At this weekend’s Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual International Institute of Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered a well-crafted speech that reaffirmed the core tenets of the Obama administration’s Asia Pivot and showed how the Pentagon was still executing the strategy despite budgetary constraints and the departure from the administration of some of the strategy’s key architects. Yet the reactions to the speech from the senior Asian defense officials present made clear that the pivot continues to face serious obstacles.
Hagel underscored the United States’ enduring security ties with the Asia-Pacific region in explaining why the rebalancing toward Asia following the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars enjoyed such widespread bipartisan support in Washington. He addressed one common criticism of the pivot by noting that it is “not a retreat from other regions of the world,” a perception that has largely dissipated in the past year as the administration has launched high-profile initiatives in the Middle East and other regions.
That Hagel spent almost his entire speech on military issues partially undermined his initial comment that the pivot was “primarily a diplomatic, economic and cultural strategy.” But the speech’s military emphasis was perhaps unavoidable given that he was a defense secretary speaking at a security event.