Sunday, May 6, 2012

State of Play

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, gave a presentation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on May 1, 2012.

His main focus was on the method of implementing US foreign policy abroad and he underscored three elements:
  • Re-balancing to the Asia-Pacific cannot be just about increasing military hardware. The “intellectual bandwidth” (i.e. the way we conceive of tactics) of policymakers must also adapt to the new era to apply "smart power."
  • The US must work with others to respond to the security paradox; people live in a relatively safer era, but the capacity for individuals to commit violence has also increased in the last few decades -  contemporary threats operate in decentralized, syndicated (state, non-state, and criminal) and networked forms. In order to more effectively confront these issues on every level, the US government must not only establish inter-agency partnerships, but also network with other nations. 
  • Policies must integrate new technological capabilities. Communication and cyberspace capabilities have evolved in the past decade; therefore, new strategies must likewise adapt to these new conditions to better prepare for challenges that will arise from these changes. 
According to Dempsey, this new strategic perspective targets threats that are projected to be more prominent in 2020. In particular, anti-access capabilities of rival states and belligerent actors are expected to become more refined. From carrier-killing missiles to IEDs, these new challenges reflect how the Powell Doctrine, based on wielding overwhelming force to achieve clear conventional objectives, is no longer applicable in modern strategic thinking. Focus on aerial and naval capabilities is a response to this development and will require a more efficient and targeted use of manpower and firepower.

The adaptation of these new concepts is going to be affected by the “sequestration” of the budget; therefore, Dempsey noted that specific strategic plans will not be considered until congress finalizes the budget.

Of course Dempsey made the usual caveat that these changes are not designed to be a tool for containing China. He emphasized that Washington must not fall into Thucydides' Trap where war becomes inevitable mainly because one party believes that military confrontation is inevitable.

At the same time, placing greater responsibilities and capabilities in the hands of US allies in the region could mean increasing space for a confrontation between Washington and Beijing. In particular, Japan and the Philippines are bent on deterring Chinese incursion into their (claimed) maritime territories - greater maneuver space and firepower for Manila and Tokyo open the possibility of those countries engaging in aggressive behavior that they otherwise may not have undertaken if the US was indisputably at the helm.

The policy of regional economic-defense cooperation is probably a good policy when the US is strapped for resources; however, the distribution of the security guarantees will not work unless the key issues themselves are first diffused. The US and PRC are both important to one another - a political, economic and diplomatic understanding should be reached before undertaking action that could be misinterpreted. It's still all about diplomacy.

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