Strategic Horizons: U.S. Must Change Its Thinking on Conflict in Asia

Strategic Horizons: U.S. Must Change Its Thinking on Conflict in Asia

In early 2012, as large-scale U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ended and the conflict with al-Qaida took on a different shape, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued new strategic guidance to redefine America's defense priorities (.pdf). One of the most important ideas in the document was a renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. This was, in part, a recognition that the United States needed greater strategic focus in order to cut defense costs. But it also reflected the fact that the Asia-Pacific region is home not only to the world’s most rapidly growing economies but also to its most rapidly growing militaries. It therefore combines great importance and great danger.

Since the strategic guidance was issued, the defense community has been adding analytical meat to its bones, fleshing out the meaning of "rebalancing" to the Pacific. This involves identifying the sources and locations of potential conflicts that might involve the United States. Once this is done, the U.S. military can begin developing the forces, configuration and concepts it might need to successfully engage those conflicts. Thinking of this sort is important but, as it has unfolded, the process has been dangerously narrow, concentrating heavily, almost exclusively, on China. There are good reasons for this. Beijing continues to use its growing economic power to fund a massive military transformation, shifting from a large but relatively unsophisticated ground-based force to one with advanced technology, naval power and an expanding power-projection capability.

More importantly, the U.S. Department of Defense has noted (.pdf) that "China’s long-term, comprehensive military modernization is improving the [People's Liberation Army’s] capacity to conduct high-intensity, regional military operations, including anti-access and area denial (A2AD) operations." Phrased differently, China is beginning to field systems that might make it immune to military strikes from the United States. This, strategists believe, would make it difficult or impossible to deter Chinese aggression.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.