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The China Offset

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Flypast of the Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai
Alert5 – Own work
CC BY-SA 4.0

Over at the Diplomat I write a bit about a recent CNAS report on China, and how thinking about China has driven trends in US military procurement:


Work and Grant relate a series of arguments that will be familiar to most of those who have followed the Chinese military over the last decade. They note that the size and sophistication of the Chinese economy is unmatched by previous U.S. competitors, and that consequently the United States faces a greater potential threat than it has suffered since the 19th century. However, while China’s potential was evident some thirty years ago, its military rise required careful, long-term planning. As the end of the Cold War disrupted the U.S.-China partnership, the Gulf War demonstrated the effectiveness of U.S. military technology, and the 1996 Taiwan Crisis made evident the tension in U.S.-China relations, China developed a long-range plan for parity, and supremacy.

To add just a bit more on this… part of the weirdness of the progressive conversation about Russia’s impact on the 2016 election has been the implication that recognizing Russia’s role in 2016 amounts to the invocation of a “New Cold War,” with all of the negative connotations that includes. From the point of view of military procurement and planning, however, Russia has (outside of specific concerns over nuclear weapons) been nothing more than a lesser included case since the 2000s. If you’re worried about Cold War-style militarized competition (either because you’re concerned about its impact on US democracy, or because you’re concerned we’re not doing enough of it), China is where all of the action is. The cited report, largely written by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, gives a pretty good account of how thoroughly anticipation of China’s rise has dominated long-term planning in DoD and the uniformed services.

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