It is unsettling that Washington is only now waking up to Beijing’s gathering geopolitical assertiveness in East Asia after a decade of U.S. strategic distraction in Western and Central Asia. Michael O’Hanlon and James Steinberg [“How ‘Air-Sea Battle’ fits in U.S. planning,” op-ed, Aug. 24] rightly pointed out that America’s challenge is how to do more with less. The aim of “Air-Sea Battle” is to leverage superior U.S. aerospace and naval technologies in what is primarily a maritime defense environment while relying on Asian allies and friends to provide critical ground force weight.
But Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Steinberg underestimated the China challenge. China’s economy has tripled in size over the past decade, while America’s has expanded by less a quarter. The Pentagon estimates that China’s military spending is only “almost $200 billion a year,” but this figure is a lowball. In fact, for the past several years, the Central Intelligence Agency’s “World Factbook” has quietly — and more accurately — pegged China’s military spending at over 4 percent of GDP, which is closer to $450 billion in purchasing power parity — making it a close, not distant, second to the United States in national security spending. Beijing itself acknowledges that its military spending growth outstrips GDP growth.
It seems unlikely that the United States can maintain its technological edge under current policies. China is now the largest industrial power on earth. “Air-Sea Battle” is only a band-aid response to a profound erosion in U.S. power, an erosion, alas, that Beijing seeks to promote, not “manage.”
John J. Tkacik Jr., Alexandria
The writer is director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.