Monday, January 20, 2014

US Admiral Warns U.S. Losing Dominance To China

US Admiral Warns U.S. Losing Dominance To China

Is the current administration's “pivot” to Asia working? Not according to Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, who said just this week that US dominance in the Pacific theater had weakened in the face of a more aggressive and ascendant China, and this, fully three years after Pentagon Officials stated that they were changing focus, shifting to a European emphasis in favor of an Asian-Pacific focus.

“Our historic dominance that most of us in this room have enjoyed, is diminishing, no question.” Admiral Locklear, of the US Pacific Command, said Wednesday at a naval conference in Virginia. “China is going to rise, we all know that.”

Admiral Locklear added, noting that although it was clear to all that the might of the Chinese armed forces was growing, it remained unclear at this point whether China would seek to be a “hard” adversary of ours in the longer term, and that one of our most pressing and important goals Washington should be pursuing would be to steer Beijing toward a more cooperative security posture.

“How are they behaving? That is truly the central question.” Admiral Locklear said, adding that our overriding goal, is for China “to be a net provider of security, not a net users of security.”

This remark in particular is compelling, as it offers us some insights into the sort of high level thinking inside the Pentagon about how we should be organizing and tailoring its armed forces in the region, where Beijing and Moscow (both regional powerhouses in their own right, and of course, former Cold War opponents) are eager to challenge American dominance.

Dean Cheng, an analyst for Heritage, made the important observation that the Admiral seems to believe that China will be providing security in the region for everyone, because we can, through some unspecified means, mold China to think and be like us.

Cheng sees this as a "remarkable assumption" in light of a recent spate of events in the region that seem to underscore the point that China is only looking out for China. He concludes that it is this kind of "bizarre lens," that led one of Admiral Locklear’s predecessors to offer to help China with its carrier development program.

The Global Times, China’s official English-language newspaper, reacted swiftly to Admiral Locklear’s comments, trumpeting them in a story that began with “U.S Losing Grip on Pacific: PACOM.” Later in the story, we find a quote by the School of International Studies' (Renmin University, China) deputy dean, stating that Admiral Locklear's comments were an explicit acknowledgement of China’s increasing role and rising power.

“However,” Mr. Jin added, “Some people, who sit in their offices in Washington, tend to hold a more hard-line position toward China.”

Beijing made worldwide headlines not long ago when it announced the creation of a so-called “air defense zone” in and around the East China Sea, and made it a requirement that all foreign aircraft (civilian or military) notify Chinese authorities of their flight plans and cargo over this region. This event triggered a weeks long Cold War type standoff with Washington, that culminated in two US B-52 bombers through the newly created zone, unannounced.

So far at least, China has focused almost exclusively on extending the reach of its naval and air power into the land and water in its immediate vicinity, and much of China's posturing has been centered on longstanding territorial disputes with Japan and other, smaller Pacific nations.

The establishment of the aforementioned “air defense zone” represented an unprecedented move by Beijing, whose leaders have been more prone to make a show of their expanding might. For example, China’s Defense Ministry confirmed only this week that they recently conducted the first successful test of an ultra-high-speed missile vehicle (Pentagon designation WU-14). This is cutting-edge technology that could, presumably challenge U.S. operations.

It is developments like these that add both heat and substance to the ongoing debate in Washington, over whether or not we are on course to respond effectively to the rising threat that China represents, or if we are at risk of seeing our influence in the Pacific pushed back.

“We need to think about all scenarios, not just merely the ones we’ve been dealing with over the past last several years where we’ve enjoyed basic air superiority and basic sea superiority,” Admiral Locklear said Wednesday. “There are places where in this century we won’t have them.”

President Obama set precedent and tone tone with his pledge on January 5, 2012, that his strategy would increase our military footprint in Asia, and that coming budget reductions would not put that critical region at risk.

This sentiment was later reflected by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said that the US would increase its eight and focus in the region, and his view was further underscored by Navy Rear Admiral Kirby, who confirmed on Thursday that Secretary of Defense Hagel is “committed to a position of strength” [in the Pacific].

Parsing all these statements out, we conclude that the plan is (broadly) to have some sixty percent of the US fleet dedicated to the Pacific theater by the year 2020, this to include six of our eleven aircraft carriers, however, critics of this plan claim that "strategically pivoting" to Asia won't really work, because our Navy is shrinking while China's is expanding.

Critics like Patrick Cronin (senior director - Center for a New American Security in Washington), recently told a reporter for the Washington Times that we[the US] is facing “a long game when it comes to China, and developments such as Beijing’s air defense zone may be “small tactical gambits, but if we do not respond and we don’t remain strong, then China will unilaterally redefine the whole of the region in a way that we do not recognize.”

Later in his report, Admiral Locklear said that Washington’s continued, long term focus in the Middle East has only worsened the US military position in the Pacific Region, citing the lack of urgency where the development of next generation weapons systems were concerned.

The current picture looks something like this: For now and into the foreseeable future, the Obama administration remains deeply and actively engaged in the Middle East, and are attempting to balance this with their “pivot” toward Asia, which they themselves have described as a kind of strategic re-balancing.

Washington says it is pushing for more inclusion of smaller Pacific Rim nations in an organization known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a wide-reaching free trade agreement that pointedly excludes China.

In addition to this, Obama's administration has given increased diplomatic support to another regional organization, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a multilateral counterweight to China’s growing geopolitical clout, but of course, some foreign policy analysts have argued that we should be doing more to increase unilateral, military-based relations with smaller Asian nations in order to send a message to both China (and to a lesser extent, Russia), about the depth of our commitment to the region.


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