He vowed that the armed forces would remain strong even as troops and spending are scaled back.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. military will steadily shrink the Army and Marine Corps, reduce forces in Europe and probably make further cuts to the nation's nuclear arsenal, the Obama administration said Thursday in a preview of how it intends to reshape the armed forces after a decade of war.
The downsizing of the Pentagon, prompted by the country's fiscal problems, means that the military will depend more on coalitions with allies and avoid the large-scale counterinsurgency and nation-building operations that have marked the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, the Pentagon will invest more heavily in special operations forces, which have a smaller footprint and require less money than conventional units, as well as drone aircraft and cybersecurity, defense officials said.
The military will also shift its focus to Asia to counter China's rising influence and North Korea's unpredictability. Despite the end of the Iraq war, administration officials said they would keep a large presence in the Middle East, where tensions with Iran are worsening.
President Obama unveiled the strategy in a rare visit to the Pentagon, where he was flanked by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Joint Chiefs and other officials who sought to project an image of undiminished military power even as they gird for an era of austerity that will necessitate a more restrained use of military force and more modest foreign policy goals.
"Yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority," Obama said.
Obama and Pentagon leaders said their new strategy, contained in an eight-page document, will guide wrenching decisions on defense cutbacks. Details will be made public in the next few weeks as the White House finalizes its proposed federal budget for next year.
In a deficit-reduction deal reached with Congress in August, the White House agreed to cut projected defense spending over the next 10 years by about $480 billion, or about 8 percent of what the Pentagon had planned on.
What really worries Pentagon leaders, however, is that their fiscal problems might get worse. Under a separate deal with Congress, an additional $500 billion in defense cutbacks will be triggered unless lawmakers can agree on an alternative plan to trim the deficit by the end of the year.
Gordon Adams, a former national security budget official in the Clinton administration, predicted that lawmakers would find a way to avoid that trigger, which Panetta has called a "doomsday" scenario for the Defense Department. But he said other cutbacks are likely as Congress tries to find ways to improve the national balance sheet. "That's inevitable," he said. "Only one shoe has fallen here."
Some Republican lawmakers ripped Obama's military strategy. "This is a lead-from-behind strategy for a left-behind America," said Rep. Howard McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The new strategy offers some clear guidance to the military services about which missions to eliminate and which areas of the sprawling defense establishment to scale back. The approach recognizes that military and intelligence agencies will have to continue the battle against Al-Qaida and other global terrorist groups. But instead of using conventional Army and Marine Corps forces in long counterinsurgency wars, the Obama administration wants to focus more heavily on "tailored capabilities appropriate for ... irregular warfare."
It does not formally reject the idea that U.S. military forces will be called on in the future to bring order to fractured societies in the developing world. But it suggests that such operations will be of short duration and have far more limited goals.