In early January, President Barack Obama traveled across the Potomac River to the Pentagon and joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to discuss his Administration's military strategy, promising that he would keep America's fighting forces the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history. Unfortunately, he's not keeping that promise, and meanwhile, China's military is growing by leaps and bounds.
China announced this week that its new defense budget would total approximately $106 billion -- an 11.2 percent increase over its previous budget. That's on top of last year's 12.7 percent increase, making China's defense spending larger than that of all other Asian nations combined. Heritage's Dean Cheng writes that those figures are "a sobering statistic when one considers that this includes the world's third-largest economy (Japan) and North and South Korea, which remain locked in a Cold War-era standoff."
While China's military is growing, America's is shrinking. Under President Obama's budget, the U.S. military will shrink dramatically, and the President makes defense the lowest budget priority among the major categories of spending in the federal budget. All told, the President would slash military spending by $487 billion over 10 years -- and that's on top of the $500 billion in cuts ushered in by the sequestration process under the Budget Control Act. The effect of all those cuts? A military that is woefully unprepared to execute its constitutional duty to protect America. As Heritage's Baker Spring described it, "The combination of the budget request and the Budget Control Act of 2011 would reduce the military's personnel levels and force structure to the point that they could no longer protect U.S. vital interests and keep U.S. security commitments around the world."
As a practical matter, those cuts will result in a military that has drastically reduced capabilities, the curtailment of advancements in weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, a reduction in U.S. forces by 72,000 soldiers in the Army (13 percent), 20,000 in the Marines (10 percent), an elimination of brigade combat teams and Air Force tactical fighter and training squadrons, a retirement of ships in the Navy and a slow acquisition of new ones, and an abandonment of a robust nuclear deterrent.
In selling this new way in the military, the President noted that U.S. forces would pivot toward combating emerging forces in the Asia Pacific, promising that "budget reductions will not come at the expense of that critical region." That pivot, though, did not come with an attendant reallocation of resources to Asia. Meanwhile, China is stepping up its efforts to dramatically increase its military spending, thereby empowering it to project even more influence in the region.
Though China's increase in defense spending should not be alarming in and of itself, Cheng points out that there is an important distinction with its military buildup. Whereas the United States has global obligations in maintaining international order and sustaining trade, China's efforts are centered primarily on countering U.S. influence:
Thus, China can asymmetrically commit its resources against only a portion of the U.S. military and, in the event of a crisis, would likely try to defeat the U.S. in detail.
What should be of concern, then, is that the Chinese Communist Party appears to be increasingly asserting itself against its neighbors, whether it is expanding its forces opposite Taiwan or making claims of sovereignty over the South and East China Seas. In this regard, the People's Liberation Army is a tool, rather than the agent, for China's growing antagonism with so many of its neighbors.
All in all, China's actions should be a cause for concern, particularly given the United States' interests and alliances in the region. While China is rising and its military is growing stronger, the Obama Administration is hamstringing America's forces, voluntarily demoting the military's importance in the budget and degrading its capabilities to that of a hollow force, unable to meet its global obligations. A strong military inspires respect abroad, while a weak one invites aggression. If America is to secure its independence, it must maintain a military capable of keeping that promise.