The context of the Asia-Pacific rivalry between the United States and China has evolved over the last 5 or 6 decades. Issues associated with territorial dispute resolution, response to a bellicose nuclear-armed North Korea, and partner concerns over China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy now challenge the relationship, once characterized by strong elements of cooperation and economic growth. This report examines U.S.-China gray zone competition in the Asia-Pacific, and identifies land forces capabilities and initiatives necessary to advance U.S. national interests in the face of that competition. The report offers nine specific recommendations and a two-tier implementation plan to integrate those recommendations into defense management processes.
There is a widely-shared view in China that the United States has ill will toward China and is always looking for opportunities to make trouble for China. The Chinese believe that this was the case when China was a poor developing nation; and they particularly believe it to be the case today as China is rapidly becoming a great power. The Chinese claim that U.S. influence on every aspect of Chinese foreign and domestic relations is so ubiquitous that they have a name for it: “U.S. factor/shadow/specter”. The Chinese view, however, is largely based on unsubstantiated speculations, erroneously-formed impressions, and poorly-staged analyses; and cannot stand up to close scrutiny. The Chinese assertion that the Philippines vs. China arbitration of 2016 is a U.S.-orchestrated, directed, and supported farce is an excellent example.
Deciding when, where, and how to prioritize is the essence of strategy. U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to designate the Indo-Asia-Pacific (IAP) as his top regional priority made good sense, in light of the ongoing shift in economic power from West to East and the rise of China as a potential global and regional peer competitor. The Obama Administration has attempted to use all available instruments of American power—diplomatic, information, military, and economic—to gain the support of regional friends and allies for its “pivot to Asia.” Rather than a “one size fits all” approach, Washington has attempted to adapt its recruitment efforts to the specific interests and concerns of each regional actor. The U.S. campaign has benefitted from the fact that most IAP governments recognize the value of an active American presence in the region at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness. If Obama, and his successor, can sustain the pivot, it can serve as the foundation for U.S. grand strategy in the 21st century.
According to many analysts of China’s military, when an officer of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) suggests new forms of operations, expanded domains of warfare, or new weapons systems, American security planners can dismiss these projections as merely “aspirational” thinking. This assessment of the PLA Academy of Military Science publication Long Distance Operations and other military publications of this genre propose that suggestions for forms of future warfare capture currents of thinking among mid-grade officers and also reflect how the senior political and military leaders in China want the PLA to evolve. Among the trends identified in this Letort Paper is the requirement for a capacity to more effectively attack a distant adversary, such as the United States, and to hold that adversary’s population at risk. This analysis also shows that a number of military analysts in China perceive that the populace is at risk from attacks by stronger, distant states. In the past 5 years, the PLA has exercised to develop force projection and expeditionary capabilities. As described in brief in this analysis, in the past 6 months, the PLA has changed its own force structure and posture in ways that will facilitate expeditionary operations.
China and Russia have engaged in an increasing number of joint exercises in recent years. These drills aim to help them deter and, if necessary, defeat potential threats, such as Islamist terrorists trying to destabilize a Central Asian government, while at the same time reassuring their allies that Russia and China would protect them from such challenges. Furthermore, the exercises and other joint Russia-China military activities have a mutual reassurance function, informing Moscow and Beijing about the other’s military potential and building mutual confidence about their friendly intentions toward one another. Finally, the joint exercises try to communicate to third parties, especially the United States, that Russia and China have a genuine security partnership and that it extends to cover Central Asia, a region of high priority concern for Moscow and Beijing, and possibly other areas, such as northeast Asia. Although the Sino-Russian partnership is limited in key respects, the United States should continue to monitor their defense relationship since it has the potential to become a more significant international security development.
This strategic assessment seeks to go beyond a traditional comparative analysis of the military, technological, political, cultural, and economic factors governing the relationships and capabilities of the Asia Pacific environment. To make sense of the intrinsic complexities unique to this region, we endeavor to broaden our view and rely on a tool often overlooked in government studies: imagination. Moreover, we aim to offer a strategic document that is readable, instructive, and provocative. Pulling from a well-referenced piece of military teaching, this assessment borrows a learning concept first employed in 1904 by Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton in "The Defence of Duffer’s Drift." This fictional story describes the plight of young Lieutenant Backsight Forethought as he commands a 50-man platoon tasked to hold a tactically critical piece of land called Duffer’s Drift. The story unfolds in a series of six dreams, where the blunders of the unwitting lieutenant lead to disaster. As the dreams progress, he harnesses the lessons of each of his failures, and by applying these lessons, his platoon ultimately defends Duffer’s Drift.
China’s emergence as a global actor has questioned the position of the United States as the strongest power and the future of the Washington-led global order. To achieve the status of a truly global player wielding influence in all dimensions of power would require China to leverage its regional influence in Central Asia. This region is increasingly representing China’s western leg of economic expansion and development, and is of a growing strategic importance for Beijing. It is also a region that should be of greater strategic importance to Washington, which seeks to preserve its leading position in the international system and ensure China’s peaceful integration in the global political, security, and economic architecture.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy and National Space Strategy both reaffirm the vital interests that the United States has in the domain of space. However, space remains an inherently hostile environment that has become congested, contested, and competitive among the nations. What are ways for the U.S. Army to assure the success of its space-dependent warfighting functions in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment where space systems are degraded for significant periods of time?
The Trump administration has recently called for a free and open Indo-Pacific, essentially replacing the Obama-era “Rebalance.” This U.S. Army War College report provides prescient analysis and policy recommendations on how to proceed down the path to this call while simultaneously managing the rise of China.
In January, the Trump administration released its first National Defense Strategy (NDS), which closely followed the December 2017 release of the new National Security Strategy (NSS). Both of these documents call for a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach to security, emphasizing competition against Russia and China at the expense of what some may argue has been a myopic focus on eradicating transnational terrorism. What the NSS and NDS are less clear about is how the United States will compete against Russia. Instead, an array of arguably vague policy objectives are all these documents seem to muster. There may be good reasons why these documents provide us little in the way of substantive ways and means, but that shouldn’t prevent a public debate about the many tools Washington can and should employ in competition with Russia in order to generate potentially novel policy options for decision-makers, clearly signal Washington’s intent and reassurance to allies, and convey a stronger deterrent message to Moscow.