The China pivot and the US ‘siege’ strategy

On April 26, 2012 by stratagem

Source: Asia Times

On January 5, the Pentagon released a strategic review. The document itself was not particularly novel. The Pentagon regularly does strategy reviews, trying, like a modern version of the Oracle of Delphi, to divine the future and adjust its forces accordingly.

Since the end of the Cold War the Pentagon has had the Bottom Up Review, the Commission on the Roles and Missions of the US Armed Forces, and several Quadrennial Defense Reviews, to name but a few.

The latest document, “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” describes the projected security environment and the key military missions for which the US military will prepare.

The review did attract some attention for its supposed new focus on Asia, also called the “pivot to Asia”, which first appears in the document on page two, when it states:

US economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.

The next paragraph said:

The maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of US influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence. Over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways. Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.

China is referred to only one more time in the eight-page document, in a paragraph on “Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges.”

That is rather curious considering that for years most US military planners have been looking to China as the yardstick by which US military forces must be measured for its next major conflict.

Those looking for the etiology of the China pivot need to go back a few months earlier, to the article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which appeared in the November 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs journal. She wrote:

As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise – in the Asia-Pacific region.

Actually, Clinton was quite diplomatic. She wrote that, “Some in our country see China’s progress as a threat to the United States; some in China worry that America seeks to constrain China’s growth. We reject both those views. The fact is that a thriving America is good for China and a thriving China is good for America. We both have much more to gain from cooperation than from conflict.”

A standard view of what many commentators see at the Chinese military threat was written by foreign affairs journalist Robert Kagan in the April issue of the Atlantic Magazine:

Advances in Chinese naval, air, space, missile, and cyber-warfare capabilities are reshaping the strategic landscape. China’s acquisitions demonstrate that it does aspire to be a great military power. It is China’s shop-till-you-drop acquisition of nuclear and advanced diesel-electric submarines that particularly worries Pentagon planners. Naval warfare is going undersea, as surface warships become more vulnerable to missiles and other anti-access technology.

China has been acquiring submarines at the rate of 4-to-1 vis-a-vis the United States since 2000, and 8-to-1 since 2005. Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are all acquiring submarines to counter the Chinese buildup. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has vowed that defense cuts will not come at the expense of America’s Pacific military assets.

Clinton has voiced an intention to pivot from the Middle East to the Pacific. President Barack Obama has announced the deployment of 2,500 marines to Australia. Australia, a country of only 23 million, will spend $279 billion over the next 20 years for new subs and fighter jets. These statements and developments are about one thing: countering China’s military rise and the tectonic shifts associated with it.

While commentators of all ideologies agree that China, by virtue of its advances on the entire standard measures of power, from economic to military, merit putting it high up on the list of rising powers it is far from clear that it is a menacing power. Even Kagan conceded that:

The larger question is whether internal developments in China will impede its further military growth. Will an economic crisis stoke or defuse Chinese nationalism; increase or decrease defense budgets? No one knows. I have written often that China’s military rise is normal – not illegitimate, like America’s at the start of the 20th century.

But China and the Asia-Pacific region has long been an area of military concern for the United States. The US military has long divided the world into military fiefdoms, ie unified combatant commands, for military planning purposes, and the fiefdom encompassing the Asia-Pacific region is the US Pacific Command, headquartered in Hawaii. The state also headquarters the US Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces.

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