For the first time, I have read two articles in Foreign Affairs(FA) containing an essay written by an American political scientist, a rebuttal by another American military strategy analyst and the counter arguments on the rebuttal from the original author on a sensitive topic - U.S. military strategy and national security. I applaud FA for publishing these articles. In the opinion of an ordinary American citizen, the three part essay, read as a whole, was a great piece of work, factual, detailed (although leaving some space for logical arguments) and inspiring, particularly important today as the U.S.-China relations is marching on a battle ground posing danger to both nations and the world. This column shall devote to a further discussion on the above essay-discourse so that more people can get the essence of this intellectual work as a non-subscriber to FA.
Van Jackson, is a Distinguished Fellow with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies, published an article, America Is Turning Asia Into a Powder Keg - The Perils of a Military-First Approach, in FA on October 22, 2021. Then, Thomas Shugart, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, served for over 25 years as a submarine warfare officer in the U.S. Navy and worked in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, published an article in FA on Dec. 1, 2021, Who’s to Blame for Asia’s Arms Race? - Debating the Source of Growing U.S.-Chinese Tensions, as a rebuttal to Jackson’s essay. In the same issue attached to Shugart’s article, Jackson published his counter arguments on Shugart’s rebuttal, entitled, AMERICAN MILITARISM IS ENDANGERING THE (Indo-Pacific) REGION. I enjoyed reading these articles and felt hopeful that the U.S. think-tank media seemed to be taking a rational approach on understanding the US-China conflict and opening to an honest debate on this critical national security issue in contrast to what we read in mass media, a one-sided narrative. Hence, the above work deserves further discussion and broadcasting.
Jackson wrote: “Asia is trending in a dangerous direction. Across the continent, advanced missile technology is proliferating among U.S. friends and rivals alike. Nuclear powers are undertaking expansive nuclear modernization efforts. Democratization is stalling and, in some cases, rolling back. And the economic influence of the United States is waning while that of authoritarian China is growing. The United States is not the cause of these troubling trends, but its overly militarized approach to Asia is making them worse. By surging troops and military hardware into the region and encouraging its allies to enlarge their arsenals, Washington is heightening tensions and ….” Jackson was concerned with the U.S. surging, expanding and redeploying military forces in Indo-Pacific region as well as her modernization of military weapons including the nuclear arsenal which all will make Indo-Pacific a dangerous place. This column author, by no means a military expert, feels though Jackson’s logic seems to be correct as we review the past war histories. A military strategy based on preemptive strike and winning and stopping war escalation by one blow had rarely worked between big nations. It might have worked when two very asymmetrical powers were in conflict. Therefore, this author would side with Jackson in arguing not to adopt a new Cold War arms race approach for the current Asia Pacific situation. A military strategy in strengthening forces especially nuclear weaponry cannot be the best strategy for avoiding war. Logically, such a strategy cannot be applied or accepted using a double standard, that is, it is ok for us but not ok for you.
Shugart in his article, focused on justifying the U.S. military strategy by arguing that the rising China is posing a threat and presuming that China would be belligerent when her defense forces or budgets were increased but not so for the U.S. (posing threat and belligerent). This of course is not a logical or rational concept, especially no war history facts backing it up. More likely the U.S. is seen to be belligerent by the wars she initiated in the past. To some extent, Shugart is defending Biden not to be blamed for whatever plans for increasing military strength and/or using military strategy above diplomatic strategy in settling international conflicts. It is true that Biden has rekindled some diplomatic efforts compared to Trump era, but Biden certainly has maintained if not enhanced the U.S. military strategy. The QUAD and AUKUS initiatives are clear evidence. It does not matter whether a military plan was started before Biden or not, it is a simple causality question, Jackson is right that the current US-China policy is inflaming arms race regardless. Shugart seems to defend the U.S. arms sale activities as well by saying that other countries are selling arms too. In this author’s opinion, the U.S. should take initiative to develop international treaties on limiting certain arms sale which is definitely an inflaming factor in escalating conflicts into wars in this world. Would the U.S.- military industrial complex be willing to develop such anti-arms sale treaty? Both authors did not enter into such a key question. Selling arms to Taiwan, renting nuclear submarines to Australia, putting up military radar system in Palau island and encouraging Japan to gear up military forces are precisely piling powder keg in Asia and Indo-Pacific. As a citizen, this author wonders about the motives behind such military strategy, if not belligerent or targeting at China, what is it?
Jackson in his counter arguments was right about Shugart’s dismissing the idea that Washington’s adversaries might react to its overmilitarized foreign policy in undesirable ways. In fact, every move can be traced as a counter move to a military initiative. Both sides would do the same under a militarist logic and that is how arms race spirals to no end. There is no sense in blaming any side for initiating or escalating arms race first, the judgment issue is how to stop it. One cannot stop arms race while building arms or increasing military budget. Military spending is a huge burden to any country including the U.S. The Soviet Union collapsed in the Cold War due to economic chaos traceable to its huge size of military burden. The U.S. was equally burdened by military spending, even immoral drug sale and arms sale were employed to raise funding in support of her military strategy. Jackson rightly argues that Biden, as the steward for national security and world peace, should not continue a bad trend that predates him. Jackson emphasized that the U.S. reacting to China’s military modernization with a military competition openly targeting China reflects a bad judgment on the U.S. Administration. This author agrees with Jackson on this point, China’s army was large but outdated with nearly no modern war fare capability or experience like the U.S. does. With more belligerent neighbors that China has, it is reasonable to expect her military to cut down the number of soldiers and upgrade their equipment. When the U.S. pivoted to Asia and targeting China, China reacted with more spending in military budget. When the U.S. deployed more carriers to South China Sea and conducting more military exercises, China upped her defense in Navy. I presume what Jackson was referring this as the bad judgment, since this spiraling arms race is not bringing any more security to the U.S. before her pivot plan.
As a citizen, this author full heartedly supports the logic Jackson advanced. The U.S. must focus smartly in competition and cooperation with China. Assuming China being belligerent and hostile to the U.S. is no more justified than assuming the U.S. wanting to destroy China. Shugart cannot prove that China is destined to destroy the U.S., but it is clear a military strategy based on arms race targeting China will lead to a serious military conflict and unintended war and not gaining the U.S. more security but possible mutual destruction. We need to rethink, focusing on demilitarization and international agreements on limiting certain military arms development and sale. Perhaps, it will hurt certain industries, but it is well worth it, if we picture ourselves sitting on a powder keg constantly being expanded and piled up with new ammunition’s. That scenario is not comforting for anyone in this world.