This just in: The retired four-star admiral who formerly commanded all
American forces in the Pacific (a job known as CINCPAC) and served until
recently as U.S. Ambassador to China announced last Friday that a "rising
China is okay" and, from a military perspective, "not really" a threat.
According to the South China Morning Post, Joseph Prueher told an audience
in Seattle that the PRC's "People's Liberation Army was 'not very potent' as
a fighting force, even though China yearned for a strong military that
matched its standing in the world."
This analysis supports the effort now being made by "Friends of China" and
others who want Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to solve the Pentagon's
present budget conundrum by cutting the American military's force structure.
They are urging him to use such an approach rather than press President Bush
for additional funding authority needed to do the job of "transforming" the
armed services for the future while fixing what ails them today. They
contend that divisions can be safely cut from the Army, carrier battle
groups from the Navy and air wings from the Air Force since the United
States no longer need worry about the danger of fighting two simultaneous
major regional conflicts around the globe.
There is only one problem with the Prueher analysis. It is wrong.
A "rising China" is not "okay" because its ambitions are at odds with
American interests. The Communist regime in Beijing is under no illusion on
this point and, therefore, it routinely refers to the United States as "the
main enemy." Party cadre and military leaders declare war with the U.S. to
be "inevitable." And, when it suits their purposes, Chinese officials
threaten this country with nuclear attack -- threats that, unfortunately,
have to be taken seriously in the absence of any deployed defense against
the PRC's "not very potent," but still potentially devastating, long-range
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.
While it is certainly true that the PLA's conventional forces are today no
match for their American counterparts, it would be foolish to take undue
comfort from such a snapshot in time. For one thing, history is full of
instances in which weaker countries have taken on stronger ones. What is
more, China is rapidly modernizing every facet of its military, thanks in no
small measure to the PRC's "strategic partnership" with Russia and the
advanced arms and training in their use, maintenance and manufacture that
flows from it.
Beijing is also aggressively pursuing unconventional or "asymmetric" means
of dealing with a superior American military. These techniques include
cyber-warfare, electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapons and anti-satellite
capabilities designed to attack and neutralize the electronic and
information technologies upon which that U.S. superiority critically
Most relevant to the question of whether the United States can responsibly
abandon the force-structure requirements mandated by the so-called "two-war"
strategy, however, are the steps China is taking with its clients around the
world to confront America with at least two simultaneous conflicts if ever
the two nations come to blows. Alternatively, Beijing may be calculating
that far-flung crises involving U.S. allies and interests would allow it to
secure its strategic objectives -- notably, conquest of Taiwan -- without
any interference from this country.
Consider developments in two candidate regions. The intensifying conflict
between Israel and her Arab neighbors may metastasize at any time into a
wider war. If so, it is entirely possible that weapons made available by
China to her customers in the Middle East -- both directly and indirectly
via her proxy, North Korea -- will be used not only in attacks against the
Jewish State but to establish effective control over the oil lanes of the
Persian Gulf. Such attacks could run the gamut from those involving
ballistic missiles bearing conventional warheads or weapons of mass
destruction to the use of deadly Silkworm anti-ship missiles.
Meanwhile, dynamic forces are at work in East Asia. North Korea's thoroughly
weird despot, Kim Jong-Il, has just completed a lengthy visit to Russia in
which those two nations affirmed their friendship and solidarity. (Kim's
inveterate deceitfulness was on display in the course of his travels as he
treated dignitaries to his favorite dish of donkey meat while representing
it as "Heavenly Cow.") It seems likely that the backing North Korea enjoys
from both the Russians and Chinese will make Kim more intractable in ending
the abiding threat his army and regime pose to South Korea.
This is all the more worrisome insofar as South Korea's former political
prisoner-turned-President, Kim Dae Jung, seems prepared to adopt
anti-democratic practices to silence critics who fear that, under present
circumstances, his so-called "Sunshine Policy" for normalizing relations
with the North is increasingly dangerous. He is using trumped up tax
investigations and arrests to suppress opponents in the media; he is denying
an American request for a top North Korean defector and prominent skeptic
about Kim Jong-Il's intentions to take his warnings to the United States.
Members of Congress, led by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, are among those who fear
that such developments could come to imperil not only to South Korean
democracy but its security and stability on the Korean peninsula.
China has also been at work in our own hemisphere, making a concerted effort
to open trading and strategic ties with Communist Cuba and Venezuela's
Castro-wannabe, Hugo Chavez. In addition, the PRC has secured facilities
from which it could disrupt or deny at will American use of the Panama
Canal. In the event of two widely separated conflicts, these ties could
impair free U.S. exploitation of the sea lines of communications through the
Caribbean and Panamanian isthmus, seriously exacerbating any inadequacies in
the size, capabilities and location of our forces.
Left to his own devices, Donald Rumsfeld is certainly smart enough to
understand that -- like the People's Liberation Army -- we should pay heed
to the teachings of the ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Tsu. Sun observed
that it was far preferable to accomplish your objectives without a war than
by having to fight one.
Former CINCPAC Joe Prueher may not understand that a "rising China" is bent
on creating strategic and other circumstances that will enable it to do just
that. (An interesting question is whether his successor in that job, Adm.
Dennis Blair -- who is reportedly under consideration to become Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- is under a similar illusion.) It behooves the
Bush Administration to ensure that America has sufficient forces, with the
requisite capabilities and forward deployed in the right places so as to
ensure that we can, in fact, deal with and, thereby, deter the two conflicts
we don't want to have to fight.