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March 08, 2011

Woops: Defending Defense Cohort Makes Case for Reducing Defense Spending
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

The United States has the most powerful military in the world.  No other country comes close to matching our military might.  

Yet to read the latest Defending Defense report by Heritage, AEI and FPI, one gets the sense that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could easily overwhelm U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific and that China’s modernization efforts far outpace those of the United States. This distortion is a result of the fact that the report fails to take into account U.S. military capabilities, which happen to be vastly superior. And it fails to mention the U.S defense budget, which happens to be about eight times the size of China’s— a particularly awkward omission for a report that was supposed to focus on Chinese military capabilities and the implications for U.S. defense spending.

Instead, the three leading conservative think-tanks focus solely on Chinese forces, attempting to scare readers into thinking that the U.S. needs to spend more, not less on defense. It is zero-sum thinking through and through. And it’s quite dishonest in its representation of Chinese capabilities, particularly when compared to U.S. forces.

We have approximately 325,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to the United States Pacific Command. Oddly, this is never mentioned.  The U.S. Pacific Fleet includes five aircraft carrier strike groups, approximately 180 ships and roughly 1,500 aircraft. The Marine Corps has a strong presence in the region, including two Marine Expeditionary Forces.  The Army has five Stryker brigades and more than 1,200 Special Forces personnel assigned to its component command.  And U.S. Pacific Air Forces maintain over 300 aircraft, with an additional 100 aircraft deployed to Guam. In other words, we have an strong military presence in the region. 

But if the point is to inflate China’s military capabilities and portray the Chinese as a major threat, that’s a lot easier to do if U.S. military superiority is ignored.  Case in point:  the Chinese have started to test a 5th generation fighter.  But the J-20 is simply a prototype and it’s not even operational. As Secretary Gates noted in a Senate hearing last month, the U.S. has a decisive advantage, both quantitatively and qualitatively, when comparing such aircraft. 

“The latest estimates on the Chinese side would be that by 2020 they might have 50 deployed and by 2025 maybe a couple hundred. We will have 325 F–35s by the end of 2016, even under the revised program, which with the F–22s gives us over 500 fifth generation aircraft. We will have 850 F–35s by 2020 or fifth generation aircraft by 2020 and about 1,500 by 2025. So there is still a huge disparity in terms of these aircraft. And frankly—I do not want to get into it too much in an open hearing—this is their first low-observable aircraft, and given the challenges that we have had—and we have been at this now better than 20 years—frankly, I think they have got a long road in front of them before this becomes a serious operational aircraft in any numbers.”

China’s growth in its ballistic and cruise missile arsenal is certainly worth monitoring, which of course, is precisely what the U.S. is doing. In terms of China’s strategic forces, China still deploys a number of liquid-fueled missiles, which are significantly less reliable and less sophisticated than those that utilize a solid propellant.  China’s most advanced ICBM, the DF-31A, has entered into service in recent years, though China deploys just 10-15 of these. To be sure, there are several areas where China’s capabilities have advanced.  But this does not mean that every development threatens the U.S. and it does not mean that the U.S. is incapable of responding, if necessary.

This entire report is essentially premised on the idea that U.S. forces will languish while China modernizes.  It also portrays every advancement as a direct threat to the United States. Michael Schiffer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, recently explained, “This is not the Cold War with two rival camps facing each other.” Yet that’s the exact mentality guiding the Defending Defense report. 

Perhaps what’s most ironic about this, is that if one is truly that concerned about China, if this really is a zero-sum battle, then the fact that China is the largest financer of our national debt would make increasing the defense budget—which accounts for more than 50 percent of all federal discretionary spending—even more absurd.  In fact, this would lend itself to the same conclusion that serious analysts already agree on: in today's fiscal climate, defense spending has to be on the table.  DoD will have to prioritize and make tough choices, but it will not prevent the Pentagon from making smart investments - and in the long run, it will allow the military to better protect America's national interests.

In his recent CNAS report, Travis Sharp writes (pdf):

"Over time, the economic consequences of indebtedness may crowd out investments in a U.S. military that undergirds international security; render the United States more vulnerable to economic coercion; and erode America’s global stature and soft power. Relieving U.S. indebtedness demands preventive action by American society and government – including DOD."

So to the extent one is particularly worried about China—the focus should be on reducing our national debt, which means we have to tackle the defense budget. Blindly increasing defense spending, as the Defending Defense cohort suggests, only puts the U.S. and our presence in the Asia Pacific, at risk.


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You are so right! It's so stupid to think that I would give a gun for you to defend your self against me, the guilt if being insecure and defensive is shown by the US if that action is taken. Focus in national debts not in glazing super powered defensive whatsoever.

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Very good post,i know a lot from it,thanks for sharing.

Now that we're in this situation. The country as a whole should learn that we're not always at the top. Soon, other countries will rise above us and we'll be sorry for all neglect we've made in the past. There's still time to be composed, behave and act well.

You made some Good points there,I like it.keep this good working.

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