(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Should the U.S. beef up its naval presence in the Pacific to offset China’s recent provocations?”)
WASHINGTON — Asia is one of the earth’s most ethnically and religiously diverse regions. But in geopolitics, it’s a place, not an ethnicity, and America is just as much an Asian power as China.
If it takes a bigger U.S. military footprint for Beijing to wise up to that, so be it.
The Indo-Pacific is bordered by continents on both sides of the oceans. The U.S. — and all of North and South America — have just as great an interest in the region’s future and well-being as do those on its western shoulder.
Hence, America has every right to be concerned about the destabilizing impact of China’s rise.
China has reneged on its guarantees to Hong Kong’s freedom, threatened Taiwan, supported North Korea’s nuclear program, laid debt traps for Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and sought to restrict freedom of the seas in the South China Sea. And that’s just a partial list of Beijing’s transgressions.
Instead of working to increase world peace, stability and prosperity, China is actively undermining it.
Thankfully, the current administration has been pushing back — and doing so in the right way — politically and diplomatically. One key area is defense policy.
For years, Beijing has been followed an “anti-access, area denial” strategy, fielding military capabilities that make it more difficult for the U.S. to operate safely and effectively in the Indo-Pacific.
China’s plan is to “win without fighting,” confronting America one day with the cold realization that the U.S. is no longer a real military power in the Indo-Pacific.
The only realistic counter to China’s scheme is to demonstrate the capacity that proves them wrong — to show them that America is willing and able to defend our vital interests.
We have a ways to go. Each year The Heritage Foundation publishes the “Index of U.S. Military Strength.” In 2018, the index concluded the Chinese military threat is still growing.
Beijing can count. If we want to show them America is no pushover, we have to demonstrate a firm commitment to field the forces needed to counter their growing might.
To neutralize the threat, we must expand our military capability and capacity in the Indo-Pacific — on land, above and below the sea, in the air and in space and in cyberspace. We need more numbers for sure — more ships in particular. But we also need to field some capabilities we don’t have now.
Among those not-yet-there items needed is a long-range strike stealth drone that can be launched from a carrier. Other yet-to-be-developed capabilities would include a land-based anti-ship cruise missile.
The need for a beefed-up presence in the Asian Pacific is nothing new. President Barack Obama spoke of the need to “pivot to Asia,” although very little pivoting was actually done in his last term.
Washington can field the forces America needs in a cost-effective, responsible manner if it can commit to sustained investment in defense over time.
China knows that, but the regime won’t believe the U.S. can neutralize Beijing’s military build-up unless it sees real, continued and persistent efforts by the White House and Capitol Hill to strengthen U.S. forces year-to-year.
Unfortunately, this effort is in jeopardy. Unless Congress can agree on a budget, the defense appropriation next year will be sequestered. Translated into real-world effects, that means defense spending will be cut by a third, leaving the military virtually no resources for beefing up. Under sequestration, the Pentagon will be able to do little more than make payroll and keep the lights on.
This is no time for Washington to play chicken over the National Defense Authorization Act and the defense appropriations bill. Both parties should be able to put aside the partisan squabbling to fulfill the core function of the federal government: to provide for the national defense.
Remember, Beijing is watching.
James Jay Carafano directs the Capitol Hill’s think-tank’s research into matters of national security and foreign relations. A leading foreign policy expert, he is a graduate of West Point and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Readers may write him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC 20002-4999.