to the US rebalancing strategy is the Ukraine crisis. The US has a fundamental interest in the security of Europe. But the crisis has had a huge impact on the region’s security. For the first time since the WWII, military force was used to conquer land in Europe. The occupation of Crimea has broken the security order in Europe by use of military force to solve territorial disputes. It has challenged the agreement on European security for the first time after the Cold War.

Zhou Qi is executive chief of National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University

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