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China on the March

March 1, 2007 Topic: Security Regions: Asia

China on the March

Mini Teaser: Dos and Don’ts for U.S. strategic planners when it comes to dealing with China.

by Author(s): Ashton B. CarterWilliam J. Perry

SO WHAT should the United States do? First, we must invest broadly in military capabilities, using a portfolio approach that gives appropriate emphasis to advanced aerospace and maritime forces-as well as to the ground and special forces needed for other near-term missions.

We must take nothing for granted, and this means improving the intensity and quality of intelligence on and analysis of the Chinese military. Washington must also maintain and expand U.S. alliances in Asia, including those with Japan, South Korea and Australia, pursuing deeper military partnerships with the Philippines, Singapore, India and possibly Vietnam.

This requires sustaining and overhauling the U.S. military "presence" in the region. It is particularly important to shore up the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance, which has declined precipitously under Presidents Roh and Bush. The alliance is important for deterring North Korea, but beyond that it is a vital regional foothold for the United States. It will be easier for the Japanese public to support the U.S. presence if we have forces in the ROK. The U.S. air and naval buildup on Guam is also an important contribution.

It goes without saying that the United States must be prepared to defend Taiwan from unprovoked Chinese military coercion. It is also not in America's interests for the European Union to lift its post-Tiananmen arms embargo.

But at the same time, it is in our interest to continue military-to-military (mil-mil) activities with China. Mil-mil is often considered an instrument of the engagement prong of the two-pronged strategy, since it engages an important constituency, the PLA, in U.S.-China relations and does so in the "responsible stakeholder" framework. But mil-mil is also an important instrument of hedging, because if there are crises, tension and competition in the future, mutual familiarity will help avoid miscalculations. Reciprocity in military-to-military activities is important, but it need not be exactly symmetric.

"Value-based reciprocity", where each side obtains equal benefits, should be the metric that guides mil-mil activities. Given the Chinese misunderstandings surrounding the 1999 Belgrade Embassy bombing and the 2001 Hainan mid-air collision, one useful theme of mil-mil contacts would be crisis management. Additionally, the planned talks between the U.S. commander of Strategic Command (STRATCOM) and the head of the Chinese Second Artillery are valuable. However, STRATCOM has a broad range of strategic responsibilities that the Second Artillery (which is centered on nuclear deterrent forces) does not, so the pairing is likely to devolve to a discussion of nuclear forces and space forces. STRATCOM should be careful these talks do not replicate U.S.-USSR strategic nuclear discussions of the late Cold War. Those talks took place in the context of a Cold War that is not present (or desirable) between the United States and China. They also reflected a strategic nuclear parity that again is neither present nor desirable in the contemporary U.S.-China case.

Finally, we should expand military-to-military activities to anticipate joint action where doing so is in both countries' interests. Joint action could include search-and-rescue, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, counter-narcotics, counter-human trafficking, humanitarian relief, non-combatant evacuation and peacekeeping.

THERE ARE also steps the United States should not take. The first is to create an encircling anti-Chinese alliance. Most of the hypothetical members have important bilateral relationships with China, including economic relations. They have two-pronged strategies of their own and will not join in a "hedge-only" U.S. strategy.

The second is to create a U.S.-Taiwan alliance-à la a NATO Article Five guarantee-committing the United States to Taiwan's defense regardless of the latter's behavior. The United States should also oppose any Taiwanese attempt to obtain offensive deterrents, especially nuclear weapons.

The third may be counterintuitive, but an attempt to neutralize China's nuclear deterrent with counterforce or missile defense would likely backfire. Such a move would not assure protection from a Chinese nuclear strike, and China would build a larger nuclear force.

Finally, the United States must not work to deny access to resources needed for economic development, particularly by non-market methods. Of course, Washington should pressure Beijing to do likewise.

CHINA'S LEADERS probably aim to match the United States in military power. But they realize that, if that is possible, it will take decades to achieve.[1] In the meantime they have set themselves more achievable goals that necessitate offsetting U.S. actions. The United States must react skillfully to avoid a new cold war.

Ashton B. Carter is chair of the International Relations, Science and Security area at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. William J. Perry is a professor at Stanford's Institute for International Studies. Both are co-directors of the Preventive Defense Project, a research collaboration of Harvard and Stanford Universities. This article is adapted from a paper presented at the Aspen Strategy Group.


[1] The Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on Chinese Military Power concluded that China was twenty years behind the United States in terms of overall military technology and capability, and that the balance would remain "decisively in America's favor" both regionally and globally for the next twenty years.

Essay Types: Essay