Image 1: US-Japan joint exercise with USS George Washington, 2010.
Deterrence within the context of the rebalance can be examined in two respects: preventing a conventional high-intensity conflict and dissuading Chinese attempts to alter the territorial status quo through low-intensity disputes and paramilitary operations. In both respects the rebalance has encountered major shortcomings. A comprehensive examination of Chinese open source literature, ranging from academia to official PLA military publications, indicates a growing confidence within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in its ability to defeat the United States in a regional conflict. In his testimony before Congress, Lee Fuell - Technical Director for Force Modernization and Employment with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, commented on the growing confidence of the PLA:
"Recent Chinese operational literature describes a more nuanced approach to counter-intervention that seeks to strike a balance between supporting the main campaign and deterring the powerful enemy - that usually means us in the literature - and striking at them if necessary with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict...This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA writings which placed more emphasis on preemptive attacks to counter a U.S. intervention. We feel that this demonstrates to some degree a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand an initial U.S. involvement than in years past...This isn’t to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct preemptive actions against U.S. intervention, particularly in the cyber domain or other less 'kinetic' ways; however, the PLA appears to be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the U.S."
The following excerpt is from The Science of the Second Artillery Campaigns, the most authoritative Chinese open source publication with respect to China's strategic rocket forces which corroborates Mr. Fuell's testimony:
"When the powerful enemy uses allied military bases in our periphery and aircraft carriers as aircraft launch platforms to implement various forms of military intervention; and when the powerful enemy's allied military bases around our periphery are beyond our air arm's firing range...conventional missiles can be used to implement harassment strikes against military bases of the enemy's allies around our periphery as well as the carrier battle groups" - Yoshinhara, 2014
Image 2: DF-21 launch site within the 810 Brigade's base near Dalian. DF-21C missiles launched from Dalian would have coverage of US bases in both Korea and Japan. Image credit: Federation of American Scientists
In addition to preparing for a high-intensity conflict with the United States, China has been proactively changing the status quo in the South China Seas (SCS) through oil rig deployments, island reclamation efforts, establishing a coast guard, and declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) all within the past two years. While significant US resources have been invested in acquiring platforms and capabilities relevant to a US-China high-intensity conflict such as 2 Virginia-class attack submarines per year or the development of the F-35 fifth generation fighter aircraft, both Congress and the Obama Administration have undertaken minimal efforts to address China's low-intensity efforts to change the status quo:
"China is pursuing in Asia what the United States has in Latin America: regional hegemony. In pursuit of that goal, China keeps trying to take territory, bit by bit, in the East and South China Seas. And the United States doesn't know what to do about it. This practice, known as salami-slicing, involves the slow accumulation of small changes, none of which in isolation amounts to a casus belli, but which add up over time to a substantial change in the strategic picture. By using salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas, China does not have to choose between trade with the rest of the world and the achievement of an expanded security perimeter in the Western Pacific at the expense of China’s neighbors." - Robert Haddick, 2014
Clearly current US efforts to deter China are insufficient as exemplified by the growing confidence of the PLA and the relative success of China's efforts to claim the SCS. Statements by both the Obama Administration and senior Navy officials such as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert have been carefully calibrated as to not antagonize Beijing. Admiral Greenert recently refused to discuss probable US tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) with regards to China at a Naval War College event as, "If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize”. As the status quo power who partly derives acceptance among regional powers by policing the maritime commons and promoting stability, it does not behoove the United States to act belligerent but statements such as CNO Greenert's do not promote effective deterrence.
James Holmes recently wrote Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief , in which he argues the US shouldn't arbitrarily antagonize Beijing but the US must underscore its capability and resolve to promote an effective military deterrence:
"Henry Kissinger supplies the best definition of deterrence, depicting it as a product of our capability, our resolve, and — here’s Kissinger’s special ingredient – the opponent’s belief in our capability and our resolve to use it...Teddy Roosevelt sums it up with a pithy frontier maxim: 'don’t bluster, don’t flourish your revolver, and never draw unless you intend to shoot'. In Kissinger’s terms, that’s a statement about communicating one’s intentions frankly but without needlessly giving offense, about clearly outlining the conditions that warrant reaching for the gun, and about actually following through should the opponent defy our terms. Capability, resolve, belief."
Striking a balance between needlessly antagonizing Beijing and protecting long-held US strategic interests is difficult in and of itself but gets even more troublesome when accounting for the varying interests between the US and its Pacific allies. In broad terms, many US Pacific allies want the US to act as an insurance policy toward their security in a time of national crisis (Zakaria, 2014). Many US pacific allies such as Australia would like a peaceful and stable status quo without a Cold War type military escalation between the United States and China due to extensive trade relations. Stephen Walt recently underscored the logic behind Australia maintaining its robust alliance with the United States despite its extensive trade relations with China. Walt's reasoning applies not only to Australia but also to several countries in South East Asia:
"You know when states get into trouble, there is no 911 number to call…You can’t call Ban Ki-Moon and get any help. You will get his sympathy, he will put you on the agenda at the Security Council but he’s got nothing else he can do for you. Therefore, nations who think at some point they might face some significant challenge of one form or another, it’s good to have friends…Having the United States as an ally would be a really nice insurance policy”.
In conclusion, an appropriate US deterrence must address Chinese provocations by underscoring US resolve, US capabilities, and working in consultation with Pacific allies. The US must strike a balance between being minimally aggressive to assuage the concerns of US allies, but the US must also actively deter China and protect key US interests. Preventative measures such as establishing a robust military deterrence in the Asia-Pacific are much less costly than an open war with China over the long-term even if a robust deterrence sours US-China relations. Part II will examine a host of minimally bellicose measures to deter China at the low-intensity level, all of which underscore US resolve through joint Congressional-Presidential action.
- China and America: Dancing Around the Containment Question, Joseph A. Bosco, 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/china-america-dancing-around-the-containment-question-10723
- America can make Friends in Asia through Trade, Fareed Zakaria, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-america-can-make-friends-in-asia-through-trade/2014/04/24/bb5db266-cbe0-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html
- Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief, James Holmes, 2014. http://thediplomat.com/2014/06/deterring-china-capability-x-resolve-x-belief/
- History's Warning: A U.S.-China War Is Terrifyingly Possible, Michael Vlahos, 2014. http://nationalinterest.org/feature/historys-warning-us-china-war-terrifyingly-possible-10754
- America has no Answer to China's Salami Slicing, Robert Haddick, 2014. http://warontherocks.com/2014/02/america-has-no-answer-to-chinas-salami-slicing/
- The perils of a foreign policy that leans forward, Fareed Zakaria, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-the-perils-of-a-foreign-policy-that-leans-forward/2014/06/05/b4cd16f8-ecd8-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html
- Rebalancing U.S. Forces - Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles, Toshi Yoshihara, 2014.
- China's Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States, 2014. http://origin.www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/USCC%20Hearing%20Transcript%20-%20January%2030%202014.pdf
- The rise of China and America's Asian allies, Stephen M. Walt, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh6K22htlZE