Harry Kazianis

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Harry Kazianis

The Diplomat’s Assistant Editor Harry Kazianis answers readers’ questions on China, its military and the future of the United States in the Pacific.

Nick Miller (LinkedIn):
What is your assessment of China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile?

There’s been much written in regards to all of China’s anti-ship missile technologies, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. The most discussed is the DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM). The missile would be fired from a mobile truck-mounted launcher into the atmosphere, with over-the-horizon radar, satellite tracking and possibly new unmanned aerial vehicles each providing guidance to its target. It also presumably would incorporate a maneuverable warhead.

Such a device could be instrumental in striking a vessel in the open ocean or denying access to a potential opponent in transiting to a conflict zone in the commons.

The difficulty in determining how much of a threat such a system poses is that it hasn’t been field tested, at least as far as the public knows. There have been reports of testing of parts of the missile along with internet rumors of tests, but nothing says operational like a full-up test for the world to see. As my new interview with Roger Cliff noted, the DF-21D is likely to be met with various counter-measures such as ocean going U.S. Aegis missile defense platforms, jamming of radar and PLA guidance equipment that provides up-to-date tracking information of targets, and possibly jamming of the warhead itself.

I would offer in the final analysis the U.S. military has already begun field deployments, technological investments, and force structure changes to counter China’s A2/AD strategy. What I would argue is that the core of China’s A2/AD strategy, Anti-Ship missiles, both cruise- and ballistic-based, isn’t at heart about new technologies. We must not forget such weapons have been used in conflicts before, such as the Falklands conflict as well as Iraq’s firing on the USS Stark. U.S. planners have had ample time to develop strategies and tactics to defeat or lessen the impact of such weaponry on the battlefield. Still, I’d worry about swarm tactics being used on an opponent, or multiple vectored strategies like a cruise and/or ballistic ASBM attack along with submarines and aircraft, and there’s a question how U.S or other forces would respond to such an A2/AD threat.

Michael Scorps (LinkedIn):
What is the greatest challenge facing China today? A U.S. shift to the Pacific? Something else?

I think the “greatest threat” China faces is truly from within. Will societal stability collapse if China can’t grow at the super high rates of the last twenty years? It’s an interesting question which we may see an answer to relatively soon.

China’s economy arguably achieves its dramatic growth year after year through an economy driven excessively by exports. I worry that with economies slowing in Europe, will China be able to achieve such massive GDP growth without another stimulus? China’s local governments are already saddled with massive debt, so the question is whether the central government could afford to pursue such a policy again. China has been attempting to shift towards a consumption model based on local demand with a service sector component. But can it make the changes quickly enough? I’m not sure.

China also faces another problem: a demographic time bomb. China in the next several years will according to projections see its working age population peak. After that, China’s dependent population will grow quickly. How will China’s economy, and society, respond to a rapidly aging population that may not be able to support itself? With economic challenges like these to consider, the talk of the United States being any type of threat seems a little off the mark.

Joshua Groton (Facebook):
Many have argued the U.S. is in decline militarily when compared with China’s rising military and high economic growth rates. Do you feel the U.S. is in decline and could lose its “superpower” status?

I don’t feel the U.S. is in a terminal decline, although I would characterize the United States as being in relative decline. When looking at the BRIC nations and others with their rapid growth rates and in some cases expanding militaries, it’s obviously clear they are catching up from a low economic and military starting point. This is where relative comes into play.

I think one has to look at the facts and move beyond the hype and headlines to have an honest discussion concerning possible U.S. decline. The U.S. economy by most measures has an annual GDP of over $15 trillion dollars. The next closest are China and Japan, with GDP of about $5 trillion dollars apiece annually. I could go on and discuss military, broader economic points and alliance structures, but just the GDP numbers alone make it clear that the United States can’t be written off.

Of course over the next few years, if the United States doesn’t get its economic house in order and start to rein in the trillion dollar-plus deficits, it could be headed for even deeper financial difficulties. America can’t afford to keep borrowing at this level. The United States must begin start to reduce spending, for a start. And this is already happening with the announcement of significant cuts to the Defense Department’s budget. So I’m still hopeful politicians on both sides of the aisle will be able to craft sensible solutions to tackle deficit spending and put America on a financially sustainable path.