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.


Julia Whitmore said...

Cool blog. I used one of your images from awhile back, from "Note to Self" (attributed to you as source):

Thanks for the inspiration. I fear it will be painful to watch the unfolding of US military policy in the coming decade. I think about 20% of our manufacturing industry is now dependent on weapons manufacture? But is China in any better shape? They have a lot of unhappy people ready for more freedom, and may be struggling to keep the peace within their own borders.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Julia. Interesting question, "is China in any better shape?" China is certainly ascendant but the road ahead is plagued with potential pitfalls and calamities.

For example, China faces the full brunt of both climate change and the global water crisis. As China's per capital ecological footprint rapidly expands it is burning the candle at both ends and from the middle simultaneously.

China is a country in which an overheated economy can turn quite toxic very quickly. While China, India and other emerging economies may quest for our Western standards of living, our planet doesn't have anywhere near the resources that would be needed to accommodate that. UN Sec Gen Ban Moon recently said we would need another two and a half Earths to do that.

Who knows what truly lies ahead even twenty years from now? Our economic, industrial and geopolitical models that served the West so well over the past three centuries are losing their utility. They were never designed to function in the world we're now entering upon.

A recurrent theme on this blog is that we, mankind, will either have to adopt co-operative models to live in harmony with our very finite planet or, in all likelihood, we're going to turn on each other. It's realities like these that make me glad to live in the Pacific Northwest. I'll bet you see it much the same.


Anyong said...

Many people who have been educated in the west as aero space engineers have been recruited by the Chinese Government to help build their armed forces. My ex-husband's nephew is one of them. Also, China does know what kind of trouble it is in regarding the that as it may...China first of all has admitted to the environmental problem and second is doing more about it than we are. However, that doesn't change the 20% ozone slipping its way across the Pacific to North America but ya got to give the devil its due becuase it's more than we are doing.

The Mound of Sound said...

At one level China, or some parts of its national government, do acknowledge their environmental problems yet that doesn't translate into consistent action. The country is still investing heavily in coal-fired generation. And, while it enacts impressive legislation to clean up air and water pollution, regional governments seem to be all too willing to look the other way instead of enforcing Beijing's mandates.

China talks a good game but it's plagued by uncertainties about growth, global ascendancy and internal social unrest. It has powerfully demonstrated how well a totalitarian state can embrace capitalist industrialism but it's the next steps that seem to have it almost paralytic.

Anyong said...

Yes that is true. Right here in Canada we are also using coal to produce electricity. Alberta uses more coal than oil...surprised?