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Fumio Ota

【#420】Predicting U.S. Strategy Based on Advisers to Defense Secretary

Fumio Ota / 2017.02.09 (Thu)


February 6, 2017

     The U.S. Trump administration’s Defense Secretary James Mattis made his first visit to Japan, holding talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada. Mattis reaffirmed the significance of the Japan-U.S. alliance and committed that the Senkaku Islands, which China seeks to control, are subject to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty’s Article 5 obliging the United State to defend Japan. He tried to eliminate the Japanese side’s relevant fears. I here would like to predict a future U.S. defense strategy in consideration of two advisers chosen by Defense Secretary Mattis two weeks ago.

Advisers served as carrier strike force commanders
     One is Navy Rear Adm. Craig S. Faller, who served as a commander of Carrier Strike Group 3 in the Indian and Pacific Oceans around 2012. He has close ties with Congress and is expected to play a role in increasing defense spending by repealing defense budget sequestration enacted five years ago. Faller is well versed in strategies toward North Korea and China.
     The other is retired Navy Rear Adm. Kevin M. Sweeney, named chief of staff for the defense secretary. He has also served as a surface combat commander for a carrier strike group.
     Sweeney graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 and Faller in 1983. They were midshipmen when I served as an instructor at the academy. Faller, majoring in system engineering, worked as a nuclear specialist early in his career. Sweeney is an expert on communications and combat systems.

Fading concerns on disregard for Asia
     In the December 7 “Speaking Out” column titled “A Bit Concern on Senior officials of Trump Administration,” I pointed out that Defense Secretary Mattis, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo are oriented toward land battle and have had little experience in the Asia-Pacific region, expressing concerns about how the Asia rebalancing policy and the AirSea Battle concept against China would be treated in the future.
     Now that Mattis chose South Korea and Japan as the destinations for his first foreign tour, selected the two former carrier strike force commanders as his advisers and is very close relationship with Adm. John Richardson, the most senior naval officer as Chief of Naval Operations, my concerns are fading away.
     When I was Defense Attaché in Washington, Mattis was working as a brigadier general and military adviser to then Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy De Leon. He is well aware of how to do business at the Pentagon. However, retired Army Lt. Gen. Flynn, who is ranked lower and younger than retired Marine Gen. Mattis, had reportedly to be unhappy about the nomination of Mattis as defense secretary. I wish their rift would not affect U.S. defense strategies.

Fumio Ota is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.