Asia Rife with Security Challenges for US: One-Size-Fits-All Policy Inadequate

Article excerpt

The security situation all across Asia is rife with major challenges for the United States, from the unprecedented rise of China to the North Korean nuclear weapons program to Jemaah Islamiya's Southeast Asian terrorism to the Indo-Pakistani conventional and nuclear rivalry-to name just a few.

A one-size military or defense policy is certainly not going to fit all of the defense and security challenges that the United States faces in Asia over the coming decades. Congress and Administration policymakers must take this into account as the United States develops its 21st century force structure and defense/ security policy.

China

There is no doubt that the rise of China will play the greatest role in defining and shaping the content and texture of the Asian security environment in the coming decades. In turn, China's ascendance will have a significant effect on American interests in Asia. In fact, some analysts see Beijing as being quite ambitious and believe that China seeks to replace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific-even globally.

Perhaps no development is more disconcerting than China's military buildup - a defense modernization program that is raising eyebrows in both Washington and across Asia. By some estimates, China now has the world's third largest defense budget after the United States and Russia, ranging from $70-90 billion per year.

Although analysts often disagree about the ranking of the Chinese defense budget due to a lack of transparency on Chinese security matters, no one disputes that Beijing has the world's fastest growing peacetime defense budget. This spring, China announced a 13 percent increase in its defense budget, adding to more than a decade of double-digit increases in military spending.

In addition to a growing defense budget, Beijing will also develop a world-class defense industry within the next 10-15 years. Though it currently buys most of its advanced weaponry from Russia, including SU-27 fighters, Sovremennyy destroyers, and Kilo-class diesel submarines, China is making progress on developing its own cruise missiles, fighters, submarines and naval ships as the Chinese military industrial complex develops. Further, a decision by the European Union to lift its current arms embargo against China will accelerate the modernization of the People's Liberation Army.

There is also a concern about the first-ever military exercises conducted by China and Russia in Asia last month. Whether this will develop into a military partnership or alliance is unclear. But there is also a possibility that Russia will sell additional advanced weapons systems to China, such as TU- 95 Bear and TU-22 Backfire strategic bombers, which were reportedly featured during last month's exercises. Sales of these aircraft would significantly increase Chinese power projection capabilities.

The Taiwan Strait

The immediate American concern is that China will try to use its new military might to pressure, intimidate or coerce Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, to effect unification. In addition to Beijing's growing conventional military capabilities, according to a recent Pentagon report, China has as many as 750 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan to threaten its smaller democratic neighbor against declaring independence. Of course, many of these missiles are also capable of striking American forces stationed in Japan.

Unfortunately, the military balance of power across the Taiwan Strait has decidedly shifted in Beijing 's favor in recent years. Taiwan's longstanding qualitative edge in military capability has dissipated due to Beijing's unprecedented defense buildup as well as Taiwan's failure to keep pace with China's advances. This growing military capability gap across the Strait could send the wrong signal to Beijing, which may lead to misperception and miscalculation on China's part. …