The Biden administration’s forthcoming national security strategy will consider China to be the most likely nation to become embroiled in an armed conflict with the United States, according to one expert.
China’s size and global reach, however, means that the United States’ strategy of the last 30 years, to contain competitors and deny them objectives, is declining in efficacy.
“That denial approach is a very handy way to try to deter someone, but it really only works when you’re the predominant military power,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, during a recent interview with EpochTV’s “China Insider” program.
“The U.S. got used to that [idea] in the post-Cold War period, of being the biggest kid on the block.”
Clark’s comments followed the release of a factsheet by the Pentagon that outlined the new national defense strategy, a document that complements the forthcoming national security strategy. The sheet acknowledged the Chinese communist regime as the foremost strategic priority facing the United States, and outlined how the Biden administration may try to phase out some elements of that strategy of denial.
“The factsheet says the strategy is essentially going to walk away from that idea of denial and punishment as being the tools for deterrence,” Clark said.
“Instead, [it will] look at this integrated set of tools, you know, economic tools, diplomatic tools, information tools, military tools, that they’re going to try to orchestrate together through this campaign effort.”
Clark said that the new strategy was designed to keep China’s communist leadership off balance, and to prevent them from becoming embroiled in an armed conflict with the United States, even as U.S. leadership recognizes China as the “pacing threat” to America.
“The ‘pacing threat’ language is really intended to drive the requirements process which DoD uses for defense planning,” Clark said.
“It’s supposed to signify that China has the most capable military out there. So that’s what the U.S. should be preparing for … It also means that China is probably the most likely or nearly the most likely threat the U.S. may face in a military confrontation.”
That scenario planning will be used to drive the equipment requirements of each branch of the military from aircraft to naval vessels, as well as increasingly necessary upgrades to space-based systems.
The increasingly antagonistic competition between the United States and China has been described as a “new Cold War,” and assessments by the intelligence community continuously identify China as the leading threat to the United States across military, economic, and diplomatic spheres.
Compounding the complexity of the strategic situation is the Chinese regime’s partnership with Russia, which national intelligence leaders have warned will only deepen in the coming years—A projection that experts say will thrust the United States into the unprecedented position of having to contend with two nuclear near-peers at the same time.
Relatedly, contending with such an immense threat leaves little room for deterring smaller, regional threats around the globe.
While many may like to believe that, by focusing on conflict with the Chinese military, the U.S. would effectively also be preparing for conflict with smaller nations such as Iran, Clark said that this is not the case.
According to Clark, while the United States may develop the capabilities to fight smaller adversaries, dealing with China would have wide-reaching consequences for the very real problem of deployment.
Simply put, if the U.S. military is deployed to deal with all-out confrontation in the Indo-Pacific, it will not have the necessary resources present in other regions of the world to respond to emergent conflicts and crises.
For this reason, the Biden administration’s new strategy will likely leverage increased ties with allies and partners to make up for the loss of American presence in other theaters.
“The U.S. military will lack the capacity to maybe be as involved in places like the Middle East or in Europe, as they have been in the past,” Clark said.
“[We’ve] already seen an effort on the part of the United States to sort of shift some of that burden to Gulf allies, and to European allies and NATO, which would allow the U.S. to focus more of its remaining capacity on places like the South China Sea and East China Sea.”
The point demonstrated the difficulty that the United States is having in responding to China as a global, rather than a regional threat, and comes amid numerous emergent crises related to the Chinese regime’s global ambitions such as its expanding footprint in South America and continued espionage efforts in the United States.
In all, Clark was hopeful that U.S. leadership was coming to understand the depth of the threat posed by China’s communist government, but worried that such understanding was not yet being realized in the administration’s strategic framework.
“When you talk to folks in the Department of Defense, they understand and they describe China as being this global challenge now,” Clark said. “But they really haven’t figured out how to operationalize that.”