The U.S. military's new strategy for responding to the rise of China has been criticized by U.S. and foreign analysts as being too aggressive, the Financial Times reported on Thursday (see GSN, May 8).
The AirSea Battle Concept focuses on ensuring continued military power of the United States in key parts of the globe. The gradual roll-out of the new approach comes even as the Obama administration works to bolster its high-level dealings with fellow nuclear power China on a range of economic and diplomatic fronts.
"AirSea Battle is demonizing China. That is not in anybody's interest," retired U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Gen. James Cartwright said in recent days.
U.S. officials have said the concept is intended to strengthen foreign alliances and neutralize "anti-access, area-denial" military assets that other nations have acquired or are expected to acquire.
"This is probably the defining challenge today and, as we view it, in the near future," U.S. Navy head of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said last week.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is anticipated to discuss the ramifications of the new concept with friendly countries during his tour of Asia next week.
U.S. officials have said the concept is not aimed against any specific nation or area, but against the new weapons being built and acquired by a number of nations and possibly even by independent extremist groups.
Responding to a question on whether China is the principal focus of the AirSea Battle strategy, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said, "This notion should not be hijacked by any particular scenario."
Out of the public eye, however, U.S. officials admit the Defense Department is greatly concerned by the Chinese military's development of "access-denial" weaponry, such as anti-ship ballistic missiles and new offensive cyber capabilities.
Some analysts worry the new guidelines could seriously rattle relations with China by coming close to war-planning. For instance, the Joint Operational Access Concept advises that should a conflict take place, the United States should "attack enemy anti-access/area-denial defenses in depth." If the guidance is applied to the Chinese military's antiship ballistic missiles, it would mean readying U.S. forces for heavy preemptive attacks on military sites inside China.
"The big risk is that such an attack would lead to a very dramatic escalation and China might even think it was an attempt to take out its nuclear capability," Australian National University academic Raoul Heinrichs said.
Disclosure of the AirSea Battle concept comes against a backdrop of budget austerity in Washington, which could make it difficult to procure the necessary funds to acquire the new submarines and extended-range bombers called for under the concept (Geoff Dyer, Financial Times, May 31).