Washington: The US does not have the "luxury of retrenchment", Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday, warning that if America takes a back seat on global issues, the vacuum thus created would be filled by those who may not use its power responsibly or judiciously.
"During this period of budget turmoil, and after a financial crisis and a decade where our country has grown weary of war and sceptical of foreign engagements, questions arise about the merits of America`s global leadership," Hagel said in a major policy speech at the National Defence University here.
"America does not have the luxury of retrenchment - we have too many global interests at stake, including our security, prosperity, and future. If we refuse to lead, something, someone will fill the vacuum. The next great power may not use its power as responsibly or judiciously as America has used its power over the decades since World War II," Hagel said in his remarks, which many could infer that he was referring to China.
"We have made mistakes and miscalculations with our great power. But as history has advanced, America has helped make a better world for all people with its power. A world where America does not lead is not the world I wish my children to inherit," said the Secretary of Defence.
Even as the US is emerging from more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of violent extremism persists and continues to emanate from weak states and ungoverned spaces in the Middle East and North Africa, he noted.
"There also stands an array of other security challenges of varying vintage and degrees of risk to the United States: the proliferation of dangerous weapons and materials, the increased availability of advanced military technologies in the hands of state and non-state actors, the risk of regional conflicts that could draw in the United States, the debilitating and dangerous curse of human despair and poverty, as well as the uncertain implications of environmental degradation," he said.
Cyber attacks - which barely registered as a threat a decade ago - have grown into a defining security challenge, with potential adversaries seeking the ability to strike at America`s security, energy, economic and critical infrastructure with the benefit of anonymity and distance, he said.
"The world today is combustible and complex, and America`s responsibilities are as enormous as they are humbling. These challenges to our security and prosperity demand America`s continued global leadership and engagement, and they require a principled realism that is true to our values," the Defence Secretary said.
Noting that the US military remains an essential tool of American power, but one that must be used judiciously, with a keen appreciation of its limits, he said most of the pressing security challenges today have important political, economic, and cultural components, and do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by conventional military strength.