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How US military plans to carry out Obama's 'pivot to Asia'

A US policy shift toward Asia means a greater role for the Navy. Even pre-'pivot to Asia,' it already stationed half its ships in the region, and it is developing a new 'afloat forward staging base' in the Pacific.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / February 18, 2013

A US Navy aviator flies a training mission over Japan. The US has more than 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, just one part of its strong military presence in Asia.

Douglas Spence/U.S. Navy/AP

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Washington

The Pentagon's No. 2 official, Ashton Carter, picked a telling time to discuss the US military's plans for its new strategic focus on the Asia-Pacific.

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At Europe's premier security conference in Munich, Germany, this month, Mr. Carter took the opportunity to reassure concerned NATO allies, among others, that America's focus on Asia would not mean its abandonment of Europe. Some US partners have been concerned that even the phrase "pivot to Asia" implies that the United States would be turning its back on Europe.

"Asia has no NATO, has not had a NATO, has had no way of knitting together countries and healing the wounds of the Second World War," he said, making the case for the shift. "Europe is a source of security and not a consumer of security in today's world, fortunately," Carter said. While Asia has prospered for 70 years, "it's not automatic," he added. "And I think a central reason for that peace and prosperity has been the pivotal role of American military power in that part of the world."

It's a role that is slated to grow in the near term (even if John Kerry raised some questions during his Senate hearing to become secretary of State). Indeed, the US military is aiming both to strengthen relationships with rising economic partners in the region and to increasingly act as a counter to rivals for power – most notably, China.

As outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said, the Pentagon's strategic shift is being driven by a recognition that America's security in the 21st century "will be linked to the security and prosperity of Asia more than any other region on earth."

The shift has implications for the services, too, particularly as America's decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end. The Army and Marine Corps have been the go-to branches during this time. Now it is the Navy to which the Pentagon will be increasingly turning.

Currently, half of the Navy's ships are stationed in the Asia-Pacific region. This helps the US build relationships in the region, as well as reassure allies, says Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations.

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