Can the Pentagon Afford a New China Pattern?
Robert Haddick’s recent post in his Small Wars blog raises a set of interesting questions about the development of U.S. strategy about China.
It is certainly not news that China’s power, economic, military, diplomatic, and even sporting, have been on the rise. This is of sufficient concern to the United States that Congress requires the Pentagon to prepare an annual report on China’s military power. This year’s report came out last week. The report notes China’s growing investments in military modernization and warns that this “may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties.”
Equally alarming, the report discussed growing debates among China’s policymakers about whether China should assume a more assertive “great power” status, backed by its expanding military power. The report noted that until recently, China’s security strategy followed former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s advice to maintain a low profile and focus on internal development. Today, China’s growing nationalism, renewed attention to regional disputes, and concerns about access to global markets and raw materials over sea lines of communications have opened internal debates about whether China now needs to discard Deng’s long-standing advice.
The U.S. government has hoped to influence these debates inside China. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) in 2006 explicitly stated an intention to “shape the choices of countries at strategic crossroads.” The 2010 QDR restated a commitment to enhancing deterrence, notably for “large-scale conflicts in environments where anti-access weaponry and tactics are used.” These missions were clearly aimed at China, with a goal of dissuading Beijing from challenging the U.S. strategic position in the Western Pacific.
So, how would the United States respond rationally to the concerns raised in the annual China report? According to Haddick, by realigning how the Pentagon budget is allocated among the military services.
To persuade China that challenging the status quo is a waste of its resources, the United States needs to permanently increase its naval and air power in the region, while also reassuring China that the status quo is no threat to its interests. But with Pentagon spending facing a 5 to 10 percent cut over the next decade, something else is going to have to pay for such an expensive expansion in naval and air power. That something is the U.S. Army, which may be making plans to cut 10 or even 15 of its 45 active-duty brigade combat teams.
This is pretty straightforward strategic thinking. As threats change over time, the US government should add the kinds of resources needed to meet the changed threat. In this case, add naval and air power and spend relatively less on ground forces.
However, the Bureaucratic Politics approach to foreign policy analysis tells us that governments don’t always behave rationally. Different departments, e.g., the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, often compete for larger shares in budgets and other intra-mural prizes. Competition can be muted a bit when budgets are growing or relatively stable, but we are in a period when budgets will be shrinking.
The Army, Navy, and Air Force have maintained a decades-long truce over money by agreeing to aroughly constant distribution of the Pentagon’s pie. The rise of China’s military and the demands that will place on naval and air power during a time of shrinking budgets is about to void that interservice treaty. This year’s report on China’s military power may spark a long-simmering budget war inside the Pentagon.
With the military services competing over relatively fewer dollars, supported by their allies, especially in Congress and the defense industry, it may be tempting to make decisions that seek a compromise among bureaucratic interests rather than strategically driven choices. Leadership in the Pentagon, whether in the Obama administration or a coming Republican administration, will require not just strategic clarity but also top-rank managerial skills.
- China’s hegemony to face broad resistance (Korea Herald)
- Meet the new power players
- imabonehead: China’s military power: Modernisation in sheep’s clothing | The Economist
- China accuses US of ‘exaggerating’ military threat – AFP
- Pentagon Reports on China’s Military Ambitions
- China Naval Power Draws US Notice – Wall Street Journal
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