China’s Military Capability and America’s Response

Just in time for the Congressional consideration of the Department of Defense’s budget for 2012 and the pending decision by the Administration of the 2013 budget submission to OMB and the White House, the DOD has come out with its report on China’s military capability.  Surprise, surprise, they think China may be a danger to American military might!

Note, I might add, that the American military budget is ten times that of the next ten nations combined that include France, Great Britain, and all of our NATO allies.  Nor does that include the rest of our “allies” in both Europe and Asia like Japan and South Korea.   The report says that China is “closing key gaps” and increasing its military spending.  The conclusion is that China is building toward a 2020 goal of a modern war machine that could threaten stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Pentagon says. They are rebuilding on old foreign aircraft carrier and hope to start another of their own. The first does not even have planes on it and is still in sea trials.   There is indeed reason for some concern about China’s military activities and forces, but they are not “Nine Feet Tall” as the Pentagon often portrayed the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which we learned was not true. The Chinese military is to be watched and it would be foolhardy not to ensure that we continued to watch its advances, but it is a very long way from having any capability of overtaking our own and our allies’ defense establishments, including in Asia for many decades. Even more dangerous would be to start an arms race that would give an excuse for the Chinese military to demand even more resources and greater control over foreign and national security policy.

In fact in many ways, the report noted a number of qualifiers that acknowledged the limited capabilities and reach of the Chinese military.

From a broader perspective of American long-term national security and foreign policy interests, we would be better off working on a long-term dialogue about military and defense issues with the Chinese to seek an agreement about a cooperative and mutually transparent approach to military issues and relationships rather than see both sides engage in dangerous “saber rattling.” We did this  cooperative approach over time with the old Soviet Union and now with Russia –with much success for both.

In many ways it is not surprising that China is building up its military, which in many areas remains behind that of the more advanced countries in technology, sophistication, and long-range capability. But China can have no interest in a military confrontation with the U.S.  Their economy is in large part based on their ability to sell their goods to the U.S. and other advanced countries allied with us. Their raw materials come from countries that are allied with us and would be cut off in the case of any conflict. In short, it would be disastrous for China to “build to use” as against simply as a statement of their global interests and increased power.  Confrontation with our friends in Asia by ill-judged military forays would only drive these countries into more formal military cooperation and alliances with us, which China would not want.  The Chinese leadership knows this and probably much of its military leadership does as well. Expect, however, the “usual suspects” of the greedy “military industrial complex” to make use of the report to defend and increase the DOD budget and to push for many more largely unneeded weapons systems…especially for the Air Force and Navy.  We do need more capable military forces but that should be via better trained and supported forces aimed at terrorism and regional conflicts, where such advanced and expensive systems have very limited roles to play if any and take scarce resources away from real threats and conflict preventive capabilities and mobility, which are needed on the ground.    

We welcome your comments!

By Harry C. Blaney III.

2 thoughts on “China’s Military Capability and America’s Response

  1. Harry C. Blaney III August 29, 2011 / 12:19 PM

    I have to agree with Paul’s comments but the reality is that there are no other good candidates for an argument for major funding for large and super profitable and often useless weapons systems and other high tech expensive projects. So they use China! But it does not pass the smell test for serious national security experts as an excuse for useless weapons but it may for the lobbyists and their money on Congress. Even more so in an election year where corporations can give unlimited money without the public knowing.

    The likely real need is for programs that enhance the capability and safety and reach of highly trained and mobile forces, intelligence efforts, and civilian development experts and programs.

    You don’t easily make multi-billion dollar contracts from body armor, drones, night vision equipments, peacekeeping training, and language training or from programs that emphasize preventive actions like civic action, job creating programs, safe water projects, etc.

    We need better capability for national and better multinational non-lethal intervention in areas on the brink of conflict, including meditation, especially training of civic organizations, helping local agricultural and health projects, and democracy building.

    Above all we need more capability to act in situations where regional conflict is incipient and growing and where preventive non-lethal action can provide a peacemaking and peacekeeping capability. This means diplomatic action by the Department of State, USAID and, as needed, DOD’s intelligence, civic action, and peacekeeping capabilities. Best much of this should be done under international organization like the United Nations, EU, NATO or regional organizations. But these are just the kind of programs the Republicans in the House and Senate want to cut while lobbying for big buck budget busting unneeded military projects.

    As noted in earlier posts we need post conflict assistant capability, most importantly in places like Libya and Egypt, etc.

    Comments welcomed!

  2. Paul Sack August 28, 2011 / 4:16 PM

    The U.S. military has been seeking an enemy ever since the demise of the USSR, but China seems a poor substitute.

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