Theodore Roosevelt talked of “speaking softly, while carrying a big stick,” favoring peaceful negotiations supported by military sufficiency. The idea, he said, was “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”
For her discussions last week about a rising China’s bullying of smaller neighbors in bilateral relationships, Hillary Clinton is receiving plaudits from the Wall Street Journal, of all places:
Hillary Clinton provoked an uproar last week when she said that a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea territorial dispute is in America’s “national interest.” China’s foreign ministry denounced those remarks as unwarranted American meddling and an attempt to “internationalize” a strictly regional problem. Notwithstanding Beijing’s protests, Mrs. Clinton’s diplomacy marks another step in a positive evolution of the Obama administration’s approach to Asia.
At issue is Beijing’s claim that the bulk of the South China Sea constitutes its territorial waters. China is acting just as one would expect from a rising great power: As it grows more powerful, it desires to change international rules written when it is was weak.
Yet foreign policy experts have spent much time assuring Asians and Americans that China’s rise would be an exception—less disruptive than, say, the rise of the United States, Germany or Japan. That view animated President Obama’s disastrous “strategic reassurance” policy of his first year, in which Washington reassured Beijing that America would not contest its rise to great-power status. China smelled weakness and upped the ante, declaring the South China Sea a “core interest” and defining it as China’s territorial waters.
Well and good, but the “alternative” Quadrennial Defense Review sees some limitations to SecState’s ability to support US allies as they grapple with China’s status as a rising regional hegemon:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has charged each military service with freeing up between $10 billion and $15 billion annually over the next few years, ordering them to roll the “savings” into hardware modernization efforts, the independent QDR panel doubts that will generate enough new monies to build the kind of force America will need for decades to come.
“We cannot reverse the decline of shipbuilding, buy enough naval aircraft, recapitalize Army equipment, buy the F-35 requirement, purchase a new aerial tanker, increase deep strike capability, and recapitalize the bomber fleet just by saving $10-15 billion dollars that the Department of Defense hopes to save through acquisition reform,” states the summary of the alternative QDR…
“The force structure in the Asia-Pacific area needs to be increased,” states the summary. “A robust U.S. force structure, largely rooted in maritime strategy but including other necessary capabilities, will be essential.
Essential, but not available.
All bark, not enough bite.