America’s New Military Strategy Is Another Win For The defence Lobby

US Aircraft Carrier

I’ve said this many times in the past, that thrusting China forward as the next Big Bad is exactly what the big defence contractors, and their friends in Congress, need to justify the obscenely-large American defence budget, specifically big-ticket items like ships, planes and miscellaneous high-tech widgets.

Without defence lobbyists, not only would the budget be a lot smaller, but I have a feeling that the U.S. would magically find more reasons to avoid confrontation with China.

Professor Amitai Etzioni summed it up nicely in an Op/Ed the other day:

President Barack Obama unveiled Thursday a new military strategy. It calls for “pivoting” from the Middle East to the Far East, focusing partly on the military buildup of China.

Without a major public debate of the kind we have about raising taxes, or a congressional vote, the U.S. government is moving slowly but surely toward characterising China as an aggressive superpower and is preparing for war, should it become necessary.

[ . . . ]

All but the most ardent Western hawks see no significant Chinese military threat to core U.S. interests in the near or even intermediate future.

[ . . . ]

Hence, the U.S. can safely continue to seek to turn China into a partner before concluding that a course of confrontation is unavoidable.

Read the whole thing for caveats, quotes and the positions of both hawks and doves.

Here’s the point: we can quarrel about whether China is America’s enemy, whether it is building up its military for a future confrontation. (The Chinese are having the same conversation over here, by the way, about the U.S., and its own military establishment is playing a similar role, albeit without the lobbyists.)

Indeed, this is the kind of argument one would want before the U.S. decided to adopt a more aggressive stance towards China. If consensus was that China was arming for a later fight, then the U.S. could take steps to counter those plans. If, on the other hand, the conclusion was that China’s defence buildup has little to do with a U.S. confrontation, then an aggressive American policy could be shelved.

Sounds reasonable, but of course there’s never an easy answer to this question, and often “hawks” and “doves” arrive at their conclusions based more on their own preconceived notions than a calm review of the evidence at hand.

Since this is a tough call, and there’s always the risk that a mistake will be made, one could argue that it’s better to err on the side of caution (arguably a more aggressive stance) than to move forward with a naive sense of trust.

Again, a reasonable approach. However, as Etzioni points out, we really don’t need to make that decision right away. Because such a huge gap is present between U.S. and China defence programs and budgets, and because it will take decades for China to “catch up” to the U.S., the decision whether to trust China is not one that has to be made immediately.

Yes, I know that there are some folks out there who can concoct scenarios where China can make trouble for the U.S. in a specific geographic area, or with respect to a certain kind of technology. But on the whole, there is no arguing that China’s military is far behind that of the U.S. (I choose to ignore idiots like this).

If that is the case, then the U.S. has plenty of time to move forward in a non-confrontational manner, looking to China more as a partner than a threat. Why not give it a try? Even if that is hopelessly naive and turns out to be completely wrong, then the U.S. can still pivot to a containment strategy in the future, still long before China becomes any sort of mortal threat.

With the unveiling of Obama’s new defence strategy, which focuses on China as a threat, the decision has apparently been made to throw the above logic out the window and go with the aggressive approach immediately.

Makes little sense to me. Whether you are a hawk or a dove, the new policy succeeds in unnecessarily taking one option off the table. Since China will no doubt see this as a confrontational move by the U.S., and respond accordingly, it furthers the old “inevitable conflict” scenario.

So why would the defence establishment, and the Obama Administration, favour such a move? Don’t be shocked, but the military gets paid to prepare against enemies, and there’s a surfeit of threats out there these days, at least significant ones. In other words, if you’re going to draw up a defence strategy, who else but China are you going to war-game against?

And remember, it’s only the most scary, nation-state threats that can justify huge expenditures on sexy, high-tech defence programs. This sort of short or medium-term threat translates into hundreds of billions of dollars for defence contractors, some of the profits of which are funneled back to Congressmen, Senators, and even presidents for their re-election campaign “war chests” (so to speak).

That’s certainly sufficient motivation to rubber stamp a plan that sows the seeds of distrust for no apparent reason.

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Post tags: defence policy, defence spending

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