America's Ultimate Strategy in a Clash with China

June 10, 2014 Topic: Military Strategy Region: ChinaUnited States

America's Ultimate Strategy in a Clash with China

An effective military and deterrent strategy, Offshore Control offers the best solution—especially compared to "operational concepts" that are confusing at best. 


President Obama has presented a national strategy that sets those goals and lays out the diplomatic, economic and political paths necessary to achieve them. However, the United States has yet to articulate a complementary military strategy. Offshore Control is a starting point for a discussion with our allies and friends in the region. It seeks to provide the military component of the U.S. national strategy in Asia. The strategy looks to two major goals in peacetime. The first is to encourage China’s economic growth via further integration into the global economy. Obviously, China’s continued growth is essential for international economic prosperity. China’s continued integration with the global economy also makes Offshore Control potentially more effective. The more reliant China is on exports, the more vulnerable it is to blockade. Further, by demonstrating that it is operationally a defensive approach, we can show the Chinese we do not have aggressive designs on their homeland.

The second major goal of Offshore Control is to deter China by presenting it with a strategy that Chinese strategists know cannot be defeated easily or quickly. This directly addresses one of the most worrying aspects of the current situation in Asia. Like the Germans before WWI, the Chinese may believe they can win a short war. In particular, they may believe their growing capabilities in space and cyber might neutralize U.S. power in the region. By showing that Offshore Control can be executed with today’s force, even with dramatically reduced access to space and cyber, the United States and its allies can dispel the notion of a short war.


Strengthening this approach is the fact that the historical record of the last two centuries shows wars between major powers were long—generally measured in years, not weeks or months. A long war means China will have to face the inevitable debilitation of a blockade. The only way China can defeat such a strategy is to create a global sea-control navy or develop land routes that are economically competitive with sea routes. Neither will be a guarantee of success. Much of Offshore Control’s deterrence comes from the fact that it directly addresses two of China’s enduring strategic fears—a prolonged conflict and its “Malacca dilemma.”

Adding Offshore Control as the military element of the rebalance to Asia provides a military strategy that supports the policy stated by President Obama. It can assure our allies that America has the will and capability to prevail in a military confrontation. It can deter China by making it clear there will be no easy win in such a confrontation. The goal of the U.S. national strategy is to convince China that great-power rivalry is a poor choice. The cost of rivalry is simply too high. In contrast, great-power cooperation can bring maximum benefit to China, America and the rest of the world.

T. X. Hammes is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the U.S. National Defense University.

R. D. Hooker, Jr. is the Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies at NDU. The views expressed here are solely the authors’ and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government, Department of Defense or the National Defense University.

Image: Flickr/Official U.S. Navy/CC by 2.0