US think tank suggests Pentagon 'explicitly priortise' China in national defence strategy
Keeping in view China's openly hawkish territorial expansionism in recent years, a US-based think tank has suggested that Pentagon should kick off the year-long effort this winter, to prepare a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) to shift Washington's official attention to the operational challenges posed by Beijing.
China's malevolent actions during the past three years have only increased the recognition that the United States is in a strategic competition and a new NDS will only continue to put a focus on China first, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) said in a report published on Monday.
Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery (Retd.), an Executive Director at the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission and an earlier Director for Operations (J3) at US Indo-Pacific Command, as well as Eric Sayers, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at CNAS, said in the report that former US Defense Secretary James N. Mattis had signed the NDS in January 2018, for the first time signalling that the highest levels of the Pentagon had finally adopted the logic that China "should be the organising principle for the building".
"The bipartisan support for NDS 2018 was an encouraging sign that a consensus on making China the department's priority was obtainable," the report said.
"The previous NDS determined that the "central challenge to US prosperity and security is the re-emergence of long-term, strategic competition" and concluded that "long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department". While both powers are indeed revisionist and pose considerable risk to US interests, the magnitude of the challenge posed by a China with the world's second-largest economy far exceeds that of Russia," the think tank further said.
It also noted that there will be many small and even some large differences between how a second Trump term or a first Biden term, after the US presidential elections in November, will approach defence strategy; however, given both ideological fault lines and structural shifts such as COVID-19, both parties are well-positioned to pursue a new NDS that will continue to put a focus on China first.
"Leaving the door open to both China and Russia being the principal priorities has led to confusion and misalignment of effort. For the sake of bringing greater clarity to the application of the department's time, energy, and budget resources, NDS 2022 should go further than its predecessor by being explicit that China is the principal priority, while Russia is the focus of the secondary effort. This will have the immediate effect of ending a debate within various parts of the Pentagon, where some factions give priority to the European theater and others to the Pacific," it said.
The two researchers said the NDS 2018 recognised that revisionist powers "have increased efforts short of armed conflict by expanding coercion to new fronts, violating principles of sovereignty, exploiting ambiguity, and deliberately blurring the lines between civil and military goals."
This is another area where little has changed in three years, they stated further.
China still acts with impunity in its development of manmade structures and bullying of neighbours in the South China Sea. Beijing is also working in cyberspace to undermine US military, economic, and political credibility. "This inability to operate with speed and agility in the "gray zone" is weakening the US strategic position and destabilizing critical alliances and partnerships," they added.
The researchers suggested that the NDS 2022 must more clearly state how the United States will operate forward, in conditions short of armed conflict, to confront Chinese aggression, deter future Chinese planning, and reestablish a set of norms that cannot be manipulated or undermined by persistent campaigns of low-level aggression.
"This is not a call for a strategy of compellence, but rather for one of a more active deterrence predicated on forward defence and backed by a policy of clearly stated, enforceable, declaratory principles and associated signalling efforts," the think tank said.