Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a month long “global posture” review just days after taking office. It will assess how the United States can best arrange and support its far-flung network of troops, weapons, bases and alliances to buttress President Joe Biden’s foreign policy.
The review is part of the administration’s effort to chart a path for a military still caught in decades-old Mideast conflicts, facing flat or declining budgets and grappling with internal problems like racism and extremism.
Its outcome could have a long-lasting impact on the military’s first priority: ensuring it is ready for war in an era of uncertain arms control. Also at stake are relations with allies and partners, weakened in some cases by the Trump administration’s “America first” approach to diplomacy.
Austin’s review is closely related to a pending administration decision on whether to fulfil the prior administration’s promise to fully withdraw from Afghanistan this spring. And it is advancing separately from big-dollar questions about modernizing the strategic nuclear force.
Like the Trump administration, Biden’s national security team views China, not militant extremists like al-Qaida or the Islamic State group, as the No. 1 long-term security challenge. Unlike his predecessor, Biden sees great value in US commitments to European nations in the NATO alliance.
That could lead to significant shifts in the US military “footprint” in the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, although such changes have been tried before with limited success.
The Trump administration, for example, felt compelled to send thousands of extra air and naval forces to the Persian Gulf area in 2019 in an effort to deter what it called threats to regional stability. Biden has seen reminders of this problem in recent days with violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It might also mean a Biden embrace of recent efforts by military commanders to seek innovative ways to deploy forces, untethered from permanent bases that carry political, financial and security costs.