The Heavy Burden of the US Military Budget, Which Is Now Focused on China
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Photo: Acting US defence secretary Patrick Shanahan at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s budget on March 14, 2019 / AP

The Heavy Burden of the US Military Budget, Which Is Now Focused on China


WASHINGTON, DC – March 19, 2019

Are there other countries, besides the US, whose military budget is calculated only on the basis of the needs for its own defense but also with the expectation of determining the global world order, and specifically in military terms? The answer is obviously no. The US military budget is unique in that it exceeds the military budgets of more than the next dozen countries.

Congress ha allocated even more than what was requested for the Pentagon’s needs. They’ve printed or are ready to print an additional $14 billion to make up for what exceeds the defense budget in 2020. This is another unique case in the world.

What is Congress so scared of? Maybe of Chinese bombers, hypersonic missiles, cyberattacks, and anti-satellite weapons, which acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan spoke about so colorfully?

All his incendiary speech can be reduced to three words: "China, China, China." It turns out that the US is still fighting small wars against Islamic extremists, and Russia is considered a serious concern, but Shanahan wants to shift the military’s main focus to what he considers the more pressing security problem of a rapidly growing Chinese military.

This theme, which Shanahan outlined on Thursday in presenting the administration’s proposed 2020 defense budget to the Senate Armed Services Committee, is competing for attention with more immediate problems like President Trump’s effort to use the military to build a border wall.

By the way, the congressional hearing spent more time on the wall and the prospect of using military funding to build sections of it than on any aspect of foreign policy, including the conflicts in Syria or a military competition with China, Russia, or North Korea.

However, Shanahan tried his best to convince Congress that the Chinese threat is an increasingly urgent problem that exceeds traditional measures of military strength and transcends partisan priorities.

“We’ve been ignoring the problem for too long,” Shanahan told a senator.

“China is aggressively modernizing its military, systematically stealing science and technology, and seeking military advantage through a strategy of military-civil fusion,” he wrote in prepared testimony to the committee, which is considering a $718 billion Pentagon budget designed in part to counter China’s momentum.

The $25 billion the Pentagon is proposing to spend on nuclear weapons in 2020, for example, is meant in part to stay ahead of China’s nuclear arsenal, which is smaller than America’s but growing. Shanahan said China is developing a nuclear-capable long-range bomber that, if successful, would enable China to join the United States and Russia as the only nations with air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons.

Shanahan ticked off a list of other Chinese advancements – hypersonic missiles against which the US has limited defenses; rocket launches and other efforts that could enable it to fight wars in space; the “systematically stealing” of US and allied technology, and militarizing land features in the South China Sea.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the US has lacked effective strategies for competing with China on a broad scale.

“It is overdue,” she said of Shanahan’s concerns. “We have been somewhat slow in catching up” in such areas as denying China its regional ambitions, including efforts to fully control the South China Sea, which is claimed by several countries.

I still don’t believe the nature of the threat is quite as grave as we’re led to believe said Christopher Preble, Cato Institute

Some defense analysts think Shanahan and the Pentagon have inflated the China threat.

“I do think it’s worth asking what exactly is threatening about China’s behavior,” said Christopher Preble, vice-president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He does not discount China as a security issue, but doubts the US military is the institution best suited to deal with such non-military problems as cyber intrusions into American commercial networks.

In Preble’s view, competition with the Chinese is not mainly military.

“I still don’t believe the nature of the threat is quite as grave as we’re led to believe” by the Pentagon, he said. “They tend to exaggerate the nature of the threat.”

It should be noted that the Pentagon has long insisted on a change of priorities in the defense strategy towards China. Relatively recently Shanahan and Trump’s first defense secretary James Mattis crafted a national defense strategy that put China at the top of the list of problems.

“As China continues its economic and military ascendancy, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global pre-eminence in the future,” the strategy document says.

That explains in part why the US is spending billions more on space, including means of defending satellites against a potential Chinese attack, and building hypersonic missiles to stay ahead of Chinese and Russian weapon development.

It also explains some of the thinking behind preparing for the early retirement of the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, a strategy that views carriers as less relevant in a future armed conflict involving China.

And now the Pentagon’s dreams seem to be coming true. However, this isn’t due to Shanahan’s eloquence alone. This testifies not so much to congressional generosity as the attitude of American congressmen to the public debt. They allocate additional funds to the military as if making a promise: We will give you more than what you ask, and you make these “investments” turn out to be profitable—for example, invading wherever congress finds “insufficient” democracy.

The heavy burden of the colossal military budget is for the US an investment in war, to turn a profit.

Author: USA Really