As in Pivots 1.0 and 1.5, the elements of Pivot 2.0 were policy focus, strategic mass, and maneuver. But two additional elements injected themselves this time. Alliance politics granted the U.S. military access to the Eurasian rimlands, helping forces overcome the tyranny of distance. At the same time, Eurasian opponents boasted growing capacity to dispute entry into their backyards. These elements persist to this day. No pivot can succeed without access to the theater.
Viewed against the backdrop of history, the Obama administration's maneuver qualifies as Pivot 3.0. How does it differ from its predecessors? First, in effect the administration has pivoted from Western Europe to the greater Indian Ocean, shifting America's gaze from the western to the southern rimland for the first time. That imparts a north-south character to U.S. policy toward Eurasia, modifying its historically east-west, horizontal alignment. The vertical dimension will become even more pronounced should climate change open the Arctic Ocean -- and thus the polar rimland of Eurasia -- to shipping more often and more reliably in the coming decades.
But it overstates matters to fret, as worried Europe-first commentators often do, that the pivot presages American neglect of the Atlantic theater. Unless the United States rearranges its basing structure in the critical theaters -- say, by basing heavy U.S. Navy forces in western Australia, thereby shifting the navy's center of gravity to the region -- it will keep dispatching expeditionary forces from east-coast seaports like Norfolk and Groton to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. They're the closest North American naval stations to the western reaches of the greater Indian Ocean.
For the foreseeable future, then, Washington will continue to depend on the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Red Sea as a thoroughfare for U.S. naval forces. The pivot has deflected the administration's policy attention to the south by a few compass points, from Europe to South Asia, while Washington has come to regard Europe less as an object of U.S. foreign policy in its own right than as an enabler for U.S. policy in Asia. But Europe has been a platform for U.S. warmaking in the Middle East and Indian Ocean region for more than two decades now. Does looking past Europe mark that radical a break with history, and is the shift that worrisome so long as the Atlantic Ocean and Western Europe face no real threat? I can't see why.
Second, the South Asian rimland is inaccessible relative to the eastern and western rimlands, theaters reachable from North America by way of direct if long sea and air routes. Look at the map. U.S. forces bound for the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic must transit narrow seas like the Strait of Gibraltar, Suez Canal, and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Units coming from the Pacific must traverse the Malacca, Lombok, or Sunda straits. If denied passage through these chokepoints, mariners must undertake arduous voyages around the Cape of Good Hope, at Africa's southern tip, or around the southern rim of the South China Sea, scudding between Indonesia and Australia. In extreme circumstances, U.S. Pacific Fleet units might find themselves forced to detour around the southern Australian coast. Strategists must not blithely discount hard geographic realities -- realities compounded by the lethal, long-range, precision weaponry increasingly found in hostile hands.
Third, the United States shouldered an increasing share of the resource burden in its early pivots. It could afford to. But an increasingly cash-strapped Washington would now like to offload some of the burden onto friends and allies. Indeed, the 2007 U.S. Maritime Strategy, which foreshadowed Pivot 3.0, instructs U.S. officials and commanders to seek out alliances, coalitions, and partnerships to help share the load. That makes Pivot 3.0 a stiffer diplomatic challenge than its forebears. It's one thing for allies to grant access to their soil or conduct combined exercises or operations with U.S. forces. The American taxpayer foots most of the bill for such enterprises; what's not to like? It's quite another for allies to agree to help fund a made-in-Washington strategy out of their own taxpayers' pockets. Deft diplomacy will be a must as the strategic pirouette proceeds.
Here's hoping America's next secretary of defense, whether it's Hagel or somebody else, will see U.S. diplomatic history for what it is -- a handy yardstick for today's endeavors.