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.
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By Harry C. Blaney III.