Sunday, March 04, 2012
Arms Race Update - China Races to Catch Up
China's "official" defence spending has rocketed over 11% this year, topping $100-billion for the first time. Compared to US defence spending of $740 that may not sound like much but China, like the US, is widely believed to disclose only part of its true expenditures.
China is very quickly going very high-tech after generations of relying on mammoth armies of low-tech soldiers. It is producing its own stealth fighter and other combat aircraft, its own anti-satellite missiles, its own submarines and an impressive missile capability that may see Chinese astronauts land on the moon in the near future.
While China's expenditures seem paltry compared to America's, US defence spending these days produces a very poor bang for the buck. There is a great squandering of money on faulty technologies or projects like the F-35 suffering technical glitches, massive cost overruns and persistent production delays.
The US defence budget also provides for a truly global military presence - South Asia and the Middle East, Africa, South America, Japan and Korea, and Europe. More recently the US has indicated it will expand its presence in East and Southeast Asia and the western Pacific in response to China's growing capabilities. China, by contrast, has a very limited military presence beyond its own region.
This is a complex and perilous game. China, for very good reasons, believes America is instituting measures to encircle and contain Chinese power and influence abroad. America's new interest in China's main regional rival, India, only reinforces that view. India represents a potential blocking force to the sea lanes connecting China and the Middle East, its main source of oil. This, in turn, is motivating China's growing influence in Pakistan, the key to establishing a landbridge to Iranian and Iraqi oil.
What is also problematic is that America's defence spending is woefully bloated and probably unsustainable. While no recent president, including Obama, has been able to stop escalating American military spending, it's the fiscal equivalent of a three-pack-a-day habit that has to stop one way or the other. The Chinese, on the other hand, can probably, over time, increase their defence spending substantially. That plays into their already significant strategic and economic advantages.
That America now sees China as its main military focus is evident from its strategic summary, "Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" released in January of this year.
The objects of this policy are reduced to preserving America's global leadership and maintaining American military superiority. China isn't necessarily America's enemy but America must stand ready to deter China and, if necessary, confront it by force.
These conditions seem ideally suited to the creation of a new Cold War of sorts but it would be one in which America would have to challenge not only its main economic and military rival but its main creditor and financier as well. The power America was able to wield against the Soviets has been sapped in many ways. It may be a tough act to repeat.