A strong military keeps the threat of war small

US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Kitchner

Sailors enjoy a swim in the South China Sea on April 22, 2012. The forward-deployed amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group participating in Balikatan 2012, an annual bilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability between the U.S. and armed forces of the Philippines.

Article Highlights

  • We are not in a cold war with China. That is too simple a metaphor

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  • China's dictators are not wrong to believe Washington will make sure China does not dominate Asia

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  • In the end, old-fashioned deterrence by the U.S. will keep the peace with China

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  • Paying now for a greater military presence in Asia will deter a far more costly possible conflict with China

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Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

We are not in a cold war with China. That is too simple a metaphor to describe the state of Sino-American relations. One the one hand, China and the U.S. are economic partners. Both countries have benefited enormously from bilateral trade. On the other hand, the relationship is rife with suspicion.

"There should be no surprise that China is a strategic rival: great power competition is the natural state of international politics. Why anyone thought China would be different is a mystery." -- Dan Blumenthal

There are good reasons for mutual apprehension; they cannot be papered over with better communications or "confidence building measures." China's dictators are neither wrong in their belief that the ultimate U.S. aim is democracy in China, nor misguided in their belief that Washington will do whatever it takes to make sure China does not dominate Asia. Washington is right to believe that China has greater ambitions now that it is more powerful. China wants more control, if not hegemony, over the Asia Pacific.

There should be no surprise that China is a strategic rival: great power competition is the natural state of international politics. Why anyone thought China would be different is a mystery.

Though the two sides have clashing interests, neither side wants strategic competition to descend into conflict. Managing the competition calls for sophisticated statecraft. The two sides should acknowledge their divergent objectives, while continuing to focus on their mutual interests — deep economic reform in both countries

But, in the end, it will be old-fashioned deterrence by the U.S. that will keep the peace between these great powers. This is easier said than done. A war-weary United States is reluctant to provide resources for its stated strategy of checking Chinese power. Historically, Washington's habit is to cut its military after long wars. It is incumbent upon America to go against this penny-wise, pound-foolish practice.

America's leaders must make the case that paying now for a greater military presence in Asia will deter a far more costly possible conflict with China. By paying for the ships and aircraft our military needs, Americans may buy themselves peace.

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