Monday, March 10, 2008

China's Military Power

Its official title is “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China: A Report to Congress Pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act
Fiscal Year 2000.”

It is today’s equivalent of the Reagan-Bush 41 “Soviet Military Power” annual glossy pamphlet published from 1983 to 1991. The cut off for the classified data used in the first pamphlet actually was summer 1981. What became the first edition was a modified top secret briefing for NATO officials given by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

There was, at the time, vocal demands in many NATO countries to cut back on military spending. The first pamphlet was seen as a “block-buster” whose information about Soviet military capabilities – when combined with the “evil empire” moniker as a description of Moscow’s intentions – would quickly nullify any pressure to reduce NATO military spending.

Ironically, once the “razzle-dazzle” of the initial edition subsided, the remaining eight “annuals“ said more about the gaps in the U.S. intelligence community’s understanding about what was happening inside the Soviet Empire than it revealed “new” about the Soviet military posture.

Perhaps it is that lesson from the past that has prompted the Pentagon to include the following “disclaimer” as to why it is still issuing the Chinese Military Power publication – particularly since this year’s copy pulls back from some of the more “alarming” conclusions included in early editions – e.g., the build-up of surface-to-surface missiles on the mainland opposite Taiwan, the appearance of a new submarine, testing new long-range and mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Section 1202, “Annual Report on Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Public Law 106-65, provides that the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report “on the current and future military strategy of the People’s Republic of China. The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development on the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese grand strategy, security strategy, and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts, through the next 20 years.”

Apparently, the administration and perhaps the Pentagon also has given up on the idea that the U.S. will someday confront a resurgent Russia as the “new” peer adversary and is betting that this position will be assumed by China. Washington’s chief complaint sis the lack of total transparency in Beijing’s military spending and any credible (from the U.S. perspective) explanation for its equipment modernization programs and other policy and procedural changes. Clearly, the objective here is to paint Beijing as the next great enemy.

The Soviets also were accused of concealing their annual expenditures for their military forces. Most countries do, to some extent – and the U.S. is no exception. What has always been puzzling to me is if the vast majority of budget analysts concur that a country is not including or not reporting every dollar it spends for military and intelligence services, what is missing ought to be relatively transparent and thus can be added to any “official” figure.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that not every aspect of the military has a “price-tag.” The level of training, leadership, and innate competence that contribute to success in a non-military endeavor are not completely divorced from the military sphere.

Perhaps it is simply that Washington-based commentators are more oriented toward policy formulation as compared to Pacific Command spokespersons’, but the latter seem less “worried” about China’s “rise.” It comes back to the same “inside-the-beltway” presumption that any other country that dares to spend any significant amount on its military and is not firmly in Washington’s pocket, is planning the demise of the United States.

P.S. One note of clarification. Should you just have to have the complete nine-issue set of the “Soviet Military Balance," you probably won’t find the one for 1991. That issue had been written, reviewed, and was about to go to the printer for a run of some 196,000 copies when the most extraordinary thing happened: Soviet hardliners attempted a coup d’etat against Mikhail Gorbachev. By the time Boris Yeltsin mounted a tank with a Russian (as opposed to a Soviet) flag, the Soviet Empire was effectively history. The 1991 issue, as far as I can tell, never left the Pentagon


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