What America Can Learn from China’s People’s Liberation Army


PLA repleshment tanker Hongzehu. Image: US Navy

Annie Kowalewski  April 18, 2017

President Trump recently called for a $54 billion increase in military spending to “send a message to the world… of American strength, security, and resolve.” The U.S. defense establishment is currently grappling with how these additional funds should be spent to achieve the stated objective. Merely investing in increasing the size of our forces is ineffective. Instead, the United States must prioritize modernizing its capabilities to meet new types of threats. As the United States advances down this path, it could look towards an unlikely source for inspiration: the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China watchers around the world continue to characterize the PLA as a “paper tiger”, but the United States could stand to learn a thing or two about force modernization from its Asian counterpart.

Do Not Underestimate the Paper Tiger

China’s last major conflict with a foreign adversary, its failed offensive in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, led foreign commentators and military experts to deem the PLA a “ragtag” military that was disorganized and underfunded. Generally, the PLA lacked the technology and organizational wherewithal needed to fight even the smallest of adversaries. Today, the PLA has undergone massive military modernization efforts. They still note that the PLA is “not ready” to fight in a modern war due to technological gaps in China’s air defense, the nature of the bureaucratic and corrupt Chinese state, and its lack of combat experience.

The Chinese bureaucracy is cumbersome and beset with corruption. Yet its centralized nature has historically allowed China to rapidly adapt its fighting force to meet the shifting military-technological environment. Take, for instance, Deng Xiaoping and the first wave of PLA reform in the 1980s. The Chinese government recognized that mass alone could no longer assure its national security. Deng, therefore, shifted China’s military doctrine from a “people’s war” to a “people’s war with modern conditions.” In keeping with this doctrinal shift, the PLA rapidly deprioritized recruitment and manpower and instead focused efforts on acquiring a relatively modern arsenal. In just a few years’ time, Deng’s administration reduced the PLA’s military personnel by nearly one million and reformed China’s defense industry to focus on producing precision-guided weapons.

China shifted its military doctrine once more in 2015. This time Chinese strategists called for a return to an “active” defense, a notion reminiscent of an idea first surfaced by Mao Zedong in the early 1970s of using a large, mobilized army to protect China’s borders. Unlike Mao’s version, the modern notion of ‘active defense’ would have the PLA protect Chinese interests beyond the mainland’s borders by investing in new sea and air control technologies and reorganizing its services accordingly. The objective of these reforms is to create a force that is organizationally—and technologically—equipped to pursue joint, high-tech wars in the future multi-domain battlespace.

China’s Military-Technological and Organizational Investments

Pursuant to this doctrinal change, China is investing heavily in key areas of potential asymmetric technological advantage. China has, for instance, implemented a massive-scale ‘space dream’ project that aims to propel China to become a “global space power by 2030.” This effort is largely directed at interdicting U.S. space infrastructure since the U.S. battle network relies heavily on its military space constellation.

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) reports also show that the PLA is investing heavily into “developing its counter-space, offensive cyber operations, and electronic warfare capabilities meant to deny adversaries the advantages of modern, information technology-driven warfare.” Corroborating DoD assertions, China’s most recent White Paper on defense revealed that the PLA aims to “win informationized local wars” and integrate emerging domains like cyber and space into its current training programs to create a joint and flexible fighting force.

The PLA has matched high technological investments with efforts to overhaul its organizational structure. Indeed, since December 2015, the PLA has completely transformed its command structure. The PLA’s old, Soviet-style centralized command structure has been replaced with seven geographically-aligned Theatre Commands (TCs). Each Chinese TC is tasked with managing threats within its geographic purview by capitalizing on recent Chinese military-technology advances and coordinating with other TCs. China’s Eastern and Southern TCs—which oversee Taiwan operations and territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas, respectively—specialize in sea control and amphibious assault operations. From the U.S. perspective, these operations represent components of China’s broader A2/AD strategy for deterring or, if necessary, defeating U.S. power projection in East Asia. From Beijing’s vantage point, they are required steps for defending the Chinese mainland. Critically, the Eastern and Southern TCs’ train to conduct these missions by leveraging high-level coordination and technological capabilities that China lacked just a few years ago.

Lessons from the Paper Tiger

The PLA has, and will no doubt continue, to encounter a learning curve as it sustains modernizations efforts. Yet China has already demonstrated its ability to rapidly pivot its military-technological base to exploit U.S. asymmetric vulnerabilities. This explains the shrinking U.S.-China weapons capabilities gap. At the same time, the PLA has shown its ability to adapt its organization to the realities of the emerging battlespace—a critical input if its military technological advances are to inform military victory. Together, these trends explain how China has come to challenge U.S. power in the Asian-Pacific region.

China’s progress on military modernization notwithstanding, some U.S. analysts maintain that China’s military will continue to be hamstrung—and, therefore, remain a “paper tiger”—by its lack of recent combat experience. In support of this argument, U.S. analysts often reference American forces’ combat experience in the Middle East over the past fifteen years as a source of great advantage in any potential conflict with China.

It is true that U.S. forces have gained extensive experience fighting in a fluid, unconventional military landscape, but the overall utility of that experience remains in question. U.S. forces are very experienced—and effective—at targeting non-state actors for kill or capture. They have less experience with highly-trained conventional opponents. U.S. air forces likewise have a great deal of experience performing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions in un- or limitedly-contested airspace. They have not flown large-scale operations in contested airspace in many decades. The U.S. military also has no experience fighting an adversary that aims, as the PLA does, to offset U.S. operational advantages by exploiting its vulnerabilities in the cyber, space, air, and sea domains.

U.S. forces’ experience conducting expansive counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns could further hinder U.S. adaptiveness in other ways. The U.S. military bureaucracy is not famously agile. Its focus on these types of operations have already impeded efforts to adapt to the future of warfare. The training necessary to combat insurgent groups with limited weaponry greatly differs from the training necessary to operate and utilize high-end technologies against a modern adversary. The Department of Defense’s entrenched bureaucracy also makes it difficult to adapt to new types of threats that require a quicker response time. This problem is chronicled by those who discuss U.S. struggles with adapting to cyber, space, and informational warfare. It is also evident in the numbers. Reports reveal that U.S. modernization funding, which includes cyber and space capabilities, has decreased in the past five years.
Looking to the Future

The United States thus stands to gain the most from deeper inspection of the Chinese military’s ongoing modernization efforts. The PLA has shown remarkable flexibility in its efforts to evolve—technologically and organizationally—to conduct more complex, technology-intensive forms of warfare. The United States has recognized the need to do the same. To send a message of “strength, security and resolve,” and to compete with modern adversaries like the PLA, the United States must commit its additional defense funding to undertaking the organizational and technological innovations required to win an increasingly-complex threat environment.

Annie Kowalewski is a Research Intern for the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security and a Masters student at Georgetown University. She focuses on emerging technology, defense strategy, and U.S.-Chinese security relations.

Source: National Interest “What America Can Learn from China’s People’s Liberation Army”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

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Ending Endless War: A Pragmatic Military Strategy


Coffins of U.S. military personnel are prepared to be offloaded at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, May 2004. Reuters photo

Coffins of U.S. military personnel are prepared to be offloaded at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, May 2004. Reuters photo

By Andrew J. Bacevich

During the Cold War, the United States preferred to husband, rather than expend, its military power. The idea was not to fight but to defend, deter, and contain, a cold peace infinitely preferable to nuclear cataclysm. When U.S. policymakers strayed from this principle, attempting to unify the Korean Peninsula in 1950 or deploying combat troops to Vietnam in the 1960s, the results proved unhappy in the extreme.

Husbanding did not imply timidity. To impart credibility to its strategy of containment, the United States stationed substantial forces in Western Europe and Northeast Asia. For allies unable to defend themselves, U.S. garrisons offered reas­surance, fostering an environment that facilitated recovery and development. Over time, regions deemed vulnerable stabilized and prospered.

Beginning in the 1990s, however, official thinking regarding the utility of force changed radically. The draft “Defense Planning Guidance” prepared in 1991 under the aegis of Paul Wolfowitz, then U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, hinted at the emerging mood. The mere avoidance of war no longer sufficed. Describing an inter­national order “shaped by the victory of the United States” over communism and in the just-concluded war against Iraq, the document identified opportunities to “shape the future security environment in ways favorable to [the United States].”

Shaping the future—here was an enterprise worthy of a superpower charged with fulfilling history’s purpose. Lending such expectations a semblance of plausibility was an exalted appreciation of American military might. By the early 1990s, concepts such as “defend and deter” seemed faint-hearted, if not altogether cowardly. One army field manual from that era credited U.S. forces with the ability to achieve “quick, decisive victory on and off the battle­field anywhere in the world and under virtually any conditions.” Once considered a blunt instrument, force was now to serve as an all-purpose chisel.

Rarely has a benign-sounding pro­position yielded greater mischief. Pursuant to the imperative of shaping the future, military activism became the order of the day. Rather than adhere to a principled strategy, successive administrations succumbed to opportunism, cultivating a to-do list of problems that the United States was called on to solve. More often than not, the preferred solution involved the threat or actual use of force.

By the early 1990s, concepts such as “defend and deter” seemed faint-hearted, if not altogether cowardly.

Putting the chisel to work gave rise to a pattern of promiscuous intervention. After 9/11, confidence in the efficacy of American military might reached its apotheosis. With his “freedom agenda” providing ideological camouflage, President George W. Bush embraced preventive war, initially targeting “an axis of evil.” U.S. military policy became utterly unhinged.

So it remains today, with U.S. forces more or less permanently engaged in ongoing hostilities. In one theater after another, fighting erupts, ebbs, flows, and eventually meanders toward some ambiguous conclusion, only to erupt anew or be eclipsed by a new round of fighting elsewhere. Nothing really ends. Meanwhile, as if on autopilot, the Pentagon accrues new obligations and expands its global footprint, oblivious to the possibility that in some parts of the world, U.S. forces may no longer be needed, whereas in others, their presence may be detrimental. During the Cold War, peace never seemed any­thing but a distant prospect. Even so, presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan cited peace as the ulti­mate objective of U.S. policy. Today, the term “peace” itself has all but vanished from political discourse. War has become a normal condition.

The next U.S. president will inherit a host of pressing national security challenges, from Russian provocations, Chinese muscle-flexing, and North Korean bad behavior to the disorder afflicting much of the Islamic world. Americans will expect Washington to respond to each of these problems, along with others as yet unforeseen. To a considerable extent, the effectiveness of that response will turn on whether the people making decisions are able to distinguish what the U.S. military can do, what it cannot do, what it need not do, and what it should not do.

As a prerequisite for restoring prudence and good sense to U.S. policy, the next administration should promulgate a new national security doctrine. In doing so, it should act promptly, ideally within the first 100 days, when presidential authority is least constrained and before the day-to-day crush of crisis management consumes the ability to act proactively.

The central theme of that doctrine should be pragmatism, with a sober appreciation for recent miscalculations providing the basis for future policy. Before rushing ahead, take stock. After all, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, U.S. troops have made considerable sacrifices. The Pentagon has expended stupendous sums. Yet when it comes to promised results—disorder curbed, democracy promoted, human rights advanced, terrorism suppressed—the United States has precious little to show.

THE VALUE OF DOCTRINE

Ever since President George Washington warned against foreign entanglements in his Farewell Address, doctrines have played a recurring role in guiding American statecraft. In some instances, they provide an orientation for future action, specifying intentions and reordering priorities. Such was the case with the eponymous doctrine of Truman in 1947, which committed the United States to assisting countries vulnerable to communist subversion, and that of President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which designated the Persian Gulf as a vital U.S. national security interest, adding that region to the places Washington considered worth fighting for and thereby inaugurating the militarization of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The Bush Doctrine of 2002, which announced that the United States would no longer “wait for threats to fully materialize” before striking, also falls in this category.

In other instances, doctrines aim to curb tendencies that have proved harmful. In 1969, tacitly acknowledging the Vietnam-induced limits to presidential freedom of action, President Richard Nixon warned Asian allies to ratchet down their expectations of U.S. assistance. Henceforth, Washington might provide arms and advice, but not troops. And in 1984, Reagan’s secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, spelled out strict requirements for intervening abroad. Both the Nixon and the Weinberger Doctrines sought to preclude further U.S. involvement in unnecessary and unwinnable wars.

Today, the United States needs a doctrine that combines both functions. At a minimum, a new national security doctrine should codify and expand on President Barack Obama’s admirable, if cryptic, dictum “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Beyond that, it should establish criteria governing the use of force and clarify the respective responsibilities of the United States and U.S. allies.

Such criteria will not, of course, apply always and everywhere. Nor should they be expected to. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount do not encompass every conceivable circumstance, yet they remain useful guides to human conduct. It is the absence of appropriate guidelines that invites stupid stuff—as evidenced by the persistent misapplication of U.S. military power in recent years.

A new U.S. national security doctrine should incorporate three fundamental provisions: employ force only as a last resort, fully engage the attention and energies of the American people when going to war, and enjoin U.S. allies capable of providing for their own security to do just that.

WAR AS A LAST RESORT

Back in 1983, Reagan assured Americans and the world at large, “The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor.” As was often the case with “the Gipper,” words and actions aligned only imperfectly, with U.S. military intervention on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war of aggression against Iran offering but one example. Still, Reagan was right that the United States would do well to avoid starting fights. The next president should return to that position, explicitly abrogating the Bush Doctrine and permanently renouncing preventive war. He or she should restore defense and deterrence as the principal mission of U.S. forces.

Strong legal and moral arguments favor such a posture. Yet the principal rationale for using force only as a last resort—and, even then, strictly for defensive purposes—is not to uphold the rule of law or to abide by some moral code. Rather, it is empirical. When weighing pain against gain, preventive war just doesn’t pay.

Post–Cold War illusions about employing violence to shape the international order stemmed from specific assumptions about changes in the nature of war that had ostensibly endowed the United States with something akin to outright military supremacy. Thoroughly tested in Afghanistan and Iraq, those suppositions have proved utterly false. Even in an era of big data, pilotless aircraft, and long-range precision-guided weapons, the nature of war remains fixed. Today’s war managers, accessing battlefield imagery fed directly into their headquarters hundreds or thousands of miles from the fight, are hardly better informed than the “chateau generals” of World War I, who peered at maps depicting the western front and fancied themselves in charge. War remains what it has always been: an arena of chance that is exceedingly difficult to predict or control. As always, surprise abounds.

When it comes to promised results the United States has precious little to show.

Along with prerogatives, power confers choice. As the world’s most powerful nation, the United States should choose war only after having fully exhausted all other alternatives and only when genuinely vital interests are at stake. The point is not to specify a fixed hierarchy of interests and then to draw a line, everything above which is worth fighting for and every­thing below which isn’t. That’s a losing game. Rather, the point is to restore a bias in favor of restraint as an antidote to the penchant for reckless or ill-considered interventionism, which has cost the United States dearly while reducing places like Iraq and Libya to chaos. No more ready, fire, aim. Instead, keep the weapon oiled and loaded but holstered.

SHARING THE BURDEN

When the state does go to war, however, so, too, should the nation. Since the end of the Cold War, the prevailing practice in the United States has been otherwise, reflecting expectations that a superpower should be able to wage distant campaigns while life on the home front proceeds unaffected. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—the longest in U.S. history—the vast majority of Americans heeded Bush’s post-9/11 urging to “enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” The we-shop-while-they-fight contract implicit in this arrangement has undermined U.S. military effectiveness and underwritten political irresponsibility.

The next administration will inherit a deeply flawed civil-military relationship that dates back to the Vietnam War. Nearly half a century ago, disenchantment with that conflict led Americans to abandon the citizen-soldier tradition that until then had formed the foundation of the U.S. military system. By rescinding their prior acceptance of conscription, the American people effectively opted out of war, which became the exclusive purview of regulars—the “standing army” that the founders had warned of.

As long as the United States confined itself to small-scale contingencies, such as invading Grenada or bombing Kosovo, or to campaigns of limited duration, such as the Gulf War of 1990–91, the arrangement worked well enough. In an era of long wars, however, its shortcomings have become glaringly apparent. When the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq produced twin quagmires, the United States found itself requiring more soldiers than war planners had anticipated. Avenues that in the past had enabled the country to field large armies—in the nineteenth century, summoning masses of volunteers to the colors, and in the twentieth, relying on the draft—no longer existed. Although today more than enough young men and women are available for service, few choose to sign up. Washington’s appetite for war exceeds the willingness of military-age Americans to fight (and perhaps die) for their country.

To make up the difference, the state has resorted to expedients. It subjects the less than half a percent of Americans who do serve to repeated combat tours. It offers blandishments to foreign governments in return for token troop contributions. It hires contractors to perform functions previously assigned to soldiers. The results do not comport with recognized standards of success or even fairness. If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win. If fairness in a democracy implies shared sacrifice, then the existing U.S. military system is unfair.

Meanwhile, a people substantively disengaged from their military find that they have precious little say as to how that military is used. As senior officials and senior commanders experiment endlessly with ways of translating military might into some approximation of a desired outcome, flitting from “shock and awe” to counterinsurgency to counterterrorism to targeted assassination and so on, citizens awaken to the fact that they have been consigned to the status of onlookers.

Remedying this defective relationship will not be easy. A first step toward doing so should be to require the people to pay for the wars that the state undertakes in their name. When U.S. forces go off to fight in some foreign land, taxes should increase accordingly, ending the disgraceful practice of saddling future generations of ordinary Americans with debts piled up by present-day members of the national security elite. Should the next president decide that determining the outcome of the Syrian civil war or preserving the territorial integrity of Ukraine requires large-scale U.S. military action, then Americans collectively should pony up to cover the costs.

A second step follows from the first: confer on Americans as a whole the responsibility for fighting wars that exceed the capacity of regular forces. How to do this? While still filling the ranks of active-duty forces with self-selected volunteers, back up those regulars with reserves that mirror American society in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, region, and, above all, class.

Of course, the only way to create a military reserve that looks like the United States is to empower the state to require involuntary service. The trick is to make that empowerment politically palatable. In that regard, narrowly defining the state’s authority will be essential, as will ensuring that, as implemented, conscription is equitable and inclusive: no exemptions for the well-to-do.

A new national security doctrine should codify and expand on President Barack Obama’s admirable, if cryptic, dictum “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

This two-tiered formula—a standing army of volunteer professionals backed by conscription-based reserves—would require reallocating responsibilities. Small policing actions or brief punitive campaigns would remain the exclusive purview of regulars. For anything larger or more protracted, mobilizing the more numerous citizen reserves would give the population as a whole an immediate stake in an ongoing conflict, Washington’s war thereby becoming the people’s war. Of course, history offers few assurances that small wars stay small or that campaigns designed to be brief keep to schedule. In war, all slopes are slippery. An appreciation of that fact might incentivize Americans who are subject to being called up (and their families) to pay attention to how Washington employs its regulars in the first place.

To be sure, funding wars on a pay-as-you-go basis and creating conscription-based reserves would require enabling legislation. It is doubtful that today’s Congress possesses the requisite political courage to enact it. Still, there is value in articulating essential principles. This the next administration should do, initiating a long-overdue reassessment of a broken military system.

CUTTING ALLIES LOOSE

The final piece of a new U.S. military doctrine should be to put an end to free-riding. American responsibility for defending others should extend only to friends and allies unable to defend themselves. The core issue here is not one of affordability, although one may wonder why U.S. taxpayers and soldiers should shoulder burdens that others are capable of shouldering. Rather, it is one of ultimate strategic purpose.

Exercising global leadership is not an end in itself but a means to an end. Its purpose is not to accumulate clients and dependencies or to justify the existence of a massive national security apparatus. It is (or should be) to nurture a community of like-minded nations willing and able to stand on their own. Sooner or later, every parent learns that there comes a time to let go. That lesson is no less applicable to statecraft.

Europe offers a case in point. Nowhere is free-riding more pronounced and less justified. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the battered democracies of Western Europe did need U.S. protection. Today, no more. For Europeans, the dangers that made the twentieth century such a trial have all but vanished. Those that remain are eminently manageable.

With the good news come fresh complications, of course. Chief among them is the challenge of securing a vastly expanded perimeter now encompassing over two dozen nominally united, but still largely sovereign, nation-states. In practice, threats to that perimeter are coming from two directions. From the south, waves of desperate refugees are arriving on European shores. To the east lies Russia, nursing grudges. The United States has rightly refrained from assuming responsibility for Europe’s refugee crisis. So, too, should it refrain from assuming responsibility for Europe’s Russia problem.

The final piece of a new U.S. military doctrine should be to put an end to free-riding.

Understandably, when it comes to Russia, Europeans are only too happy to resurrect a division of labor dating from the onset of the Cold War, when it fell to the United States to carry most of the load. Yet today’s Russia hardly compares to the Soviet Union of yester­year. More thug than totalitarian, Vladimir Putin is not Joseph Stalin reborn. The Kremlin’s roster of client states begins and pretty much ends with Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, not exactly an asset. When Obama disparaged Russia as a mere “regional power” after it annexed Crimea, the appraisal stung because it hit the mark. Apart from having stockpiles of essentially useless nuclear weapons, Russia lags far behind Europe in most relevant measures of power. Its population is less than one-third that of the European Union. Its economy, heavily dependent on commodity exports, is one-ninth the size of Europe’s.

Should it choose to do so, Europe—even after the British vote to leave the EU—is fully capable of defending its eastern flank. The next administration should nudge Europeans toward making that choice—not by precipitously with­drawing U.S. security guarantees but through a phased and deliberate devolution of responsibility. The sequence might go as follows: Begin by ending the practice of always having an American serve as the supreme allied commander in Europe; NATO’s next military commander should be a European officer. Then, establish a schedule for shutting down the major U.S. military headquarters in such places as Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Next, specify a date certain for terminating U.S. member­ship in NATO and withdrawing the last U.S. troops from Europe.

When should Washington actually cut the transatlantic umbilical cord? Allowing ample time for European publics to adjust to their new responsibilities, for European parliaments to allocate the necessary resources, and for European armies to reorganize, 2025 sounds about right. That year will mark the 80th anniversary of the victory in World War II—an eminently suitable occasion for Washington to declare “mission accomplished.” But to get things rolling, the next administration’s message to Europe should be clear from day one: ready your defenses; we’re going home.

A drawdown in Europe should mark just the beginning of an effort to overhaul the Pentagon’s global posture, which today finds the U.S. military maintaining an active presence in some 150 countries. In that regard, the new administration should revisit prevailing assumptions regarding the supposed benefits of scattering U.S. troops across the planet. Costs and benefits, rather than habit or dogma or (worst of all) domestic politics, should determine where the U.S. military goes and what it does when it gets there. Where the forward deployment of U.S. forces contributes to stability—as is arguably the case in East Asia—the next administration should affirm that presence. Yet where the evidence suggests that U.S. troops have become redundant or where U.S. military efforts show little or no signs of succeeding, it should reduce, reconfigure, or terminate that presence altogether.

Call it the corollary to Obama’s “stupid stuff” rule. When what you are doing isn’t needed (for example, U.S. Southern Command standing ready “to conduct joint and combined full-spectrum military operations” across the length and breadth of South America), ring down the curtain. When ongoing efforts, such as the never-ending war on terrorism, show few signs of progress, consider alternatives. That’s not isola­tionism. It’s common sense.

What are the programmatic implications of maintaining a more modest overseas presence and curbing Washington’s penchant for interventionism? The Asia-Pacific would absorb greater U.S. military attention, a trend that would find ground forces as currently configured particularly hard-pressed to justify their existence. The active-duty U.S. Army is already shrinking; it would grow smaller still. As U.S. forces pulled out of Europe and as the failure of U.S. military efforts to pacify the Middle East became ever more evident, opportunities to trim the Pentagon’s overall spending would present them­selves. Here, too, pru­dence dictates an incremental approach. Currently, the United States lavishes more on its armed forces than do the countries with the next seven most generously endowed mili­taries combined. Pegging the Pentagon budget to merely the size of the next six offers a good place to start and would free up some $40 billion per year. The prospect of reallocating that tidy sum should excite the interest of liberals and conservatives alike.

Yet such a cut, obliging the Pentagon to get by with a mere half-trillion dollars per year, would still leave the United States with easily the strongest military on the planet. The competition to ensure that it remains the strongest would pit the world’s best navy against the world’s best air force, a race that should spur innovation. Goodbye, carrier battle groups and piloted aircraft. Hello to a new generation of weapons that are more precise, more lethal, and more survivable—and better suited to a strategy of defense and deterrence.

A TIME TO CHANGE

Come November, “America First” may reemerge as a central theme of U.S. policy. Once thought to have been permanently discredited by the events of World War II, the phrase is today making a comeback, with Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, employing it to signal his own predis­position when it comes to foreign affairs. Depending on how officials interpret that sentiment, the American people and the world at large may welcome or deplore its revival.

Yet whoever wins the election and whatever proclivities he or she brings to office, it will be incumbent on the next administration to undertake a critical appraisal of the country’s recent military disappointments. Formulating a new national security doctrine offers an essential step toward fulfilling that solemn duty, but only a preliminary one: the implications of such a doctrine will take years to play out.

In the meantime, proponents of the status quo will mount a fierce counter­attack. Diehard interventionists will insist that adversaries are likely to misread self-restraint as weakness. Reflexively opposing anything that might jeopardize the Pentagon’s spending, beneficiaries of the military-industrial complex will argue for redoubling efforts to achieve permanent military dominance. Leaders of the armed services, for their part, will remain preoccupied with protecting their turf and their share of the budget.

All will argue that safety lies in doing more and trying harder, leaving intact inclinations that have warped U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War. In all likelihood, however, more of the same will only make matters worse, at considerable cost to Americans and to others.

Source: Foreign Affairs “Ending Endless War: A Pragmatic Military Strategy”

Note: This is Foreign Affair’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Take the Space, China, Let US Continue Its World Leadership


Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Chinese Gen. Fang Fenghui, Chief of the General Staff, in Beijing, China, Apr 20, 2013.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Chinese Gen. Fang Fenghui, Chief of the General Staff, in Beijing, China, Apr 20, 2013.

Both China and the US have recently published their strategy reports.

The sharp contrast between their strategies is the much lighter military burden for China than that for the US

China only has to develop its active defense with the final goal of building aerospace bombers for the conventional deterrence against US aggression while the US has to deal with four nations and one ISIS. ISIS is already a trouble big enough for US but among the four nations, Russia and China are growing into military peers to the US much more difficult for the US to deal with militarily.

No wonder in spite of the heavy debts the US has so far found no way to repay, the US has to allot more funds to its military. That is what US military urges US Congress to do by its report.

China’s efforts in developing its space and air capabilities go along with its space program. The more the efforts, the greater the opportunity for China to become the leader in space.

Then China had better take the space and leave the US to make strenuous efforts to keep its world leadership.

China mentions in its strategy report the development of integrated space and air capabilities for attack and defense as mentioned in my book Space Era Strategy: The Way China Beats The U.S. but does not elaborate. Such capabilities are the key for China’s active defense. As mentioned in my post on China’s report, China follows Sun Tze’s teachings and will keep its actual military strategy confidential.

Some US strategists believe that the US will lose in a war with China but fails to see that China will not fight a war with the US for world leadership but will instead take the space.

Article by Chan Kai Yee on Chinese and US strategy reports.

US strategists’ worries are better expressed in the following full text of the following Defence One report:

What Fiction Can Tell You About a Future War With China
June 30, 2015 By Patrick Tucker

Strategists Peter Singer and August Cole’s new novel offers a glimpse into startling real-life U.S. military vulnerabilities.

No one wants to think about what a war between the United States and China might look like — unless somebody can make it fun. A new novel born from real trends in military innovation attempts to capture and imagine exactly that

Every technology in the book, from rail guns to brain-based memory manipulation, is at least at the prototype stage of development in real life. “Ghost Fleet: A Novel Of the Next World War,” meticulously researched by its authors: Peter W. Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation; and August Cole, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, features some 20 manifestations of drone technology alone, as well as nearly 400 endnotes.

So what does the technology of today teach about the wars of the future? Defense One put the question to Singer. Below is an edited version of that exchange.

Defense One: War with China doesn’t seem to be something that many in Washington consider a strong probability right now, unless you’re having dinner with China hawk Michael Pillsbury. Yet it’s the very basis of your book. Is it something that you consider likely?

Peter Singer: The Chinese regime newspaper recently said, ‘War is inevitable,’ if the U.S. doesn’t change its policies in the Pacific. You can find any range of similar quotes in the Chinese press saying, ‘We need the plan for the Third World War.’

This is not just the military. A poll was taken in China and they found that 74 percent of Chinese think their military would win in a war against the United States. Those are some scary data points. Now, I don’t think that war is inevitable. That’s a strong term. But it’s very clear that there’ve been shifts in geopolitical trends. The 20th century was shaped in large part by great-power competition. I think that there are trends in the 21st century that show that great-power rivalry is back and will continue to be a shaping force, all the more so with China’s rise.

They both have this assumption that it would be a short, sharp, war. We think they’re both wrong.

Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation

Defense One: Why isn’t this view more common view in Washington?

Singer: Fear of antagonizing China, having some kind of economic repercussion. Navy officers have been fired for talking about it. But it’s not that the United States doesn’t plan for it. It’s not that we aren’t engaged in an arms race with China.

When you cross both the U.S. and the Chinese plans, they both have this assumption that it would be a short, sharp war. We think they’re both wrong. We think that kind of attitude makes war more likely, perhaps by allowing some crisis to spiral out of control. It wouldn’t be easy for either side.

Editor’s note: Last November Capt. James Fanell, the director of intelligence and information operations at U.S. Pacific Fleet, was removed from his position and reassigned within the fleet after making public comments that China was preparing for a “short, sharp war” with Japan.

Defense One: The book spans a wide variety of settings. From sea to space, there are battles everywhere. Cyberspace becomes the area where the U.S. heroes experience the most trouble and vulnerability. Why?

Singer: The term ‘cyber war’ has been used to describe all sorts of things that are not war. Stealing movie scripts from a studio and publishing embarrassing gossipy emails is not cyber war, despite the fact that that term was used by prominent Senators and the like.

We asked, ‘What would cyber warfare look like? What would happen when the gloves are off, and it’s not minimal capabilities, but it’s real players?’ Also, we’ve seen the rise of everything from private military companies to activist groups, like Anonymous. The military doesn’t weave them into planning and assumes these outside players will affect the things that don’t matter, so to speak. That’s not going to be the case. I wanted to play with that.

Defense One: You went out and actually talked to people in the field that would occupy some of these positions or jobs in the book, people that I think most novelists wouldn’t reach out to and most readers wouldn’t necessarily have access to. How did those interactions shape the writing?

Singer: Sometimes you might, in journalism terms, have an interview. Other times, it’s meetings that you’re having with the person, and long, extended conversations that you’re just kind of drawing nuggets from, and then other times you’re attending something for another purpose, and you’re drawing something from it. You’re at a U.S.-China senior leader bilateral and you pick a up a nugget: ‘That Chinese general keeps making a specific historic reference,’ or ‘That Silicon Valley billionaire, look at what he drinks and how he walks,’ or whatever.

Defense One: One of the fairly persistent themes in the book is that every technology that the military invents or creates can be used against it, everything from surveillance malware to drones that fly in formation. Really, every weapon that the United States endeavors to foist upon its enemy somehow either backfires or winds up having more cost than value. To the extent that that examines a real threat, how does the United States fix that?

Singer: There are two big assumptions that guide a lot of discussions about U.S. military technology. One is that the U.S. technology edge is somehow permanent, when in fact if you look at everything from stealth jet fighters to hypersonics to robotics to drones, China is not just developing gear that looks like the twin, but is also pushing forward in cutting-edge fields. China has performed more hypersonic vehicle tests than we have. And who has the world’s fastest supercomputer?

If there are parallels to the last Cold War, this is where it’s different. The Soviet Union was a military competitor. As the Cold War advanced, it wasn’t really an economic or science and technology peer. Its downfall was driven by the fact that it didn’t have global trade and it didn’t have any openness to ideas.

China is becoming an economic competitor in a way that the Soviet Union wasn’t, a political model competitor, and China has an openness to technology that’s frankly insatiable. That appetite has created huge problems. It’s literally stealing technology.

In fact, many U.S. military systems run the risk of being Pontiac Azteks.

Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation

The second assumption is that new technologies will somehow be perfect. In fact, many U.S. military systems run the risk of being Pontiac Azteks. The Pontiac Aztek tried to be all things to all people: sports car up front, minivan in the middle, SUV in the back. Instead, it was over-engineered, over-promised and overpriced. I could describe many a current defense program that suffers from that same problem, where the technology turns out to not be all that good either for small wars or, as we explore, for big wars. Then, on top of that, the Pentagon’s own weapons tester did an examination of every single major defense program last year and found every single one of them had cybersecurity flaws.

Those flaws express themselves, going back to the first assumption, in terms of technologies that were supposed to give us a generational edge on a future battlefield. We’ve already lost that investment.

Those are the risks, not just right now, but more importantly, 10, 15 years from now. Again, there’s this unwillingness to move that dial forward, where you see people saying — even the secretary of defense — ‘Oh, they can’t match us right now.’

You’re like, ‘Right now is already in the past. Look forward.’