Friday, March 22, 2013

Let's Encourage China to Pivot to Asia

While I would rather defeat China in war than lose; and while I'd rather deter a hostile China from initiating a war against us or our allies than win a war; I'd much rather have China's attention focused on the interior of Asia where we lack significant interests to defend.

Is China getting more militaristic in orientation as their military capacity grows?

Has a quiet military coup taken over China’s foreign policy? Is China’s new president, Xi Jinping, leading the militarization of policy or submitting to it? The questions are not frivolous or far-fetched given recent actions and statements emanating from China’s new leader and other influential establishment figures.

China's neighbors on the edge of Asia are reacting to China's growing capabilities made more alarming by aggressive talk and claims from Peking.

Our pivot to Asia, as slow and gradual as it is, is one response. Another response is part of the "rebalancing" of our military following major counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. No longer required to put conventional war fighting skills on the back burner, we are preparing our military for conventional fights again. And China is the most difficult conventional challenge out there:

With the heavy fighting over in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force (along with the navy, marines and army) are all moving away from using air power against terrorists and irregular troops, towards what they all refer to as “The Big One.” Less discreet air power planners describe their current work directed at developing winning techniques for “Bombing Beijing.”

Bombing irregulars and terrorists who lack air defenses was a challenge, but not the same challenge as fighting a peer competitor or even a regional peer competitor that fields advanced weapons in reasonable numbers. Now we have to consider loss rates and whether we can get through to the targets with acceptable losses. Aircraft will be attacked, as will the bases and carriers that launch them. Bomb damage assessment will be difficult and persistent aerial surveillance is not likely to be possible. Even our satellites will be at risk.

So we need to prepare for this type of fight even as we don't want to have to use these skills. I'd rather beat China than lose if if comes to war. And while we hope that our capabilities will deter China, I'd much rather have China's interests pivot away from the western Pacific and the states on the edge of Asia or off shore.

We did deter the Soviets from overt aggression against NATO Europe during the Cold War. But I'm not eager to try a repeat of that hair-trigger confrontation with China. While the geography is better since Western Europe was a tremendous objective to fight the USSR over and nothing of critical value like Europe is at risk right now.

Sorry South Korea, you are important and a friend, so I would want us to fight at your side to defend your country, but the loss of your country to the West would not be in the same league as losing Western Europe would have been during the Cold War. But just in case, Seoul should be thinking of nukes and being friendlier with Japan.

Given China's growing capabilities and more aggressive stance against our interests and our allies, we have no choice but to ponder the problems of "bombing Beijing."

But preparing ourselves and our allies to fight China is not ideal, to say the least. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'd rather have China focused on the interior of Asia:

While all this looks good for building an alliance to fight and defeat China, this is not playing the Great Game. This is making the best of a worst case scenario--war with China. Sure, if we must fight I'd rather win, but just going to war is going to cost us in lives and money.

One can say that we hope that by becoming strong enough we deter the Chinese but this is still only second best. A deterred China will always be on the verge of attacking, just waiting for the moment when we cannot stop them for one reason or another and so cannot deter them for even a short window of opportunity.

No, defeating China makes the best of the worst case and deterring China makes the best of the second worst case. We need to shovel the Snow back north. We need to play the Great Game in Asia to achieve our best case--a China pointed away from the south--Taiwan and the United States and our other allies--and pointed toward the north and the interior of Asia.

Yes, Russia would bear the brunt of China, then. But so what? They think we are plotting against them already. And it would be nice payback for Russia's massive shipments of air and naval weapons and technology that allowed China to face America and our allies in the western Pacific, much as Moscow's Operation Snow before World War II helped focus Japan's attention on the sea and away from the USSR. Can we get China to pivot to the interior of Asia?

UPDATE: The state of Russian-Chinese relations is highly relevant, of course. I can assume that Russia and China will eventually face off against each other, but even if I am right one can't know how long the period of cooperation will last until friction dominates the relationship. And I've assumed that Russia's military power needs to recover to allow Moscow to stop essentially appeasing China to keep China at bay. Putin has a lot in common with Maliki of Iraq, I say, who has to cope with a potentially hostile Iran next door without the means to hold off an Iranian attack.

And so (back to the article on Russian-Chinese relations) Russia has an incentive to do all it can to keep this strategic situation intact:

[Although] China’s military modernization is being closely watched in Moscow, it so far has concentrated on projecting power outwardly by sea. This is in contrast to its traditional focus on land-based threats, and indeed is only made possible by China’s secure land borders. In other words, Beijing’s military modernization suggests Chinese policymakers believe that tensions on their northern and western borders with Russia can be mitigated indefinitely, and conflict avoided.

Now that's smart diplomacy, comrades.

Russia is annoying and needlessly paranoid when it comes to us. And their military might is not a threat to Western Europe any more.

But they are the only country in the world that can nuke us until the rubble bounces (however unlikely that is). And their relations with China matter a great deal. So yeah, Russia still matters. Hopefully, Russia's own pivot to Asia involves beefing up their air and ground power in Central Asia and the Far East.