This week brought the publication of the annual Pentagon report, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.” As James Fallows will tell you, this is an important document for China threat inflators, who use the report to make all sorts of lurid claims in their efforts to drag us into a Cold War with China. The report itself, while it tends to put a scary spin on things, is relatively sober.
What most irritates me about it (along with its contribution to the overheated cyberwar rhetoric so popular this year) is the implication that China is not allowed to behave like us. Here’s the final paragraph of the executive summary:
The international community has limited knowledge of the motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities supporting China’s military modernization. China’s leaders have yet to explain in detail the purposes and objectives of the PLA’s modernizing military capabilities. For example, China continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures, and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies. The lack of transparency in China’s military and security affairs poses risks to stability by increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. This situation will naturally and understandably lead to hedging against the unknown.
The briefer who presented the report to the media Monday, David Sedney, echoed this bottom line:
The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernization, the continuing acquisition of capabilities and the corresponding and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions of those and how they are going to be employed. What is China going to do with all that?”
Expanding and modernizing the military for unclear reasons, huh? Are the authors of this stuff completely blind to hypocrisy? The United States spends over $75 billion a year on research and development alone to modernize the military, never mind procurement. The non-war defense budget has grown 37% since Bush took office. And we are far from transparent. Do we not hide about a tenth of our regular defense spending behind a veil of secrecy? I’m confident we’re not giving the international community thorough briefings on our full surveillance capabilities. What about intentions? We’re vaguer than the Chinese. We explicitly justify our defense capabilities based on uncertainty. The Pentagon's slogan could be, “Hey, it’s expensive, but you never know.” Will we defend Taiwan if China attacks it? Will we bomb Iran? Join in Sudan’s civil war? I study the U.S. defense establishment for a living, and I don’t know our intentions. No one does.
Maybe we should cut back on the lectures and let the Chinese run their own affairs.