The Landing Zone | 2.16.13
By Alan W. Dowd
In 2009, President Barack Obama
proposed “spheres of cooperation” between the United States and China, and
insisted that “the United States does not seek to contain China.” Four years
later, the administration is in the midst of carrying out a “Pacific pivot”
aimed at, well, containing China. Given Beijing’s words, deeds and
capabilities, reorienting U.S. force posture toward the Asia-Pacific region
makes sense. The question is: Does the Pentagon have the tools to deter a
rising China and thus make the “Pacific pivot” work?
The short answer is probably not.
pivot is undercut,” the Heritage Foundation’s Bruce Klingner and Dean Cheng
conclude, “by the fact that the U.S. military lacks the resources necessary to
implement such a strategy.”
Washington has lopped off $487
billion from the Pentagon, including cuts to the Air
Force (286 planes), active-duty Army (80,000 soldiers) and Marine Corps (20,000
Marines). All of these cuts come beforesequestration, which still hangs over the Pentagon like a guillotine.
By definition, sea power is an essential element of the
“Pacific pivot.” But the Navy’s prognosis is not good when it comes to
readiness and acquisition. The Navy has been forced to stretch the “build time”
of new aircraft carriers from five to seven years, and recently had to seek a
special congressional waiverto deploy just 10 carriers (rather than the legally-mandated 11).Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom
Copeman concedesthat the ships in the surface fleet “don’t have enough people, don’t have
enough training, don’t have enough parts, and don’t have enough time to get
ready to deploy.” And today’s fleet numbers just 285
ships. By way of comparison, when President
Bill Clinton dispatched two carrier battle groups to calm Beijing’s tantrum in
the Taiwan Straits in 1995-96, the fleet totaled 375
ships. At the height of the Reagan buildup, the fleet
boasted 594 ships.
on the other hand, isn’t cutting anything from its military. Beijing boosted
military spending by 11 percent in 2012. The growth in military spending by
China in the past decade is staggering: from $20 billion to as much as $180 billion. China now deploys 79
principal surface combatants and 50 submarines. According to the Pentagon’s
latest report on
China’s military power, Beijing is pouring increasing sums into cruise
missiles, bombers, submarines and sea-skimming missiles capable of attacking
ships from 1,500 km away, “particularly aircraft carriers in the western
Pacific Ocean”—assets focused on countering American sea power.
Yet given the capabilities of the U.S. military, the
balance of power would still seem to favor the United States—that is, until one
considers that America’s military assets and security commitments are spread
around the globe, while China’s are concentrated in its neighborhood.
Speaking of China’s
neighborhood, Beijing is flexing its military muscle in the oil-rich South
China Sea, intimidating the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam with military maneuvers,
air-space and sea-space violations, and outlandish territorial claims. Beijing
recently earmarked $1.6 billion to build piers and airfields on islands long
claimed by the Philippines.
Worryingly, Beijing’s rhetoricmatches its bellicose behavior and buildup. “We must insist on using
battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly enhancing
officers’ and troops’ thinking about serving in battle, and leading troops into
battle and training troops for battle,” declares China’s newly-minted leader, Xi Jinping. “And we must insist
on rigorous military training based on the needs of actual combat.”
Note the focus on “battle”
and “combat” but no mention of “defense.”
That explains why China’s neighbors are so nervous—a factor that actually enhances
the “Pacific pivot.” Indeed, Washington’s renewed focus on the Pacific is
shared by some of America’s strongest allies. Japan, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and others are
all rising to China’s challenge:
- Japan is investing $8
billion in new warplanes and adding six new submarines. The new government of Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe plans to reverse the previous government’s
defense cuts and will instead increase defense spending for the first time in
more than a decade.
is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar buildup of naval and air forces,
and is doubling its submarine fleet.
- The Philippines
is scrambling to rebuild its woefully under-equipped military, collaborating
with Japan and the U.S. to deploy a credible deterrent force in its swath of
the South China Sea, and offering facilities at Subic
Bay as a servicing hub for U.S. aircraft and warships. Washington publicly reaffirmed
its security commitment to Manila last spring. And Tokyo and Manila declared in
January that they were “strategic partners,” a stunning change for these former
- Thailand and Washington updated their 1962 military pact last
fall, with an emphasis on “greater security responsibilities…particularly in
maritime security” for Thailand’s military, according to outgoing Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta.
- The U.S. has new basing agreements in place or in the
works with Australia and the Philippines, more troops in Okinawa,
additional missile defense-assets in Japan, and beefed-up facilities on
- Finally, the United States has forged a new
security partnership with India, highlighted by $8 billion in arms sales
in the past five years.India will
christen 75 new warships by 2019.
these developments serve to augment the “Pacific pivot,” the key to deterring
China’s military impulses and preventing what Churchill called “temptations to
a trial of strength” is American military might. A Pentagon report noted in
2008 that China has “deep respect for U.S. military power.” But with the United
States in the midst of massive military retrenchment, one wonders how long that
reservoir of respect will last.
“We’ll have those who attempt to exploit our
vulnerabilities, if we’re required to cut too much,” warns Army Chief of Staff
Gen. Raymond Odierno.
“They will challenge our credibility
and they could miscalculate.”
Odierno’s words, especially in conjunction with Xi Jinping’s,
remind us that there’s a price to keeping the Pacific peaceful—and that it’s a
price worth paying.
The Landing Zone is Dowd’s monthly column on national defense and international security featured on the American Legion's website.