New US defense strategy a zero-sum game

By Guo Xiaobing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/24 20:13:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On January 19, in its newly released 2018 National Defense Strategy, the US Department of Defense (DoD) labeled China and Russia as revisionist powers that are the "central challenge to US prosperity and security."

The new strategy has adjusted US primary concerns from terrorism to inter-state strategic competition for two reasons. First, the US thinks that it made progress in combating terrorism and the threat has declined. From 2002 to 2010, the US National Security Strategy listed terrorism as the country's primary concern, but since 2015, although the US still saw terrorism as the top threat, it started to lower its status in its National Security Strategy. With the Islamic State basically defeated, the US believes that terrorism is a long-term threat, but no longer their central challenge.

Second, the gap in economic strength between China and the US is declining, and this is causing anxiety in Washington. During former US president George W. Bush's tenure, China was considered the only country with the potential to challenge the US. Despite the 2008 global financial crisis, the Chinese economy continued to grow and has become the world's second-largest economy. The US now worries more that China will catch up in economy, military, diplomacy and technology, challenging US hegemony in the region and then the world.

Since Russia's military reform to modernize its armed forces in 2008, the US has also been tied up dealing with Russian actions in Ukraine and the Middle East. This is why competition with China and Russia was listed as the primary concern in the new US defense strategy.

This change of focus will enormously impact many fields, including the structure of US military forces, deployments, weapons, concept of combat and alliance strategies. For instance, if the US wants an uncontested military advantage, it needs to develop new weapons which will require a huge sum of money from the DoD's budget. 

The US National Defense Strategy not only has continuity, but also shows the priorities of US President Donald Trump's governance. Its continuity is revealed in the identification of the main challenges the US faces. The 2015 US National Military Strategy noted "the probability of US involvement in inter-state war with a major power." Former president Barack Obama's Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy and the US' Air-Sea Battle doctrine reflected this shift.

What makes the new strategy different from previous ones is that it only stresses competition among major powers without considering cooperation. The strategic balance between the US and China and Russia did not get enough attention.

Relationships among big powers are very complicated as they feature both competition and cooperation. A single-minded emphasis on competition will worsen the security dilemmas among big powers. The US wants to press other countries, including China and Russia, in every domain, leading other countries in turn to strengthen their military power for their own interests. It will lead to a vicious circle of an arms race, escalate tensions among big powers and result in traditional geopolitical conflicts. If things continue in this way, the US National Defense Strategy will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

China should get ready for the new US National Defense Strategy which is only based on the mind-set of competition. When the US talks about strategic competition with a particular country, it only wants to exploit its weaknesses. For instance, during the Cold War, the US took advantage of the Soviet Union's high military costs by launching an arms race and squeezing oil prices which eventually led to the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc.

Now China is still developing and it faces multiple problems and challenges. It needs to strengthen its power and make up for its disadvantages, so it can prepare for and overcome any potential risks. 

The author is deputy director and a research professor at the Institute of Arms Control and Security Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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