Monday, August 01, 2005

China's Military Buildup

Today I read "China's Military Faces the Future" edited by John R. Lilley and David Shambaugh. I also read "The Chinese Armed Forces in the 21st Century" edited by Larry M. Wortzel. I did so because of a recent story by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz that claimed that the People's Republic of China would be in a position to successfully invade Taiwan two years from now and might very well do so. You can find this and other scarey stories here: Gertz Stories.

Experts on the subject of China's military capabilities now and for the foreseeable future agree on a number of important points. The first of those is that China lacks the high-tech military-industrial base needed to advance the state of the art in weapons systems. The best that China can currently do is buy weapons produced by other countries. Some of those weapons are very good indeed as weapons are the only high-quality manufactured products that have been available from the former USSR and current Russian Federation. Our good friend, Israel, given the choice between respecting our strategic interests or selling high-tech weapons to China has chosen the latter. Vile France, Perfidious Albion along with Italy and Germany have declining defense industries in desperate need of foreign customers and, in the absence of national interests in East Asia, are eager to sell to China. The only limit on the PRC's ability to acquire and deploy first-class, high-tech weaponry is the size of its defense budget.

While China can cobble together a formidable list of competitive weapons it is missing one critical piece of the puzzle: the digital command, control, communications and information systems (C3I) that give America its decisive advantage in land, air and sea operations. Chinese military strategists are accutely aware of this deficiency and some call for the development of systems of asymmetrical warfare that would neutralize America's C3I advantage. This type of thinking is called RMA for "Revolution in Military Affairs" and argues that given relative parity in weapons, personnel and training you can defeat an enemy by incapacitating its C3I capabilities. However, this is far easier said than done and you don't know whether your secret C3I neutralizers work until you try them.

On paper, China will, if not in two years, by end of this decade have enough high-tech military hardware to theoretically challenge America in the air and sea space essential to Taiwan's security. However, it will lack the high-tech C3I systems it needs to orchestrate a successful war. In the final analysis, it is not ship against ship, airplane against airplane and man against man. It is war-fighting system against war-fighting system. After two wars with Iraq where American forces were nominally outnumbered 3 to 1 this is abundantly clear to Chinese military planners. The correlation of forces, the traditional inventory list of military formations and weapons systems, can, at best, furnish a raw bill of materials. It will tell you nothing about how those raw materials are fashioned into a single coherent theater weapon system.

Chinese military diplomacy has two goals: securing access to current military products and technology and weakening military alliances between America and friendly nations in Asia and the Western Pacific. While China has had great success in achieving the former, it has had much less success in the latter. China has maritime territorial disputes with too many of its neighbors and if it attempts to resolve any of them through force it will quickly find itself balanced by defensive alliances with the U.S. The recent 10-year military cooperation agreement between India and America was in this regard a major setback.

The liklihood of an American war with China depends entirely on whether Chinese military and political leaders realistically assess relative military strengths and weaknesses. If they get it wrong, there may be a war. If they get it right there won't be one. Thus far, they have been more realistic than arrogant. Let us pray that this continues to be the case.

"China's Military Faces the Future" edited by John R. Lilley and David Shambaugh is available from Amazon for the bargain price of $92.50 a copy. Much of what it asserts is available above at my favorite price.

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