The Pentagon’s strategic review of the U.S. military comes in the age of austerity.
Defence budget cuts are on the way, the only question is: how deep will they be? Estimates range from at least $450-billion to $1-trillion over the next decade.
But one of the key aspects of President Barack Obama’s comments this morning at the Pentagon is the shift in strategy to bolster the air force and navy, and to build the U.S. military’s capacity in the Pacific region to counter China’s growing military presence.
“We’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific, and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region,” Mr. Obama said in the Pentagon’s briefing room on Thursday.
This isn’t the first time the U.S. has addressed military spending in the Asia-Pacific region. The Pentagon has been warning about China’s military spending for years.
Last August, it warned in a report that China’s military was on course to build a modern military by 2020, and in a year when the Chinese military tested a stealth aircraft and conducted trials of a new aircraft carrier, the Pentagon's concern was unmistakable.
China’s defence spending and military growth “are potentially destabilizing to regional military balances, increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation and may contribute to regional tensions and anxieties,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia Michael Schiffer said in August of last year around the release of the report on China’s military.
But how fast is the Chinese military growing? And is there any expectation that defence spending will one day surpass the U.S. military?....
Reality check: the size of the U.S. military and the scale of U.S. defence spending will continue to dwarf China’s military growth for years to come. Mr. Obama will be careful to point out in an election year that, whatever reductions in defence, the U.S. defence spending will continue to grow but just not at the pace it has in the past.
But there will come a point when, theoretically, China can surpass the Unites States on defence spending.
This bubble graph by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament, illustrates the story of defence spending from 2001 to 2010: the United States is spending more than any other country, with China a distant second.
A trend line graph by the same institute compares military spending regionally. North American spending (dominated obviously by the United States) rose dramatically from 2001 to 2010 compared to total military spending in the Asia and Oceania region (dominated obviously by China).
So when will China overtake the United States in defence spending?
China has witnessed incredible economic growth, and it has invested its wealth with consecutive double-digit increases in military spending. In March of 2011, it announced that it will increase its military spending in 2011 by 12.7 per cent.
But how long can China sustain such phenomenal economic growth? Military spending will depend on that growth.
This handy interactive graph by The Economist magazine allows readers to adjust GDP growth rates, inflation and Yuan appreciation to arrive at their own date for when China will surpass the United States in real GDP growth.
First no Democratic President would have a hope of re-election if he emasculated the Pentagon, in an election year. That would never endear him/her to the right, and to the independents, although there are many in his own party who would love to see a significant reduction in military spending, dependence and addiction.
Second, the U.S. seems to have a desperate need for an enemy, another country whose military, economic and political heft threatens the dominance of the U.S. in geopolitical terms. The other country may or may not have designs on global domination, or even of aggrandizement of its holdings, empire or allied states. That would appear, at least to this observer, to be virtually irrelevant to the calculations of the minds in the American establishment whose first tenet is to maintain global supremacy in military as well as other files. China's rapid economic growth, linked to the many stories of her military spending increases, provide sufficient fodder for "caution" and for stabilizing the American military at levels far higher than anything China or any other country could or would want to achieve.
(Memo to President: Read Henry Kissinger On China, on China's historic "seduce the enemy" without engaging in military conflict strategy for centuries!)
Third: the jobs crisis and the logjam in Congress on job creation demand that military jobs, including manufacturing of military materiel, are critical to any limping recovery that U.S. political strategists see as the sine qua non of the re-election of the President. Therefore, the military is and will be hiring for some time to come.
Fourth: the world is sufficiently unstable, even threateningly chaotic, with
- the infestations of radical Islamists,
- internal greed on Wall Street and beyond,
- unrestrained corporate profits,
- joblessness and homelessness at record numbers,
- global markets grasping to purchase gold as a last hope for some sort of stability for their economies,
- tectonic shifts in markets, both producers and consumers,
- a failure of international bodies to provide what we all know as reasonable governance of world issues like climate change and global warming, displacement and refugee migrations in the millions, starvations also by the millions,
- an unwillingness or simple gutlessness to provide leadership inside or outside the U.S. on many of the problems which have solutions but which also divide on ideologies, leaving the impotent ideologies in control
- Sunni-Shia tensions mounting around the globe, about the break out anytime, anywhere
- nuclear weapons control at such a low level in Pakistan, North Korea, and probably elsewhere, not to mention the incipient Iranian production commitment of nuclear weapons
- a vaccuum of effective global institutions, and an apparent lack of commitment to develop them, outside of the "parlour games" of the British Commonwealth, for example...