Written by Stewart J. Melanson PhD exclusively for SouthFront
Part 2: Ideological Warfare
Introduction: Modern Warfare is Ideological
I begin Part 2 with a bit of history about America’s journey from isolationism to ‘leader of the free world’ following the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the US into WW2 taught America that neutrality and an insular foreign policy focused on the Western Hemisphere was no longer realistic policy – belligerents on the other side of the world could and would bring violence to America’s neutral shores.
The Truman Doctrine (1947) transformed US foreign policy from isolationist to US global leadership in defending the free world from the spread of communism and containing an expansionist Soviet Union – this was George Kennan’s Policy of Containment. To avoid a future global war, policy was to contain the Soviet Union to its existing sphere to allow time for the internal contradictions of communist ideology to cause rot from within, resulting in eventual collapse – this was Kennan’s concept of strategic patience. But why should the American people support such a far-reaching doctrine in the first place? President Truman was able to win public support by appealing to American values and tapping into American exceptionalism – America was destined to lead the world.
Truman was successful in getting public buy-in of his doctrine by wedding Containment with Wilsonian idealism and American values of liberty, equality, freedom of the press, rule of law, pursuit of happiness. In opposition was an ideology that threatened everything Americans held dear and this proved highly effective in mobilizing public support for policies that represented nothing less than a stunning about face for a traditionally isolationist nation. This set the stage for the Cold War; an epic ideological struggle between superpowers, a contest that would be determined by who had the superior ideology.
Eventually it was the Soviet Union that collapsed, leaving a triumphant US and her allies to extoll the superiority (now validated) of liberal Western ideology. This perception of ideological superiority over communism remains true to this very day. How else would public opinion be so quickly and uniformly turned against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a matter of 2 to 3 years. In contrast to the less successful decade long media campaign to demonize Russia and Putin. LINK; LINK
Russia and evil dictator Putin bashing is propaganda, so is China bashing, but there is a difference, the public sees far more truth regarding China compared to Russia/Putin. Those living in a democracy can at least relate with media reporting on Russia such as reporting a drop in poll numbers revealing cracks in Putin’s popularity among Russians. Those living in democracies can identify with this, being constantly bombarded with polling results, a staple of a functioning democracy.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was impenetrable other than what was strictly controlled by the communist party – a closed mysterious society ruled by a totalitarian regime. Today, Russia is nothing like the closed repressed society of the former Soviet Union. In contrast, the CCP has many similarities with the Soviet Union – one-party authoritarian rule, intolerant of dissent – there is no polling, no free press and heavy-handed government control of any information coming in or out of China – basically the antichrist of Western ideology.
The first Cold War was first and foremost a struggle between competing ideologies – democracy, open society and free markets (capitalism) versus communist authoritarianism, closed society and centralized command economy. If the US is entering into a New Cold War, I expect it to be much like the first Cold War, a war of ideologies – and who steps into the old Cold War rivals shoes the best? In a nutshell, China works best as a New Cold War rival because it is much harder to demonize Russia as they are far more like us compared to the CCP, who are clearly more like ‘them’, the former Soviet Union. While there are other factors that make China the more suitable candidate for Cold War rival, the role of ideology is crucial to understand.
A Tale of Two Ideologies or will it be a Tale of One Ideology
Given the similarities of the CCP and the communist party that ruled the Soviet Union, the US and her new ‘Pacific NATO’ allies can act to contain the CCP’s expansionist ambitions while patiently waiting for the CCP to collapse under the weight of its flawed ideology – strategic patience for the 21st century:
The American military contest with China … will define the twenty-first century. And China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was… The United States and China will be locked in a contest for decades. But Washington can win if it stays more patient than Beijing. LINK
The author Robert Kaplan believes Washington can win if patient, which takes a page right out of the book of the first Cold War – Kennan advocated strategic patience because he believed the superiority of Western ideology would win out. And in an earlier article published in the Atlantic, Kaplan left little to the imagination regarding US-China rivalry: “a replay of the decades-long Cold War, with a center of gravity not in the heart of Europe but, rather, among Pacific atolls.” LINK
This of course assumes the US does not abandon its ideology, for example, becoming an authoritarian state. Prior to 9-11, the possibility of a US dictatorship did not cross my mind. Recently and particularly in our current year from hell, I am amazed by the media hysteria over possible dictatorship, civil war, revolution, an evil Trump coup-de-tat or what I think to be most likely, a takeover of the White House by energy vampires from space.
I live in Canada and was born Canadian, but I grew up in the US and so for me, there is this strong connection with America. I remember grade school standing outside for the morning raising of the stars and stripes with right hand over one’s heart to pledge allegiance. I had no need to look up the wording on the Internet, I remember the words I and my fellow classmates spoke almost 50 years ago:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America; and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Now I see a nation divided by a polarising media in the lead-up to perhaps one of the most contentious presidential elections in history. But there have been contentious elections in the past and I think the media are intentionally stoking division. Taken from a June 2020 NBC News article authored by Jeff McCausland, retired U.S. Army colonel and former member of the NSC:
… the nation’s uniformed military leadership… swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. But they have also sworn to obey the orders of the president as commander in chief. Trump …seems bent on forcing these senior military officers to choose between these potentially conflicting loyalties, and some fear such a dilemma could occur soon. LINK
This and statements by retired General Mattis and other former military officials is highly extraordinary: “For senior retired military officers to level such criticism against a serving president is unprecedented and signals a true constitutional crisis over American civil-military relations.” Constitutional crisis? Fortunately, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, effectively doused the inflammatory rhetoric – but not without one more grasping at straws attempt to politicise General Milley’s statements. On Aug. 28, 2020, Forbes published an article titled: “Top U.S. General Promises Military Will Stay Out Of The Election Process” LINK, but then the article begins:
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told Congress the military would steer clear of the upcoming presidential election process and refuse to obey unlawful orders, a pledge that comes amid fears that President Trump may not accept the election results if he loses and refuse to leave office…
The ‘pledge’ by General Milley is what he would say regardless of who has what fears or who is in the Oval Office, whether it be Trump, Biden, Obama, Bush or Darth Vader. General Milley was right to put to rest rampant speculation of military involvement in the upcoming November election:
In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. Military,” Milley told Congress.
If for some reason the Republic falls, and the US becomes a dictatorship, the US will be no different from the CCP and the New Cold War will no longer be about two opposing ideologies, it will become a tale of two nations and one ideology – the CCP’s ideology. But I highly doubt this is around the corner or even in the foreseeable future. I will return to this later. What follows is a discussion of the historical evolution of US foreign policy and the role of ideology.
The Enlightenment Movement and Wilsonian Idealism
President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points was a response to the unprecedented destruction of WW1 which the great power alliances of Europe were suppose to prevent. Wilson’s proposed League of Nations was an early effort towards global cooperation as an alternative to grand alliances in preventing war. LINK
Wilson advocated that the victors show leniency towards the vanquished central powers as part of his plan for a “just peace” to avert laying the foundation for a future war, but the “European leaders were not interested in a just peace. They were interested in retribution”. LINK The importance of the punitive Versailles Treaty in Hitler’s rise to power is well documented in: William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Simon & Schuster; latest edition 2011.
If Germany had been offered a ‘just peace’ as advocated by Wilson, it would have removed one of Hitler’s major election promises that propelled him to power – he would rip up the Versailles Treaty and restore Germany’s dignity. An unjust peace creates the conditions for future war while a just peace could prevent such a conflict – this is the core principle of cooperative security; “Cooperative security thus displaces the centerpiece of security planning from preparing to counter threats to preventing such threats from arising” – Carter A., Perry W., Steinbrunner J.D. (1992) A New Concept of Cooperative Security; Brookings Institution, Washington D.C. p. 7.
Wilson’s ideas to prevent future wars were visionary and would influence Kennan’s thinking in shaping his Policy of Containment which would guide US foreign policy during the Cold War. Wilson’s proposals to prevent war were a part of his idealistic 14 points inspired by the Enlightenment Movement:
The Enlightenment affected many areas of human existence, including politics; perhaps the most famous examples of the latter are the US Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. LINK
– and Enlightenment ideals were the framework for Wilson’s internationalist vision: “the rule of law, democracy, a free press, free trade, freedom of the seas… and human rights which have undergirded… America’s bid for global leadership.” LINK
American Isolationism Frustrates Wilson’s Internationalist Vision
Wilson’s January 8, 1918 address to Congress articulated his 14 points (LINK) that called for a more internationalist US role to ensure:
…that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. LINK
Wilson’s assertion that international stability had a direct bearing on America’s own security failed to convince isolationists; “…the United States refused to take part in the League of Nations. Isolationists in Congress feared it would draw the United States into international affairs unnecessarily” LINK. Although hundreds of American lives were lost due to unrestricted German submarine warfare, pulling the US into WW1, the American public had no appetite for further entanglement in European affairs, preferring a return to isolationism.
World War II and the End of the Golden Age of American Isolationism
Kennan’s Containment Policy, predicated on the long view of containing communism without igniting a nuclear war, would necessitate pulling the US out of her isolationists shell. When Truman made the decision to adopt Kennan’s Policy of Containment, he realised that if communism is to be actively contained, the US must be prepared to intervene in places far from America’s shores, representing a significant reorientation of US foreign policy.
The isolationist movement in the US could have frustrated Truman’s post-WW2 internationalist vision, just as the movement had frustrated President Wilson’s post-WW1 vision. When WW2 broke out, the US maintained neutrality due to a strong campaign against involvement such as the ‘America First Committee’ (AFC) led by prominent isolationists such as Charles Lindbergh. LINK
But the arguments for maintaining US neutrality were to be swept away in a single day when on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked without warning the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, causing immense carnage with thousands of American lives lost. The surprise attack came as a total shock that jolted even staunch isolationists likes Lindbergh, and the AFC soon disbanded. In the aftermath of WW2:
… the emerging threat posed by Russia under Joseph Stalin and the specter of communism that would soon result in the Cold War effectively lowered the curtain on the golden age of American isolationism. LINK
From Isolationism to Leader of the Free World
Global US leadership was an entirely new experience for Americans as was maintaining an armaments industry to meet the needs of the military to maintain deterrence to keep the Soviets in check. The face-off between the US and the Soviet Union would go on for 40+ years – a period of superpower rivalry that would justify a powerful US military in order to deter a powerful Soviet military.
Such a rivalry would seem dangerous, and to an extent it was, but US foreign Policy was guided by Containment with its purpose to prevent nuclear war while at the same time containing Soviet expansionism. The policy was endorsed by the military given that the need to contain Soviet expansion justified large military budgets to preserve a stable international system; war without war, a ‘Cold War’.
And a large budget was an understatement as US military spending nearly equaled the military spending of all other nations combined. What justified such extravagance was the US assuming the role of global defender of Democracy and the President, leader of the free world. As such, the US could find itself fighting simultaneous conflicts to contain communism all over the world, and this would need a big, big budget. And Truman, a dedicated Wilsonian, proved masterful in convincing the American public, by appealing to American values, to support his new internationalist policy – the Truman Doctrine. On March 12, 1947, Truman stood before Congress to lay out his grand vision of a new foreign policy premised on the need for the US to assume global leadership to safeguard democracy:
… The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms. If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world — and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation. Great responsibilities have been placed upon us by the swift movement of events. LINK
Congressional leaders and the American public applauded Truman’s vision with a spike in Truman’s approval rating rising from 48% to 63%. LINK The timing of Truman’s speech was just right – the trauma of Pearl Harbor dealt a death blow to the isolationist movement as Americans came to the realisation that Wilson was correct, neutrality could not shield a neutral US from the effects of war even if they be on the other side of the ocean.
Stalin’s bombastic threats directed at the West and the tyranny of Communism rising in Soviet occupied Eastern Europe hardened American attitudes; “Postwar Soviet expansionism in Eastern Europe fueled many Americans’ fears of a Russian plan to control the world”. LINK America had just fought a war to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, and after so much sacrifice in blood, Americans were not about to let Western Europe suffer the same fate of Eastern Europe.
US global leadership was a natural consequence of American exceptionalism – reinforced by the public’s perception that while “America did not win World War II alone… without the United States, the war against Axis fascism would have been lost”. LINK The perception was that US power and resolve saved the world from tyranny and being the supreme power of the free world comes supreme responsibility – to protect those just saved from Nazi Germany from the rising threat of communism.
For Truman, Containment was the practical component that was needed for a US foreign policy that will both stand tough against communism and prevent a nuclear war by respecting the status quo – this strategy was premised on patience to allow the Soviet Union to collapse due to its own internal contradictions. But containment needed to be wrapped in ideology that resonated with the American public and the marriage of idealism with realism was not without problems.
Combining Idealism and Realism (Containment): Policy Tension
When the US stepped up to be leader of the free world, it was premised on the assent of nations seeking to protect and preserve their democratic institutions. This was evident in President Truman’s speech before Congress in 1947 – “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.” How Truman defines America’s leadership role is not to export democracy, it is to defend democracy wherever it exists, backed by supreme military might – peace through strength.
Failure to back words with deeds undermines credibility and this is particularly so when involving a position of global moral standing. However, the damage can be mitigated if “circumstances of time and place” warrant such in the eyes of observers – for example, when the Soviet Union used its military to crush the 1956 uprising in Hungary, Eisenhower did not intervene militarily, limiting his response to statements of support for the people of Hungary:
The United States deplores the intervention of Soviet military forces… the presence of which in Hungary, as is now demonstrated, is not to protect Hungary… but rather to continue an occupation of Hungary… The heart of America goes out to the people of Hungary. LINK
The people of Hungary needed more than just verbal support, they needed NATO military intervention, otherwise, the rebellion would be crushed. However, Containment policy would reject intervention since Hungary was within the Soviet sphere and existing spheres were to be respected – direct military support risked all out war. Further, feasibility was questionable given Hungary had no land border with NATO. In the clash between the realism of containment and the idealism of freeing Eastern Europe from the Soviet boot, Eisenhower understood the riskiness of the latter:
There is little doubt that he was deeply upset by the crushing of the revolt, and he was not deaf to public pressure or the emotional lobbying of activists within his own administration. But he had also determined… there was little the United States could do short of risking global war to help the rebels. And he was not prepared to go that far. LINK
In this case, the limits of idealist driven action can be understood given the grave risk of a global war if Eisenhower approved intervention in Hungary. While the roles of realism and idealism in practical application have been observed, international relations theories seem polarised on this topic.
The Realist view is that Cold War policies were driven by security interests while the ideological-based approach places ideology front and centre. And between the two is a wide chasm that is largely empty. Yet, In the pages of a venerable treatise on classical realism, there is to be found a bridge across the chasm. In “Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace“, Morgenthau presents six principles of Classical Realism – relevant is his 4th principle: the relationship between realism and ethics. In a critique of Morgenthau’s work, this was said of the 4th principle:
…while realists are aware of the moral significance of political action, they are also aware of the tension between morality and the requirements of successful political action. “Universal moral principles,” he asserts, “cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but …they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place”. LINK 2nd Edition 1954
From Defender of Democracy to Pre-emptive Defence of Democracy
The interplay of ideology and realism played an important role in US foreign policy during the Cold War. Ideology defines the boundaries of what is legitimate action while Realism filters out what is not feasible or bears unacceptable risks given the circumstances. When properly balanced, ideology and realism together bring clarity and purpose to both the formulation of policy and how it is put into practice. However, this could not be said of US post-911 foreign policy:
Drunk on the ideology of spreading democracy everywhere, Americans, as John Quincy Adams long ago warned might happen, have gone abroad in search of monsters to destroy but have become monsters themselves, wreaking havoc with unnecessary wars and creating anarchy in Libya and Iraq in the name of regime change. LINK
Justifying intervention in the name of exporting democracy is cloaking naked aggression with a misguided interpretation of what is meant by ‘Defender of Democracy’ – And where did this misguided view that offence is defence come from? The post-911 ‘Bush Doctrine’ made ‘preventive self-defence’ a major plank in US foreign policy as outlined in Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS):
… The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— … the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively. LINK
One problem was its application in practice, for example, the invasion of Iraq that was justified by fabricated evidence of non-existent WMD. When the WMD could not be found, the justification shifted to bringing democracy to Iraq, saving the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator – as for how thrilled are the Iraqi people… no need to comment.
And so, there we have it, pre-emptive defence of democracy – just as we can pre-emptively defend against a threat before it exists, we can pre-emptively defend democracy before it exists… impeccable logic. Bush’s NSS 2002 also argues “The United States has long maintained the option of pre-emptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security.” LINK Not exactly. In 1958, President Eisenhower approved NSC 5801 and of interest is clause 20:
20. The United States and its allies must reject the concept of preventive war or acts intended to provoke war. Hence, the United States should attempt to make clear, by word and conduct, that it is not our intention to provoke war. LINK
Just as nations rallied around the US for protection from perceived communist designs to establish a global communist tyranny, nations united in opposition to Bush’s brand of tyrannical foreign policy. Eventually US hegemony eroded to the point that the ability of the US to impose its will was lost. Unfortunately, disastrous foreign interventions have done tremendous harm to US global standing as well as sparking a growing anti-foreign wars populist movement on the domestic front.
The Election of President Trump and the Language of Isolationism
Trump campaigned on extricating the US from foreign conflicts invoking isolationist language such as ‘America first’ which harkens back to Charles Lindbergh’s isolationist “America First Committee”.
…after the devastation of [WW2], isolationism was out of fashion. Instead, America became the driving force in establishing a global web …NATO, the United Nations, a strong U.S. military presence in Asia, open seas, a host of trade agreements. These arrangements are now being challenged by President Trump… as a burden the U.S. should shed, [encapsulated in] the phrase “America First.”
…Trump, like Lindbergh before him, argues the U.S. should not be the world’s policeman… “The U.S. should not be promoting its values internationally. It should not be telling other counties how they run themselves” … [Americans saw] “It was trillions of dollars wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan, with thousands of American lives lost … and they don’t want to see that anymore.”
Trump has talked mostly about disrupting the world order, without saying what would replace it. Yet if the U.S. simply recedes from its superpower role, Russia, China and Iran and others would gladly step in to fill that void, according to many analysts…
… Petraeus warned… the U.S. still has the resources to be a superpower, but he worries about “something perhaps even more pernicious — a loss of self-confidence, resolve and strategic clarity on America’s part about our vital interest in preserving and protecting the system we sacrificed so much to bring into being.” LINK
Petraeus would certainly be aware of how post-911 US foreign policy has done tremendous harm to US global standing and mobilized strong domestic opposition to foreign interventions – a rekindling of the isolationist roots of the Republic. This is the price to be paid for a disastrous foreign policy backed by the might of the US military. Ever since the Founding Fathers expressed their disdain for ‘entangling alliances’, the rivalry between ‘isolationists’ and ‘internationalists’ for influence over US foreign policy has raged in a back and forth tug of war. But whenever isolationism was beaten into retreat such as US entry into WW1, it would always make a comeback.
Trump’s choice of words ‘America First’ was I think intentional, as it connects to an ever-present isolationist undercurrent in the American psyche – and targeted towards the rising populist movement that propelled Trump into office and has revived the debate once again. LINK
In the nearly four years since Trump won the Presidency, has the US moved towards a more isolationist foreign policy? Trying to answer reminds me of the Ozzy Osbourne song ‘Crazy Train’. During Trump’s inaugural speech, he spoke of the need to rebuild the US military following many years of neglect and since then made good on his word – “the president has positioned himself as a steadfast supporter of the troops whose administration has rebuilt the U.S. military.” Yet Trump attacked the military-industrial complex reminiscent of Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961:
I’m not saying the military is in love with me; the soldiers are,” the president added. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. LINK
And yet, Trump celebrated Islamophobia by brokering the largest military arms sale ever to Saudi Arabia worth $350 billion over ten years, ‘so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.’ Given Trump’s ‘Cold War Warrior’ stance on China and strong support for arms exports and modernization of US conventional and nuclear forces, the military could hardly ask for more. LINK
In Part 1, I argued that the US military would favor instigating a New Cold War with China after declaring in 2017 that US hegemony had come to an end. If there is any doubt about US military intentions regarding China, a cursory review of US military planning documents leaves no ambiguity – I could not resist the emojis.
US Isolationism, Great Power Rivalry or New Cold War Superpower Rivalry
I discussed in Part 1 the recognition by the US military of a return to great power rivalry and the need for increased military expenditures [page 5]. However, while all the talk is about the return to great power rivalry, the narrative does not support this. Further, US military expenditures are equal to the military budgets of all other great powers combined and recent US planning documents indicate global military dominance will be maintained for the foreseeable future to counter rising powers Russia and China: LINK
The recent military budget increases, for what is already a massive budget, as well as pointing to Russia and China as the main rising threats to US dominance, suggests the plan is a return to superpower rivalry. This is practically spelled out by Secretary of Defence Mark Esper in a July 2020 update of the 2018 National Defence Strategy (NDS):
…we are now in an era of Great Power Competition; and that China, then Russia, constitute our top strategic competitors. To be successful in this new global environment, we must … first, improve the lethality and readiness of the force; second, strengthen allies and build partners; and third, reform the Department [of Defence] for greater efficiency and accountability.
…the priority that drives and underlies many of our efforts today – is to focus the Department [of Defence] on China. This is the primary lens through which we are advancing each line of effort under the NDS, which guides us in addressing near-term challenges while preparing us once again for high-intensity conflict in the future… senior leadership team meetings held regularly to drive integrated action on China first, then Russia. A newly established China Strategy Management Group further pushes that agenda forward.
A vital part of that action is the training and education of personnel across the U.S. Armed Forces. Our future leaders must understand how China thinks about war, how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is organized, what kind of weapons and equipment they use, and how they fight – the way our past leaders and I were once required to understand Soviet systems and doctrine. LINK [pp 1-2]
China first, then Russia, with the focus on understanding how China thinks, just like during the Cold War in understanding how the Soviet Union would think. And towards this end, Defence Secretary Esper directed the “National Defense University to refocus its curriculum by dedicating 50 percent of the coursework to China, and … to make China the pacing threat in all of our schools, programs, and training.”, [Ibid, p.2]. This is clearly in anticipation of superpower rivalry with China while relegating Russia as a secondary threat – and everyone else is below the radar. This is reminiscent of the first Cold War which had as primary threat the Soviet Union and China as secondary threat – in the New Cold War, these roles are now reversed.
Why China is viewed as the main threat is easy enough to understand. In addition to ideological reasons, China is currently second only to the US in both military and economic power. China’s military spending for 2020 is, according to the CCP, RMB 1.268 trillion or US$178.6 billion. While this may seem small compared to the $732 billion US military budget, there are a few things to consider.
First, the CCP official figures lack transparency and unofficial estimates place actual spending at 1.5 times the CCP figure or approximately $265 billion – which is four times Russian military spending. Second, the US is a global power with global commitments and so the US does not and cannot direct all of its military power to countering China. The 2020 NDS update states 50% of educational and training programs to be China focused – let us hypothetically assign 50% of the US military budget to facing off with China; that works out to $367 billion; we can see why the designation of China as effectively near-peer. There is also the historical trajectory of China showing its steady rise to dominance in East Asia:
…East Asian spending has increased from $92.8 billion in 1990 to $363 billion in 2019. Much of this growth in expenditure has been driven by China. In 1990, China constituted 23.6 percent of total East Asian expenditure. As of 2019, this number stands at 70.5 percent. In terms of the broader regional context, the Chinese military budget constitutes 52.2 percent of the total cumulative spending across all of Asia (including those in the Middle East). LINK
China now dominates in the region and has been flexing its new found muscles in an increasingly belligerent manner. This has caused apprehension among ASEAN nations as to China’s intent in the region which the US is exploiting to build new alliances and strengthen existing ones. In Part One, I touched upon the formation of an India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, US Indo-Pacific ‘NATO’. This development is now acknowledged by China as a major security risk:
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi – who had, two years ago, compared the grouping to sea foam – is now convinced it underpins “a so-called Indo-Pacific NATO.” …Wang noted that the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is a “big underlying security risk” and that “what it pursues is to trumpet the Cold War mentality and to stir up confrontation among different groups and blocs…” LINK
And this was predicted back in 2005:
…The Chinese navy is poised to push out into the Pacific—and when it does, it will very quickly encounter a U.S. Navy and Air Force unwilling to budge from the coastal shelf of the Asian mainland. It’s not hard to imagine the result: a replay of the decades-long Cold War, with a center of gravity not in the heart of Europe but, rather, among Pacific atolls… LINK
As these developments unfold, we might ask why the US does not retreat back to focus on the Western Hemisphere of North, Central and South America rather then spread itself thin to face a rising power across a vast ocean on the other side of the planet. Trump campaigned on extricating the US from foreign conflicts as part of a more isolationist ‘America first’ campaign and so why is the US stirring up confrontation with China?
To have a deeper understanding of why from the perspective of the US military establishment, we need to examine the basis for the MIC’s power to influence US policy as well as its special interests – and then map this onto actual US policies. From there, we can predict future policy moves. This will be the focus of the next part of this series.
To be continued…
Stewart J. Melanson PhD
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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