(Defense News) – Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China is overhauling its military to be combat ready and able to project force beyond its borders comes at a time when Russia has been increasing its military expenditure and Britain, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, is increasing military spending by $18 billion over the next decade to contend with numerous security threats that Europe faces.
A future US administration is likely to reassess the sequester as laid out by the strategic policy guidance issued by the Pentagon in 2012. This eroded the US strategy of maintaining a military capability to meet crises in all geographic locations and to fight two major conflicts around the globe simultaneously. Subsequent military cuts due to financial austerity measures led the Obama administration to be cautious to intervene anywhere.
Currently, there are numerous differentiated threats to international security posed by sub-state actors like ISIS, as well as rising states vying with the US for power such as China and the Russia. It was not smart or soft power, but the sequester rationalized the US’ reset policy with Russia.
The US is likely to revert back to the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review that advanced the idea that maintaining “a core capability is central … to avoid a situation in which an aggressor in one region might be tempted to take advantage when US forces are heavily engaged elsewhere.”
It was not merely the rise of China and the eastward shift of economic power that prompted the US to pivot toward Asia, but military sequestration that led to a strategic prioritization in that region. Ironically, it was due to military sequestration that an effective pivot to Asia in the form of Asia-Pacific balancing initiatives was undermined. This undercut the operational concept of being geographically dispersed with a military presence in Australia and Southeast and East Asia and to link the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
The US has been unable to rebalance effectively when it allocates 2,500 Marines to the region or to increase its naval presence in the Western Pacific as its Navy shrinks from 272 to around 250 ships. Due to the reduction in military expenditure, the US was forced to rationalize its failed attempt to pivot by describing its goals as “economic engagement.”
In contrast to the US, China has been annually increasing its defense spending by double digits. While Asian Pacific countries have invested in power-projection capabilities such as naval and air forces that may in the future deny the US access to the Pacific Rim, the US has focused more on post-conflict reconstruction and ground operations.
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Barak Seener is the CEO of Strategic Intelligentia and a former Middle East Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is on Twitter at @BarakSeener.