China recently published its new Military Strategy. Within this strategy China must be given credit for clearly articulating its version of the “Monroe Doctrine” for the Asia-Pacific region and its desire to no longer play second fiddle to the U.S. globally. Unlike the current U.S. national security strategy, China’s strategy is more narrowly focused on securing its near abroad (the first island chain) while also expanding its military reach to secure its interests globally. Meanwhile, the U.S. faces a complex global landscape, and must confront threats perceived and real emanating from multiple angles while managing significant fiscal constraints.
China’s strategy document — which indicates a more aggressive maritime approach—along with setbacks in Iraq and Syria, and Russia’s continued aggression in the Ukraine, demonstrates the inability for the U.S. to dictate events throughout the globe. Rather the U.S. is forced to react, which raises questions regarding its ability to pivot in any direction. The current U.S. National Security Strategy and subsequent military strategies are designed to simply maintain the status quo while the Chinese Military Strategy seeks to accommodate its rise as a global power.
…friction between the U.S. and China will no longer be limited within the geographical boundaries of the Asia-Pacific region, instead the U.S. and China will find themselves increasingly in zones of global competition.
As such, friction between the U.S. and China will no longer be limited within the geographical boundaries of the Asia-Pacific region, instead the U.S. and China will find themselves increasingly in zones of global competition. In order to secure the global commons and maintain its benevolent global hegemony capable of securing the global commons, the U.S. must posture itself to compete across the global chessboard politically, economically, and militarily. In doing so, the U.S. must also pressure its allies and partners in Europe and Asia to accept a greater share of the security burden in their own regions in order to allow the U.S. to focus on areas that have been traditionally been considered less vital to its national interests. Unlike its current security construct, the U.S. will no longer have the luxury of viewing areas such as South America and Africa as secondary or economy of force locations as they become increasingly contested in China’s pursuit for greater access to resources, markets, and influence.
A Global Contest
Unlike our resource and economic advantage against the Soviets in the Cold War, our chronic high national debt means the U.S. will find itself disadvantaged in a resource competition against a relatively cash-rich China. Since the U.S. carrier intervention in the 1990s, China has embarked on an anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) cost-imposing strategy to negate U.S. strengths in strategic and operational movement and maneuver. China has also indirectly benefited the most from the U.S. preoccupation with Islamic terrorist organizations, which has cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars. Finally, these growing costs were spent on operations rather than weapons modernization. Thus, China is, slowly but surely, closing the capability gap with the U.S.
The U.S. will have to make calculated decisions based on risk assessments that determine levels of commitment based on our vital national security interests rather than peripheral interests.
As the geopolitical and economic landscape transitions from a unipolar to a bipolar and eventually a multipolar world, the U.S. will have to make calculated decisions based on risk assessments that determine levels of commitment based on our vital national security interests rather than peripheral interests. Increased limitations on our freedom of movement from China and other aspiring regional hegemonic powers such as Russia and Iran requires policymakers and military leaders to determine where it is prudent to invest significant military capability versus more limited ones. As a result, threats such as ISIS and Al Qaeda may be increasingly viewed as non-existential and peripheral. These threats might be better suited for containment and management, and therefore no longer receive the lion’s share of the U.S. military’s resources and attention.
Confronting the Challenge
To confront this new security challenge, a new U.S. military strategy should determine what areas the U.S. must maintain a competitive advantage against a future enemy and what efforts it will invest in building the capacity and capability of allies and partners. Future U.S. security cooperation activities need to be carefully considered, allocated for, and measurable for improving regional partner capability and capacity to manage challenges within their own regions. At the same time, this will allow the U.S. to concentrate on deterring external threats to those regions. The U.S. must hold its partners accountable to prevent continued security free-riding at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Additionally, the U.S. can no longer afford to train and equip partners with conventional air, sea, and ground capabilities who, like several current Arab partners, appear incapable of defeating an enemy force equipped with mere Toyota pickup trucks, RPGs, and AK-47s. The U.S. must place a greater responsibility for regional security on its allies and partners while it continues to guarantee access to the global commons and maintains the ability to gain and maintain access to denied areas.
The new Chinese Military Strategy is China’s challenge to the current unipolar world; however, it can serve as an opportunity for the U.S. to regain the leadership initiative if it is prepared to play the long-game rather than react to every non-existential crisis. During the Cold War, the U.S. provided global stability as it competed with its Soviet enemy by carefully choosing which fights it engaged and which ones to avoid in order to husband its strength. In an increasingly competitive global economic and security environment, the U.S. must return to a more realist approach to preserve the status quo, or at least work with China to ensure its actions are mutually beneficial. Doing so requires cleared-eyed analysis of what is truly worth our nation’s blood and treasure. Otherwise, we will continue to chase phantoms while the Chinese Dragon patiently waits until we have weakened ourselves to the point it can subsume our position without a fight.
This post was provided by contributor Chad Pillai, an U.S. Army strategist. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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