Toward a New Balance: America in North East Asia

On the eve of the  5th anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden I present to you a paper meant to provide a new degree of resilience for the United States, and its allies in North East Asia as the United States pivots to the East. Toward a New Balance: America in North East Asia, is a report written by Kevin M. Bush as a guidepost for the next administration, and their policy in North East Asian affairs.

The full report can be downloaded here: Toward a New Rebalance Kevin Miller North East Asia – A Rebalancing Final


Chinese Strategic Culture

The focus of most studies of strategic culture is on continuity of state behavior.China’s Rapid ascent both militarily and economically has been well documented. Indeed according to the Defense Departments, Annual Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to pursue a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program designed to improve its armed forces’ capacity to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts. Preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait remains the focus and primary driver of China’s military investment; however, the PRC is increasing its emphasis on preparations for contingencies other than Taiwan, such as contingencies in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

However what hasn’t been well documented over this time is the Chinese decision making process. It has been noted that the Chinese purposefully obscure the decision making process from outsiders on purpose. Not only to strengthen the party, I propose, but also to mask any deficiencies that may occur from enemies both within and outside of the party. Those scholars who address the potential for change (inspired by Weber, Habermas, and Immanuel Wallerstein), face a great deal of criticism. However, an intriguing characteristic of the latest generation of cultural studies is the recognition of the possibility of change over time. If historical memory, political institutions, and multilateral commitments shape strategic culture, then, recent studies argue, it would seem logical to accept that security policies will evolve over time.

This strategic culture is engrained within the Chinese milieu, I argue not only because of societal pressures, but also because of the recent historical subjugation of the Chinese by foreign powers.

[Harry] Eckstein suggested that the socialization of values and beliefs occurs over time. Past learning becomes sedimented in the collective consciousness and is relatively resilient to change. Lessons of the past, therefore, serve as a tight filter for any future learning that might occur. In the case of recent Chinese History this “collective counciousness” dates back to the 19th century when the Chinese were embarrassed as a nation during the opium wars with European nations. It continued into the 20th century ranging from Sun-Yat Sen and the establishment of a Japanese protectorate in China, and crescendoed shortly after the end of World War 2 with the establishment of Maoist China. This relatively universal experience that the Chinese alone are only able to relate to has created a strategic culture that values reticence, and bellicosity, tempered with restraint in there dealings when it comes to international relations. This trend has recently expressed itself in China’s claims in the South China Sea. Senior Chinese officials have identified protecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as a “core interest,” and officials stress China’s opposition to actions they perceive as challenging this core interest. China maintains that its maritime rights extend to virtually the entire South China Sea and often illustrates its claim using a “nine-dash line” that encompasses most of the area. China has claimed much of the South China Sea as Sovereign Chinese territory even though there are rival claimants to these parcels of land. This claim has been demarcated by the Chinese in maps by a nine-dash line. This nine-dash line is meant to express their desire for these lands to be included in Chinese possessions. However China doesn’t explicitly say that these lands will be defended at all cost. Rather they leave the maritime rights of these islands open to interpretation.

At the same time (t)he PLA is developing and testing new intermediate- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, as well as long range, land-attack, and anti-ship cruise missiles that extend China’s operational reach, attempting to push adversary forces— including the United States—farther from potential regional conflicts. By not being deliberate and sure-footed in their consultations with neighboring nations about what should and should not occur on these islands, China has left open an area of ambiguity that cannot at this time be reconciled with their insistence that these islands are in fact a part of China. Chinese ambiguity I would argue is only going to continue as the issues facing China become more complex, not only in the security sphere, but also in the economic, and diplomatic spheres.

Another quick observation of Chinese strategic culture is the way in which they dealt with the recent North Korean nuclear test, and subsequent rocket launch. The Chinese envoy to North Korea in a hurriedly fashion said to the media shortly before the launch of the KwangMyongSong-4 rocket that he “I said all that he needed to say, and I did all that I needed to do.” Such comments after something as serious as a nuclear test on the Korean peninsula speaks volumes to me about how either out of touch they are with the threat on their northern border, or how diffident they are towards the pleas of the United States, and the U.N. security council to the threat of a nuclear enabled North Korea. Again it is difficult to tell what exactly they think about these things due to the opaqueness of their political system. This opaqueness further entrenches attitudes against them when they are for instance accused of cyber attacks on the military security structure of the U.S. government and its allies. China’s military modernization has the potential to reduce core U.S. military technological advantages. China’s officially disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.5 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 through 2014, and China will probably sustain defense spending growth at comparable levels for the foreseeable future. Moreover, China is investing in capabilities designed to defeat adversary power projection and counter third-party —including U.S.— intervention during a crisis or conflict.

A final recent and very serious observation comes from Gregory Kulacki whom in his Union of Concerned Scientist report “China’s Military Calls for Putting it’s Nuclear Forces on Alert”, calls for the United States to mitigate the danger that a recently emboldened China may pose to the United States and it’s allies as it decides whether or not to put it’s Nuclear Forces on a “Hair Trigger”. Kulacki goes on to say “The U.S. and Soviet/Russian experience with warning systems shows that false alarms and unexpected situations occur due to human and technical errors, and are especially likely early in the deployment and operation of a warning system. Such errors increased the risk of a nuclear exchange on multiple occasions for the United States and Russia during and after the Cold War. China would certainly encounter similar incidents. Human and technical errors are especially dangerous during times of crisis.” All of these instances and the threat that North Korea poses as a belligerent country in pursuit of nuclear ballistic missile technology means that the U.S. and it’s allies will have to be particularly vigilant when safeguarding our interest in North East Asia and the surrounding region.

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