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U.S. Responses The U.S. Response to China’s Military Modernization Dan Blumenthal The idea of extended deterrence is a product of the nuclear age. From the perspective of the deterrence guarantor, the purposes of such a policy are threefold: to deter an attack on an ally, to deter the use of nuclear weapons against an ally, and to deter nuclear war altogether. Because nuclear weapons cause unthinkable destruction, statesmen strive to deter their use entirely. As a result, debates about deterrence are largely “astrategic”: they are fundamentally about how not to use a particular kind of weapon rather than how a capability may further political goals. As Henry Kissinger has written, the crafting of deterrence policy can quickly become an intellectual exercise: the effectiveness of deterrence can be proved only by events that do not occur, and it is impossible to prove why something never happened.1 Did the defender prevent an impending attack? Or did a potential adversary never in fact desire to launch an attack in the first place? These questions can quickly become esoteric. To avoid such an outcome, this chapter seeks to put the United States’ guarantee of extended deterrence into the broader context of the U.S. strategy of maintaining primacy in Asia. Since the end of World War II, the United States first won and then maintained its primacy in Asia. A grand strategy of primacy was (and is) but one of several strategic options available to U.S. statesmen. Others 1 Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 608. Dan Blumenthal is the Director of Asian Studies and a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He can be reached at . The author would like to thank Lara Crouch for her exceptional research and editorial assistance. 310 • Strategic Asia 2012–13 include “offshore balancing” and “selective engagement.”2 But the United States chose and has heretofore remained committed to primacy—defined as a preponderance of power over all extant and potential great powers. In Asia, U.S. grand strategy has benefited both the United States and its regional allies. The leaders of Asian nations who chose prosperity and liberal economic policies after the war did so in a system fortified by U.S. presence and power. However, this peaceful Asian order is now challenged by the rise of China, and the United States must maintain a strategy of primacy to protect it. This chapter concerns itself with the military underpinnings of U.S. primacy—the strategy that has provided for great-power peace, the prosperity of Asia, and the minimal spread of WMDs. The chapter will analyze the elements of U.S. military primacy and demonstrate how primacy has allowed the United States to guarantee an extended deterrent and helped Washington achieve its objectives of homeland defense, great-power peace, and Asian economic and political development. Next, the chapter will show how the troubling course of China’s rise is undermining U.S. primacy. Following this discussion, the chapter will then argue that the apparent response to China’s challenge, articulated in the new operational concept of air-sea battle (ASB), suffers from three deficiencies. First, resources devoted to ASB are insufficient to meet the challenge of China’s growing military might because of the United States’ shrinking defense budget. Second, ASB does not seem to be tied to a larger strategic concept for Asia. It thus raises a number of questions, including whether the doctrine is meant to underpin primacy or some other strategy, such as U.S. strategic thinking about punishment of aggression. Third, ASB underestimates the value of a robust nuclear force required to maintain great-power peace, nonproliferation, and a credible threat to escalate a conflict beyond the enemy’s capability to respond in kind. U.S. Strategy in Asia: How It Got There and Why It Remains The Pacific War ravaged Asia and decimated the old colonial order. Rather than leave Asia in chaos and risk a Soviet or Chinese Communist takeover, the United States created a new Asian political-economic order. Washington hoped to bring Asia into the liberal global system it was creating to both protect U.S. interests and, as Paul Nitze put it in his famous 2 See Richard Fontaine and Kristin M. Lord, eds., “America’s Path: Grand Strategy for the Next Administration,” Center for New American Security, May 2012, documents/publications/CNAS_AmericasPath_FontaineAndLord.pdf. Blumenthal – U.S. Responses • 311 National Security Council report “NSC 68...


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