Pentagon to set up top post on Asia

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THE Pentagon will embark on a major revamp of its policy-making wing this week. For the first time, it will establish a top-level post on Asia.

Defence sources said North Korea, the rise of China and terrorism in the region prompted the move. It also aims to improve coordination among US government agencies and foreign allies in the war on terror.

“The change reflects the importance of Asia in our long-term strategic calculations,” an official told The Sunday Times.

US defence planners have increasingly focused on the region, especially China. This year’s Quadrennial Defence Review, a top-level reassessment of the Pentagon’s strategy, for example, identifies China as having “the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States”.

Hedging against Chinese military ambitions and other possible developments, the US has moved strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines to the Asian region over the last year.

However, the Pentagon’s policy-making outfit – a nerve centre of 450 military and civilian officers that charts US’ global military footprint – has not clearly reflected Asia’s importance. The reorganisation aims to correct this.

For example, an Asia portfolio is being created for a senior Pentagon official. He will hold the title of assistant defence secretary.

There will be three deputies under him. One will cover North-east Asia, the other Central Asia, and the third South and South-east Asia.

These regions were previously lumped together under the office of the assistant defence secretary for international security.

Sources said that the Pentagon’s seasoned Asia hand, Mr Richard Lawless, is the frontrunner for the Asia slot.

Now a deputy assistant secretary, Mr Lawless has been dealing with regional issues such as US-Japan security ties and negotiating the thorny problem of the relocation of American forces from South Korea.

He must, however, be nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate – like four other assistant defence secretaries in the new structure.

Three of them will be covering a particular region, either Europe, the Middle East, or the Western Hemisphere.

If approved by Congress, a fifth assistant secretary will cover policy areas that cut across regional lines, such as security cooperation, partnership building and detainee affairs.

Defence Undersecretary Eric Edelman, who is heading the reorganisation, told reporters recently that one major reason for the changes was to iron out problems in coordination between various agencies.

He revealed that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had a “sense that we were mis-aligned in some ways”, had ordered the changes. There were past tensions between the Pentagon and other agencies over the war in Iraq, for example.

The restructuring would result in “even less friction” since the Pentagon’s policy areas would be more closely aligned with the way the State Department, White House National Security Council and even the Defence Department’s own regional military commands are organised, including the US Pacific Command.

The changes – the first since 2002 when the post of assistant secretary for homeland security was created – will be implemented in phases until March 2007.

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