The Pentagon, despite the reduction of the US Armed Forces and their funding, intends to strengthen its military presence around the world and enhance defense cooperation with allies, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said speaking at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.
"Today, the U.S. military is engaged in nearly 100 countries with nearly 400,000 personnel stationed or deployed around the world. Strengthening these partnerships is our third priority, because working with and working through allies and partners, just as we did during World War II and since, is as essential today as it has ever been," Hagel said.
According to Hagel, the focus is now shifting to the Asia-Pacific region, although other regions are no less important. The official mentioned the presence of the U.S. military in the Philippines, Australia, Singapore Japan and South Korea.
The U.S. also intends to strengthen cooperation with multilateral organizations - not only NATO, but also the ASEAN and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
Hagel touched upon the Ukrainian crisis briefly. According to him, the Pentagon should draw conclusions from the events in Ukraine in training its military so that they could resist a sophisticated enemy. "As we've seen in Ukraine and elsewhere, we must prepare for shadowy conflicts in which nations deploy irregular forces, conduct cyberterrorism, and seek ways to counter our technological edge. And we will always require a ready, capable and modern standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force." Hagel said.
Chuck Hagel also said that the USA was going to strengthen its positions in the Arctic region, where there is a potential for conflicts to arise.
"The melting of gigantic ice caps presents possibilities for the opening of new sea lanes and the exploration for natural resources, energy and commerce, also with the dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic," said Hagel in Chicago.
The interest in the Arctic region has been growing in the whole world during the recent years. The region is one of the priorities for Russia. President Vladimir Putin, at a meeting of the Security Council in April, instructed to create a unified basing system of surface ships and submarines of new generation in the Russian Arctic. Putin also ordered to strengthen the border and provide for the full funding of the program for the development of the region from 2017. To crown it all, Russia will establish a new public authority to implement Russian policies in the Arctic. Putin demanded to stand firm for every piece of the hydrocarbon-rich continental shelf of the Russian Arctic and marine areas.
In addition to Russia and the U.S., Arctic sectors have Canada, Norway and Denmark (Greenland). All these five countries, as well as Iceland, Sweden and Finland, are working together in the Arctic Council (established in 1996) on common Arctic issues in particular on the issues of sustainable development and environmental protection.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the termination of diplomatic relations with NATO at a time when US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ended a meeting in Georgia with his counterpart