Given this context, Asian governments shouldn’t overreact to the new document. The Guidance doesn’t describe any new missions, capabilities, or defense initiatives. The Pentagon will simply do the same things it’s currently doing, with some adjustments, mostly downward, in the scale of its activities. The most significant proposed change from current U.S. defense policy is to de-emphasize large-scale, counterinsurgency campaigns, but the reluctance of the Pentagon to engage in further Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s has been evident for a long time now.
If anything, the Strategic Guidance and the accompanying public briefings make evident that the document and the thinking behind it represent not revolutionary change, but a retrospective doctrinal blessing of the strategic approach that has guided U.S. national security policy since the end of the Cold War and, arguably, even earlier.
For example, the U.S. National Military Strategy released last year also spoke of the global security environment reaching “a strategic inflection point.” It, too, noted the need to realign U.S. defense resources released by the military’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan to address to other priority regions, especially Asia.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The Navy has already been moving nuclear attack submarines, Aegis missile defense vessels, and other ships to bases in Guam and Japan. Developing strategic bonds with Asia has been a recurring U.S. objective, never fully realized, for decades.
The Pentagon, like other U.S. and foreign government agencies, has joined with the private sector in recognizing rising relative global importance of the Asia-Pacific region in terms of human, economic, and military potential. Asia contains two large rising powers (China, India), several especially dangerous states (North Korea and Iran), close U.S. allies (Japan, South Korea) ,many other important countries, and the globe’s most vibrant economic region whose growing wealth enables its nation states to field ever more powerful militaries armed with advanced foreign weaponry.
Managing Asian security would be a challenge even for a reinforced Pentagon due to the region’s disruptive demographic trends (Chinese growth vs. Japanese and Russian stagnation), natural resource competition (especially over underwater energy reserves), diffusion of advanced military technologies, and the complexity and fluidity of regional alignments and security institutions.
U.S. policy makers aren’t assuming an inevitable a war with China, but managing China’s rising economic and military strength is an obvious preoccupation of U.S. policymakers. “Over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways,” the Guidance maintains. “Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship.”
Panetta and other U.S. officials have cited economic interdependence as the general reason for the United States to avoid war with China, but they also saw specific areas where the two countries’ national security interests overlap sufficiently to envisage opportunities for collaboration: the Korean Peninsula, freedom of maritime navigation, nuclear proliferation, as well as humanitarian crises and disasters.
Like previous DoD documents, the Guidance cautions that “the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region.” But this construct is merely to justify renewed efforts at defense diplomacy and other forms of bilateral military engagement.
Although Chinese commentators warned of a U.S. military buildup in the Pacific, Asia’s elevated strategic priority won’t necessarily result in an increase in number of U.S. troops stationed in the region.