The Emerging Strategic Doctrine of the United States: Focus on Asia and Implications for European Allies




In a recent article titled “The Emerging Doctrine of the United States”, Gorge Friedman observes that, based on the lessons learned from major military interventions in the past two decades, significant changes in the U.S. strategic doctrine began to quietly emerge during President Obama’s first term in office.[1] In the end, the new strategic doctrine of the United States will no more aim at global dominance but orient U.S. global engagement to a realistic understanding of its national interests. In other words, Washington’s main priority is ensuring that none of the threats against the United States challenge its fundamental interests. Friedman concludes that this new strategic doctrine will lead to significant changes in the system of international relations and force U.S. allies to improve their capabilities for managing crises and conflicts not immediately affecting the interests of the United States.


The starting point of Friedman’s thoughts is that, in addition to U.S. military forces being over-extended, the enormous national debt will force the United States to limit their strategic capabilities, military and non-military, to the level necessary to forestall developments that otherwise might become a threat to the United States and its fundamental interests. With a view to the recent history of U.S. interventions, this basically “boils down to mitigating threats against U.S. control of the seas by preventing the emergence of a Eurasian power to marshal resources toward that end. It also includes preventing the development of a substantial nuclear capability that could threaten the United States if a country is undeterred by U.S. military power for whatever reason”[2].


Manifestations of the emerging strategic doctrine are reflected by the U.S approach to the conflicts in Libya and Syria as well as by the announcements of the Obama Administration in [1]the fall off 2011 and early 2012 in the context of so-called “Pivot to the Asia-Pacific”.





The Pivot to the Asia-Pacific Region


The term “Pivot to the Asia-Pacific” characterizes the intent of the Obama Administration of intensifying the U.S. role in the region[3] by raising its priority in U.S. foreign and economic policy and, most of all, military planning. According to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, the ultimate goal of the "Pivot” is to ensure “that international law and norms be respected (in the Asia-pacific region), that commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded, that emerging powers build trust with their neighbors, and that disagreements are resolved peacefully without threats of coercion.”[4].


The increased priority of the Asia-pacific region in U.S. military planning derives from the concerns among U.S. and Asian strategic planners about China’s military modernization and its assertive behavior in the context of its maritime territorial claims in the South and East China Seas. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. “Strategy Review” of January 2012 foresees only minor cuts in the size of the Navy while focusing reductions on the Army and Marine Corps[5] mainly at the expense of U.S. forces stationed Europe and “in other regions such as Africa and South America, where rotational deployments may be constrained in favor of security assistance to local militaries.”[6]. With a view to the “Pivot” Lt. Gen. Gregson points out that “deployments in the Asia-Pacific region will be smaller, more agile, expeditionary, self-sustaining, and self-contained.”[7] Thus, beyond cuts in U.S. ground forces manpower, their capability for large-scale land/air operations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced in favor of reinforcing special operations capabilities for worldwide operations in support of allies and indigenous forces in regional and/or intrastate conflicts that otherwise might escalate to uncontrollable levels endangering U.S. interests.[8]


In addition to the implications of the “Pivot”, George Friedman believes that the very changes in U.S. strategic doctrine of immediate concern to U.S. European allies are related primarily to the intervention policy of the United States based on lessons learned from Iraq and Libya.


Lessons Learned


For whatever reasons the United States may have intervened in Iraq, from a strategic viewpoint the outcome of the intervention was clear: It destroyed the precarious balance that had evolved after the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran. It also motivated Iran to advance the development of nuclear weapons – that presumably had begun already during the war – in order to credibly support its ambitions to become the regional dominant power after the United States and its allies left Iraq. While Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was eliminated, the very objective of the intervention, to establish an internally stable and western-oriented, democratic Iraq, was not reached. On the contrary, with a view to the Shiite majority in Iraq the regional balance of power has shifted largely in favor of Iran involving the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region, and even worldwide, in case Iran succeeds in becoming a nuclear power.


As Libya was not considered to present a threat to U.S. interests, the recent intervention in Libya was not one that the United States had chosen, but was forced into supporting it when it was realized the air campaign mounted for humanitarian reasons by France and its allies lacked the resources to bring down Gadhafi. “At this point committed to maintaining its coalition with the Europeans, the United States found itself in a position of either breaking with its coalition or participating in the air campaign”[9].


Thus, Friedman argues that Iraq and Libya taught the USA are two main strategic lessons:

  1. Humanitarian interventions to bring down brutal dictators do not necessarily lead to better regimes. In both cases the deposal of the dictators resulted in chaos reviving old and giving birth to new inimical ethnical and religious groups competing for power, and spilling over to and destabilizing neighboring countries.[10]
  2. However reluctant and small a role it may play in a military intervention, the United States will always be held accountable by much of the world and the country experiencing the intervention, thus raising the possibility of revenge by anti-American factions such as the attack on U.S. diplomats in Bengasi.


These lessons manifest themselves in “the U.S. policy toward Syria, which affects only some U.S. interests. However, any U.S. intervention in Syria would constitute both an effort and a risk disproportionate to those interests”.[11] In other words, while the United States does have an interest in blocking further expansion of Iran’s sphere of influence and, therefore, in the fall of the Assad regime, it has let the internal forces in Syria deal with Assad. It has also looked at the regional powers, such as Turkey, Quatar and Saudi Arabia, to support the internal forces and to intervene, as containing the Iranian sphere of influence is in those countries’ own national interest more than in the interest of the United States. If anything, the United States might help through aid and training being delivered by U.S. special operations forces. Limiting assistance to humanitarian aid rather than providing internal anti-Assad factions with weapons reflects the uncertainty about which of the various groups fighting the Assad regime will eventually emerge victoriously from the chaos to be expected after Assad’s fall.


The Syrian solution underscores one important aspect of the emerging U.S. strategic doctrine according to which “the absence of an overwhelming American interest means that the fate of a country like Syria is in the hands of the Syrian people or neighboring countries. The United States is unwilling to take on the cost and calumny of trying to solve the problem. It is less a form of isolationism than a recognition of the limits of power and interest. Not everything that happens in this world requires or justifies American intervention”.[12]


Implications for European Allies


Thus, the emerging U.S. strategic doctrine implies that Europeans can no more count on the willingness of the United States to step in and fill capability gaps if, like in Libya, European capabilities turn out to be insufficient to handle conflicts in their backyard and other regions that are of vital interest to them, but not to the United States. This problem can be expected to exacerbate once the United States become independent of energy imports and outside energy reserves lose their strategic value. Therefore, unless Europeans heed the Libyan lesson and become serious about improving their national and collective military capabilities, they eventually might be left with no choice but to let events with the potential to threaten their security take their course hoping that humanitarian aid and toothless diplomatic efforts will be sufficient to restore stability and preserve their interests.[13]


The records of historical of interventions support the hypothesis that chances for controlling and ending intra-national or trans-national crises and armed conflicts improve with the effectiveness and responsiveness of interventions. Quick and determined action is necessary in order to avoid or contain the escalation of armed conflicts. This is because the higher the level of mutual violence between inimical groups the lower is their inclination for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.[14] If a certain level of violence has been exceeded, the only solution remaining may be peace-enforcement and temporary physical separation of the antagonists such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. Even today – 17 years after the Dayton Agreement – Bosnia-Herzegovina suffers from the aftermath of the conflict and violent quarrels between ethnic and religious groups. In other words, in order to quickly stop fighting among the parties to a conflict, and to support diplomatic efforts for conflict settlement, interventionists require both robust and agile military capabilities to halt hostilities and an efficient long-term strategy for the regeneration and stabilization of the conflict region.


The history of interventions such as in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya suggests that no single European state disposes of the entire spectrum of military capabilities enabling it to cope with the complexity and dynamics of the 21th century’s security environment. To this end, coalitions of the willing are required which collectively can muster, more or less ad hoc, the military capabilities required for a quick success of an intervention in a concrete case. In turn, this means that, for one thing, the political prerequisites for a quick reaction exist with each of the coalition partners and, for the other, that their military contingents are interoperable and complementary so they are capable of collectively maximizing synergistic effects for sake of effectiveness and efficiency.


However, today neither of these two prerequisites is met. The 2008 EU agreement on developing a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) notwithstanding, whether or not European states are willing to join an intervention coalition in a concrete case depends on the respective state governments’ individual ad hoc assessment of the potential strategic and political consequences of participation.[15] Also, irrespective of some bi- or trilateral pooling and sharing agreements, defense planning is not at all coordinated among European states. On the contrary, it reflects “conflicted” planning approaches the outcomes of which are frequently characterized by wasteful redundancies and incompatible and largely non-interoperable capabilities. As a consequence, effectiveness of collective capabilities and combined operations is degraded, defense spending inefficient, and thus further decline of collective European military capabilities likely as defense spending is reduced to support building down public debt levels in Europe.


Therefore, in order to eventually arrive at a sufficient and efficient military intervention capability of their own that may be deployed and sustained independent of U.S. support, Europeans must finally begin to mutually coordinate their largely disjointed force structure and armaments planning as a basis for the evolution of collaborative approaches to defense planning as the CSDP is becoming reality. The fundamental problems that must be solved in this context have been analyzed by Christian Mölling who argues that the currently proposed approaches of “Pooling and Sharing” national capabilities[16] can contribute to solving the diminishing European military capabilities only “if the European nations are willing to re-consider the priority of political sovereignty over military effectiveness and economic efficiency”.[17]


Incentives for Closing European Capability Gaps

With a view to building down the military capability gaps on one hand, and considering the fiscal austerity facing more or less all of Europe for some time to come on the other, it would seem logical if coordinated universal defense cooperation became the defense business model throughout Europe to fully exploit the savings potential of “Pooling and Sharing” projects. To this end, creating incentives for closing capability gaps would be an important first step in the long-term evolution of collaborative defense planning in Europe. In this context, Mölling proposes to establish a common European investment pool from which nations may obtain additional funding for investing in common projects if they meet certain criteria.[18]

More than ten years ago, on November 26, 2002, The International Herald Tribune quoted an unnamed French politician who reportedly pointed out that operations in Afghanistan illustrate that the European allies will not be able to play a significant political and military role in future crisis management as partners of the United States unless the members of the European Union bundle their military efforts in common European forces. Thus, as Friedman’s assertions about the emerging doctrine of the United States manifest themselves, Europe will have to quit doing business in defense as usual. It should, along conceptual guidelines lines such as the NATO Network-enabled C2 Maturity Model (N2C2M2)[19], evolve planning and operational approaches that yield a return on its defense investments that is comparable to that of the United States by creating the political and organizational conditions that permit taking advantage of the economies of scale. To this end, “Europeans need to

  • replace their many national defense and armaments planning bureaucracies with common defense planning and RDT&E agencies;
  • consolidate further European defense industries into viable business enterprises;[20]
  • integrate (beyond pooling and sharing) their military and non-military crisis management capabilities into common European capabilities.”[21]

In the Geopolitical Weekly of January 15, 2013 George Friedman underscores his initially mentioned assertions about change of U.S. strategic doctrine by referring to the French intervention in Mali and President Obama’s announcement[22] of transferring the responsibility for combat operations in the coming months to the Afghan Army. He considers both of these events as further manifestations of the United States “moving away from the view that it (USA) has the primary responsibility for trying to manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies. Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests involved”.

Dr. Reiner K. Huber, Emeritus Professor of Applied Systems Science

Universität der Bundeswehr München



[1] Friedman, George (2012): The Emerging Doctrine of the United States. Geopolitical Weekly, October 9, 2012

[2] Ibid, p. 1

[3] The authors of the respective Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report assume that the Asia-Pacific region encompasses East and South East Asia, Australasia, and the coastal areas of South Asia (

[4] Tom Donilon, America is back in the Pacific and will Uphold the Rules. Financial Times Nov. 27, 2011

[5] Overall manpower levels are cut by about 15% for the Army and 10% for the Marine Corps.

[6] CRS Report, p. 12

[7] Wallace Gregson Jr. at Brookings Institution Conference, “Understanding the U.S. Pivot to Asia”, January 31, 2012

[8] The Strategic Review of January 2012 reduces the requirement that U.S. Forces be able to prevail in two simultaneous theater wars to prevailing in one and denying the adversary reaching his objectives in the other. Prevailing implies defeat of the adversary while denying the adversary reaching his objectives implies that it is sufficient if he aborts operations, or is deterred from starting them in the first place, if he cannot hope to reach his operational objectives. (For a mathematical model explaining the very difference between success and sufficiency the reader is referred to R.K. Huber, “Military Stability of Multipolar International Systems: Conclusions from an Analytical Model”. Models for Security Policy in the Post-Cold War Era (Huber/Avenhaus, Eds.). Baden-Baden, 1996: Nomos, pp. 71-81).

[9] Ibid, p. 2

[10] A case in point is the conflict in Mali where several insurgent groups and MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of AZAWAD) that had been fighting for the independence of Azawad, the Tuareg homeland in Northern Mali, were joined by heavily armed Tuareg mercenaries returning home after the fall of Gaddafi.

[11] Ibid, p. 2

[12] Ibid, p. 3

[13] Thus, the deployment of U.S. Predators to Northern Nigeria, to help French and ECOWACS forces monitoring movements of insurgents in Mali and beyond is also a strong signal to Europeans to build up such a capability of their own. In fact, in contrast to traditional counter-insurgency operations, the employment of armed drones seems to be an effective and efficient means to control the movement of transnational terrorists when considering the size of and terrain features in the Sahel zone.

[14] See Veronique Dudouet, Transitions from Violence to Peace: Revisiting Analysis and Intervention in Conflict Transformation. Berghof Report Nr-15, Berlin 2006: Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management

[15] This author believes that the reason why the French government did not call on the EU for a rapid deployment of the EU Battle Group to support French troops in MALI was that the Battle Group on stand-by consisted of French, Polish and German units. The French government presumably was aware of the problems facing the German government asking for parliamentary consent (mandated by the Federal Supreme Court) to a deployment of German combat forces in an election year.

[16] The original initiative to finally begin intensifying military cooperation in Europe through “pooling and sharing” was taken by Germany and Sweden in their joint “Ghent Initiative” of September 2010. It was adopted by the Council of the European Union on December 9, 2010.  NATO Secretary General Rasmussen followed these initiatives when he proposed the concept of “Smart Defence” in February 2011 at the Munich Security Conference.

[17] Christian Mölling (2012).: Pooling ans Sharing in EU and NATO – Europas Verteidigung braucht politischen Engagement, keine technokratischen Lösungen. SWP-Aktuell 25. Mai 2012

[18] Accordingly, cooperating nations would qualify for additional funding if 1) they contributed the same amount from their own defense budgets and 2) the project yields savings. In this manner the cooperating defense departments would double the funds available for development and procurement of the respective cooperative solutions. The savings yielded by the projects are returned to the pool, while their improved operational efficiency benefits the defense budgets of the cooperating nations. The initial capital for the investment pool should be contributed in form of interest-free loans by the states which would benefit most from cooperation, both politically and in terms of military-industrial returns: Germany, France and Great Britain (Mölling (2012), p.4).

[19] Developed by NATO Research Study Group SAS-065, this model provides a conceptual framework for maturing command and control (C2) approaches for multinational military operations and the management of complex civil-military endeavors that involve a large number and diversity of actors and stakeholders who do not necessarily share common interests and common intent, at least not initially (Alberts, D.S., Huber, R.K. and J. Moffat, eds.: NATO NEC C2 Maturity Model, CCRP Publication Series, Washington, DC, 2010).  The development of coherent and lastly interdependent defense planning in Europe will undoubtedly be a complex endeavor considering the large number and diversity of national (governmental, military and industrial) stakeholders involved in generating and sustaining effective and efficient collective European military capabilities.

[20] To some degree, the recent failed attempt of EADS and BAE management to merge both companies into a viable and efficient European defense business enterprise seems to be an indication of prevailing political aversion toward trading off national sovereignty for effectiveness and efficiency.

[21] Huber, R.K. (2003): The Transatlantic Gap: Obstacles and Opportunities for Closing it. In: Transforming NATO Forces: European Perspectives (C.R. Nelson and J.S. Purcell, Eds.), Washington 2003: Atlantic Council of the United States, pp. 59-78).

[22] In his meeting with President Karzai in Washington on January 11, 2013




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Author: Prof. Dr. Reiner K. Huber