It has long been argued that Beijing’s military buildup – heavily focused on long-range naval and air assets – is driven by its heavy dependency on sea-lanes of communication, especially for the supply of desperately needed energy resources. That seems understandable. But caution is warranted in light of China’s bellicose display of its expanding military power and its unwillingness to comport itself responsibly by displaying greater transparency in its regional intentions and weapons development programs.
As then-Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said in a speech delivered at China’s Renmin University in July: “Historically as nations develop they often invest in their armed forces and this region is no exception. But with greater military power must come greater responsibility, greater cooperation, and just as important, greater transparency. Without these things the expansion of military power in your region rather than making it more secure and stable, could have the opposite effect.”
U.S. military forces have already begun the long, challenging re-orientation to the sea, especially the Marine Corps and the Navy’s Special Warfare units. But it will take several years before vital maritime and amphibious skills are re-learned and applied after a decade of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. America’s economic woes and diminished defense budget will make this task all the more difficult.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The United States’ geographic re-orientation, or so-called pivot, comes precisely as severe military and defense cutbacks are expected in Washington. Just last week, $600 billion in cuts over the next ten years became a possibility when the Congressional budgetary super committee failed to reach a compromise. Future years’ defense budgets can be expected to remain on the chopping block for some time unless the U.S. Congress acts decisively.
Whether China is considered the United States’ critical trading partner, a strategic competitor or a potential enemy, the reduced U.S. presence in the Pacific didn’t result in needed stability or the spread of democratic values and human liberties. Its return to the Orient, therefore, should be seen as a welcome development.
James Colbert is Policy Director at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and Deputy Editor of The Journal of International Security Affairs.