Pentagon Preparing for War with China?

Littoral Combat Ship
Few Americans know what goes on at the Pentagon – the headquarters of the United States military – and, most of the time, few care. Of greater concern is the fact that few of America’s elected political representatives know very much about what the Generals are doing, either. Currently – and without much congressional oversight – the Pentagon is preparing for war with China.

It is, of course, the job of the Defense Department to plan for various contingencies, including strategies for dealing with emerging threats. It was for this reason that, in late 2008, a strategy was born that has since developed into a major Pentagon project aimed at neutralizing the perceived threat of China, the world’s newest superpower. This project is now known as AirSea Battle.

The AirSea Battle project is, in its most simplistic form, the plan for pre-emptively attacking and neutralizing China. The project covers the development of new weapons, technologies and military capabilities that will be necessary for carrying out such an attack. Former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, gave the project his official blessing in 2010. The Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review Report directed the military to “develop a joint air-sea battle concept . . . [to] address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains—air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace—to counter growing challenges to U.S. freedom of action.” Leon Panetta, who succeeded Gates as Defense Department chief, also endorsed the project and established the Multi-Service Office to Advance AirSea Battle, as described by Amitai Etzioni, Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University, in an article for Yale Journal of International Affairs.

AirSea Battle requires “interoperable air and naval forces that can execute networked, integrated attacks-in-depth to disrupt, destroy, and defeat enemy anti-access area denial capabilities.” The project acknowledges that “[t]he scope and intensity of U.S. stand-off and penetrating strikes against tar­gets in mainland China clearly has escalation implications.”

Does the development of the AirSea Battle project mean that President Obama – or, indeed, the Pentagon – actually intends launching a military strike against the Chinese? There is nothing to indicate such an intention. In addition, China is not yet at the point where it could seriously challenge the United States, militarily. As Etzioni infers, however; the mere existence of AirSea Battle may prompt the Chinese to escalate their own defense spending and planning for military ‘contingencies’.

It should be noted that Pentagon officials deny that the project is aimed specifically at China. It appears to be widely accepted, however, that the scope and nature of the AirSea Battle clearly indicate that it is being developed with China in mind. As one senior naval officer put it, “Air-Sea Battle is all about convincing the Chinese that we will win this competition.”

The Chinese, of course, are aware of the project and are presumably in little doubt that AirSea Battle was developed with them in mind.

The most unsettling aspect of this Pentagon project, however, is that it has been neither reviewed, nor approved, by either the White House or Congress; it was conceived by the military and approved by the Defense Department, but appears to have moved forward with little involvement or oversight by the civilian leadership of the United States. In 2011, Admiral Robert F. Willard wrote to Defense Secretary Panetta that “[d]espite reports throughout 2011 AirSea Battle had been completed in an executive summary form, to my knowledge Members of Congress have yet to be briefed on its conclusions or in any way made a part of the process.”

The military, therefore is preparing for war with China without the approval of elected representatives. The Pentagon, it seems, is quite literally above the law.

Graham J Noble

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