According to the recently released US National Military Strategy (NMS), the international order has reached ‘a strategic inflection point.’ The US Department of Defence still has to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but other regions are in increasing need of attention—particularly Asia.
That the NMS suggests Asia is the region of fastest rising global importance isn’t surprising—Pentagon leaders and other senior Obama administration officials note that Asia contains two rising powers (China, India), several particularly dangerous states (North Korea and Iran), numerous diplomatically important countries and the world’s most vibrant economic region (growing wealth allows regional armies to better bolster their capabilities).
Unsurprisingly, China looms large in the minds of US defence strategists. Managing China’s rising economic and military strength has for some time been a clear preoccupation of Pentagon planners, and some of the text in this latest report is explicit about the unease China’s rise is generating in Washington. The NMS declares, for instance, that the United States will closely follow how the modernization of the People's Liberation Army could adversely affect the military balance across the Taiwan Strait; the US Defence Department also states that it is ‘concerned about the extent and strategic intent of China's military modernization, and its assertiveness in space, cyberspace, in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Still, although there are some overt signs of US worries, most of the text’s concerns over China are implicit. For example, when the NMS expresses alarm about expanding ‘anti-access and area-denial capabilities and strategies to constrain US and international freedom of action,’ the allusion is clearly to China’s development of the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile, anti-satellite weapons, cyber strike capabilities, emerging long-range precision strike systems and other military-related technologies. ‘To safeguard US and partner nation interests,’ the NMS section on China affirms that the Pentagon ‘will be prepared to demonstrate the will and commit the resources needed to oppose any nation’s actions that jeopardize access to and use of the global commons and cyberspace, or that threaten the security of our allies.’
But despite the concern over China’s military build-up, the NMS supports the administration’s broader ‘shaping and hedging’ strategy of transforming China into a responsible global stakeholder. It states, for example, that the United States will pursue a ‘positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship’ with Beijing that ‘welcomes’ a ‘responsible leadership role’ for China. At the regional level, meanwhile, the NMS especially cites the potential value of working with Beijing to counter WMD proliferation, maritime piracy and instability in the Korean peninsula.’
The US side has made it clear in recent months that it hopes Sino-US defence diplomacy will be able to improve the often tense relationship between the PLA and the Pentagon—or at the very least avert unsought confrontations. With this in mind, it suggests that the United States ‘seeks a deeper military-to-military relationship with China to expand areas of mutual interest and benefit, improve understanding, reduce misperception, and prevent miscalculation.’