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China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment             

 

Michael D. Swaine, Mike M. Mochizuki, Michael L. Brown, Paul S. Giarra, Douglas H. Paal, Rachel Esplin Odell, Raymond Lu, Oliver Palmer, Xu Ren, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 05/03/13

 

The emergence of the People’s Republic of China as an increasingly significant military power in the Western Pacific presents major implications for Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and regional security. But a comprehensive assessment of the current and possible future impact of China’s military capabilities and foreign security policies on Tokyo and the alliance, along with a detailed examination of the capacity and willingness of both the United States and Japan to respond to this challenge, is missing from the current debate. Such an analysis is essential for Washington and Tokyo to better evaluate the best approaches for maintaining deterrence credibility and regional stability over the long term.

 

Key Findings

 

·          The most likely potential challenge to the U.S.-Japan alliance over the next fifteen to twenty years does not involve full-scale military conflict between China and Japan or the United States—for example, one originating from Chinese efforts to expel Washington from the region.

 

·          The likeliest challenge instead stems from Beijing’s growing coercive power—increasing Chinese military capabilities could enable Beijing to influence or attempt to resolve disputes with Tokyo in its favor short of military attack.

 

·          An increase in the People’s Liberation Army’s presence in airspace and waters near Japan and disputed territories could also heighten the risk of destabilizing political-military crises.

 

·          Significant absolute and possibly relative shifts in the military balance between China and the alliance in Japan’s vicinity are likely.

 

·          In the most probable future scenarios facing these three actors, the U.S.-Japan alliance will either only narrowly retain military superiority in the airspace and waters near Japan or the balance will become uncertain at best.

 

·          A significant drop in the potential threat posed by China is also possible if the Chinese economy falters and Beijing redirects its attention and resources toward maintaining internal stability.

 

·          More dramatic shifts in the strategic landscape are unlikely in the fifteen- to twenty-year time frame. Such shifts include an Asian cold war pitting a normalized U.S.-Japan alliance against a belligerent China and a major withdrawal of U.S. presence that heralds either the dawning of a Sino-centric Asia or the emergence of intense Sino-Japanese rivalry with Japanese nuclearization.

 

U.S. and Japanese Policy Responses

 

There are no “silver bullets.” No regional or alliance response can single-handedly deliver a stable military or political balance at minimal cost to all parties involved. Each of the major conceivable responses to these future challenges in the regional security environment will likely require painful trade-offs and, in some cases, the adoption of radically new ways of thinking about the roles and missions of both the U.S. and Japanese militaries.

 

Three general political-military responses offer viable ways to advance allied interests over the long term.

 

·          Robust Forward Presence: This deterrence-centered response is designed to retain unambiguous allied regional primacy through either highly ambitious and forward-deployment-based military concepts, such as Air-Sea Battle, or approaches more oriented toward long-range blockades, such as Offshore Control.

 

·          Conditional Offense/Defense: This primacy-oriented response nonetheless avoids both preemptive, deep strikes against the Chinese mainland or obvious containment-type blockades and stresses both deterrence and reassurance in a more equal manner.

 

·          Defensive Balancing: This response emphasizes mutual area denial, places a greater reliance on lower visibility and rear-deployed forces, and aims to establish a more genuinely balanced and cooperative power relationship with China in the Western Pacific.

 

These responses could be complicated by a number of factors.

 

·          Limits on the ability of Japan or other nations in the Asia-Pacific region to advance substantive security cooperation or embark on major security enhancements

 

·          Unwillingness in the U.S. military to alter doctrinal assumptions in operating in the Western Pacific ƒƒ China’s own suspicions of alliance efforts that might constrain the use of its growing capabilities

 

·          Low tolerance among stakeholders for uncertainty and even failure during political or diplomatic negotiations over vital security interests

 

The status quo is likely to prove unsustainable.

 

Despite the potential complications, Washington and Tokyo must seriously evaluate these possible responses. Current economic and military trends in China, Japan, and the United States suggest that existing policies and strategies might fail to ensure a stable security environment conducive to U.S. and Japanese interests over the long term.

 

Read the Report

 

Advance Praise

 

“The Asia century is well under way, and with it the emerging challenges of a region in transition…. Any sound future policy will require a thorough assessment of China’s evolving military and foreign security capabilities and of the capacity and willingness of Tokyo and Washington to sustain their historic cooperation. There are no guarantees that the future will resemble the recent past, and the best approaches for continued deterrence credibility and regional stability will require careful consideration and thoughtful analysis.

 

To this end, the Carnegie Endowment has offered up an extraordinary contribution: China’s Military and the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030: A Strategic Net Assessment. The future security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region may very well be defined by the content of this assessment. But one thing is certain: the United States and Japan must recognize that in the future, status quo thinking is unlikely to guarantee a stable security environment that serves the long-term interests of the bilateral relationship or the region.”

—Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., former ambassador to China and former governor of Utah

 

“Michael Swaine and his co-authors have done an admirable job of thinking through the complex interactions of the U.S.-Japan-China relationship in the future. Using scenarios and trend projections, they go beyond simple predictions to examine the complex interactions of different developments and reactions among the three countries and different groups within them. While I do not agree with specific military and policy judgments in all the scenarios, I strongly endorse the effort to examine potential developments along with likely and possible reactions and counterreactions. The triangular interactive relations among these great Asian powers will determine both the overall future of the region and much of the futures of each of the individual countries.”

—Admiral Dennis Blair (U.S. Navy, retired), former director of national intelligence and former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command

 

“The U.S.-Japan alliance has long been crucial to the military balance in the Western Pacific. The balance of power in the region is now shifting toward China, and tensions between Asian states are rising concomitantly. Current trends suggest that the United States and Japan will not find it easy to sustain immunity from coercion as they seek to preserve stability, secure their national interests, and manage crises in the region over the coming years. This study is a remarkably timely, thoughtful, and meticulous examination of the drivers and choices the allies will face through 2030. It illuminates probable shifts in the strategic landscape of northeast Asia, their consequences, and the policy and resource allocation choices they pose. In this strategic net assessment, the scholars Carnegie assembled have given decisionmakers in Tokyo and Washington a uniquely insightful and thought-provoking policy-planning tool.”

—Ambassador Chas W. Freeman Jr. (U.S. Foreign Service, retired), former assistant secretary of defense

 

“There is nothing out there like this—a very important piece of work…. This is an elegantly framed study that systematically assesses the postures of China, Japan, and the United States and treats the dynamics between them. Obviously, this is tough to execute, but the authors have done an outstanding job. The report addresses a critical subject and offers empirically based suggestions…. There is nothing like it in terms of looking at the interactions between states to produce a set of possible future regional dynamics.”

Eric Heginbotham, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation

 

http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/05/03/china-s-military-and-u.s.-japan-alliance-in-2030-strategic-net-assessment/g1wh



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Why Beijing Could Win the Great China-America Showdown of 2030

 

David Axe, 05/03/13

 

Over the next 15-20 years, the U.S. and China are headed for a confrontation in the western Pacific, with Japan caught in the middle. And China, currently the underdog, could very well come out on top. That’s the unnerving conclusion of a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

 

The nine authors of “China’s Military & the U.S.-Japan Alliance in 2030,” released Thursday, stress that a full-blown shooting war is not in the cards. “The threat is not a war with China,” the report states. Rather, Washington and its close ally Tokyo could find themselves losing influence and disputed island territory to an increasingly unconstrained Beijing that finds it can “win without fighting” owing to a combination of its own military rise and its rivals’ relative declines.

 

But Chinese “victory” in this projected 2030 conflict is not preordained. It’s also feasible the U.S. and Japan could “win” as their own armies and economies rally against a China dragged down by shrinking exports and demographic stagnation.

 

In any event, change of some sort is probably coming, the report authors say, although what change is unclear. The status quo – a western Pacific comfortably dominated by the U.S. with its aircraft carriers, bombers and Marine regiments, with Japan playing a key supporting role and China steadily adding to its military arsenal while biding its time -- is “unsustainable,” they claim.

 

What follows are sketches of three possible scenarios from the report, representing two extremes plus a sort of strategic middle ground in the anticipated Great China-America Showdown of 2030.

 

New World Order

 

China’s 10-percent annual economic growth continues unabated despite high debt, an aging population and vexing ecological concerns. The People’s Liberation Army enjoys year after year of elevated spending. Its homegrown ships, planes and missiles get better and better alongside improving Chinese military doctrine, leadership and training.

 

But on the opposite side of the Pacific, the United States succumbs to its own internal problems. Economic growth slows to just 1.5 percent per year, leading to what the Carnegie experts describe as “enormous downward pressures on U.S. defense spending and U.S. military deployments in Asia.”

 

The stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, meant to rescue U.S. air power from obsolescence, instead falters, as does an ambitious program to develop a new, affordable stealth bomber. A shrinking American naval fleet runs low on floating sonobuoys used to detect the new and improved Chinese submarines pouring out of the country’s shipyards.

 

Broke and demoralized, America retreats from the Pacific, leaving an equally struggling Japan to fend for itself against its powerful neighbor. Instead of ramping up its own military spending in order to confront China, Japan strikes a conciliatory tone with the world’s new Pacific hegemony.

 

This worst-case (for Washington and Tokyo) combination of events is “highly unlikely but not entirely inconceivable,” according to the Carnegie report. But if they or similarly bleak circumstances come to pass, the Asia-Pacific in 2030 truly will belong to Beijing. “Needless to say, this scenario would present an enormous potential for severe crises.”

 

America Rules

 

The opposite extreme is an era of substantially increased U.S. presence in the western Pacific. For Washington and Tokyo, a stronger Asia-Pacific posture would result in “a more stable long-term regional security environment,” according to the Carnegie authors. Especially if American resurgence meets with a collapse in Chinese military capabilities and strategy.

 

But this rosy scenario counts on a big boost in U.S. military spending, amounting to a full four percent of GDP -- an assumption that itself hinges on a rapid economic recovery from today’s depressed levels plus a sustained high birth rate. In addition to more spending, the “America-wins” future assumes ideal outcomes across a wide range of military initiatives. The F-35 fighter and the new stealth bomber come in on time and on budget -- and they both work as advertised. A U.S. plan to expand its naval fleet also proceeds without a hitch.

 

At the same time, all the major trendlines towards a stronger and more assertive Chinese military would have to reverse themselves -- and fast. The open spigot of weapons funding would have to close. Technologies already in development would have to fail. Training exercises currently growing more realistic would need to end or somehow get dumber.

 

In short, this outcome is unlikely. “It is quite probable that the United States and Japan will lack the financial resources, technological capacity and political willpower necessary for such an ambitious military response, especially in the next 15 to 20 years,” the report warns.

 

Middle Ground

 

So which scenario is probable? America does not collapse back into economic crisis but neither does yearly growth reach the three-percent threshold policymakers desperately hope for. China also enjoys moderate economic expansion sustaining continued improvement of its air, sea, land, space and cyber forces.

 

Japan meanwhile navigates perilous domestic politics in order to somewhat increase its own military investment, resulting in a more powerful navy, a small number of stealth fighters for its air force and a naval infantry force modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps.

 

This “slightly unstable” scenario is the “most likely” of those studied, according to the experts. With relations between China and the U.S.-Japan alliance slowly eroding year on year, “this situation would result in a greater likelihood of tensions and incidents” compared to now. But the chance of major flare-ups, to say nothing of a shooting war, would be as remote as it is today.

 

This version of the western Pacific circa 2030 is also probably the best that anyone in Washington should hope for, given economic, cultural and strategic realities. It’s “manageable,” and its military balance still “slightly” favors the U.S, according to the report.

 

If the Carnegie experts are to be believed, the likely future of U.S.-Japanese-Chinese relations looks a lot like today, although more volatile. In that sense the think tank’s report could be mistaken for, well, accepted wisdom. It’s tempting to project current, short-term trends in straight lines over decades, although in reality today’s trends are often fleeting -- and poor predictors of the future.

 

It should not come as a surprise, then, if the seemingly unlikely fringe scenarios spelled out in the Carnegie report – both pro-U.S. and pro-China -- look a lot more realistic in just a few short years. Between America and China, with Japan watching closely from the sidelines in the world’s new strategic center of gravity, the future could be a toss-up.

 

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/05/china-america-2030/all/

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