U.S. Needs New Bases in Asia to Counter China Threat, Esper Says
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet at a U.S. air base in Gunsan, South Korea. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg) 

U.S. Needs New Bases in Asia to Counter China Threat, Esper Says

(Bloomberg) -- Mark Esper, President Donald Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, said the U.S. needs more bases “throughout the Indo-Pacific region” to counter China’s “significant technological advancements.”

“Alternate operating locations” will be sought as the Pentagon works “to develop new concepts, build a distributed and resilient force posture and field new capabilities to counter these threats,” Esper, who had been serving as Army secretary and then as acting defense secretary, said in written answers to questions from lawmakers ahead of a Senate confirmation hearing that convened on Tuesday morning.

Esper’s nomination as Pentagon chief comes as U.S. defense strategy shifts to confronting China and Russia as the defense department’s primary challenges, supplanting the war on terrorism. China, with the world’s second-largest economy, is making major investments in military capabilities to challenge America’s post-World War II dominance, especially in the Asia-Pacific.

“China has made significant technological advancements in weapons systems designed to defeat, or drastically reduce the effectiveness of U.S. forces, including in the range and accuracy of its missile forces,” Esper said. “China is also developing sophisticated on-orbit capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair, some of which could also function as a weapon.”

Esper who was confirmed as Army secretary in November 2017, is a former Raytheon Co. vice president for government relations. He had been serving as acting defense secretary -- succeeding Patrick Shanahan, who removed himself from consideration for the permanent job last month. But the 55-year-old Esper was required by law to step down from the acting secretary role now that he’s been formally nominated to lead the Pentagon. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is filling in as acting secretary.

The Pentagon hasn’t had a confirmed secretary since James Mattis quit in December. Other topics covered in Esper’s written responses:

Iran

“Given the recent tensions in the region, the Department of Defense will continue to ensure the U.S. military is adequately postured to deter Iran from committing aggressive actions and, if necessary, to provide the president with a broad range of military options to respond to potential acts of aggression by Iran or its regional proxies,” Esper said.

War Powers

Esper said the president doesn’t need a new or revised Authorization for Use of Military Force from Congress to act against Iran, as some lawmakers contend.

“A repeal or substantive revision of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force could create substantial, avoidable, and unnecessary litigation risk by unsettling the existing legal framework.”

Afghanistan

“Progress in peace negotiations would reduce levels of violence and therefore factor into recommendations on force levels,” he said.

Asked whether the Taliban could deliver on pledges to deny safe haven in Afghanistan to groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda, he said, “In the event of a peace deal, we would have to evaluate the Taliban’s ability to work with the Afghan security forces to combat terrorist threats.”

Syria

Esper listed “the withdrawal of Iranian-commanded forces in Syria” as among U.S. goals in that country, along with “the enduring defeat” of Islamic State and “an irreversible political process” that would include “a cease-fire and a political settlement.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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