United States strategic planners are carrying out a fundamental reconfiguration of America's military presence throughout the world. The shift came to light in November 2011, when President Barack Obama announced that some 2500 U.S. Marines were going to take up permanent positions at a training base on the northern tip of Australia. It was underscored in January 2012, when the president appeared at the Pentagon for the release of an extraordinary guidance document with the striking title "Sustaining United States Global Leadership: Priorities for the Twenty-First Century Defined". In a nutshell, the revised strategic posture earmarks more U.S. military resources to East Asia in general and the South China Sea littoral in particular.
Building up naval and air forces in the South China Sea marks a sharp turn away from the focus on the Gulf and Central Eurasia that dominated U.S. strategic planning and military operations during the 1990s and early 2000s. U.S. warships undertook more extensive and more frequent operations in the waters of the Gulf and northwestern Indian Ocean during the last phase of the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran. Such maritime intervention set the stage for a dramatic expansion of army and air force involvement on the Arabian Peninsula in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf war, including the establishment of a constellation of facilities that could be used for pre-positioning arms and supplies, refueling and repairing aircraft and ships and carrying out joint maneuvers with local armed forces. Large-scale U.S. military installations spread north to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even as long-term training and arms supply arrangements were made with Georgia, Azerbaijan and other former Soviet republics.