CHINESE MILITARY DEVELOPMENT: WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS?
A CRITERIA OF RELEVANCE
26 October 2000
assessing Chinese military development is a very complex undertaking, my task
here today is much simpler. This
room is filled with experts who have studied and analyzed Chinese military
development for decades. Your
contributions to our understanding of those developments is widely recognized.
Yet despite your efforts there still rages a debate as to what those
developments mean in real terms. Do
the military developments that we observe foreshadow changes in Chinese strategy
or policy? Do these observed military developments require a change in
US strategy or policy?
primary metric that must be applied to any assessment of military capabilities
is whether or not the assessment is relevant for decision-makers responsible for
strategy and policy. Mere
"bean counting" exercises and static balances that we developed to a
science during the Cold War may or may not have relevance.
Only if our assessment of capabilities gives us clear insights into
Chinese strategy and intentions will it allow us to develop the strategy and
policies essential to defeat the strategy and shape the intentions.
That in turn is the essence of deterrence to maintain the peace or
victory in the event of conflict--- shaping intentions or defeating the strategy
of the opponent.
brief presentation today is an attempt to examine what are the key questions
that must be answered for our assessments to be relevant for US strategists and
policy makers in any administration. In
the broadest sense, they are an attempt to "follow the money."
Governments, like businesses, tend to prioritize their expenditures to
support their national strategy and defense ministries tend to channel their
expenditures into capabilities that support their military priorities and
many of you know better than I do, China is a difficult target to get reliable
information on budgets and expenditures. There
is a lack of transparency compounded by dispersal of military expenditures well
beyond the official defense budget. Chinese citizens who reveal even insignificant data can
quickly find themselves being provided room and board behind bars by the state.
All of this has resulted in a wide range of assessments as to the real
amount of the Chinese defense budget.
being said, there is still a lot of self-induced distortion that is often the
result of attempting to convert expenditures into dollars or purchasing power
equivalents that have a tendency to distort the picture and inflate the values.
Also, we seem at times addicted to analysis based on percentage of GNP
that tends to promote an exaggerated vision of the military expenditures of
developing nations while obscuring the massive military investments of developed
nations. We need to avoid these types of distortions if we are to
provide assessments with real value.
an effort to provide a meaningful framework for the assessment of Chinese
military development, I have posed five key questions that must be addressed by
US strategists and policy makers. The
fundamental criteria for your assessments in my opinion are their relevance to
answering these key questions.
are the priorities within the Chinese national allocation of resources and are
those priorities changing?
question goes to the heart of Chinese national strategy.
We must know what percentage of the resources actually available to the
government is being invested in the military and how does that compare with
investment in other major areas. We
need to know if that relative percentage going to the military is changing
because that is far more important than reporting an increase in the military
budget that may merely reflect inflation. A
significant change in the relative percentage of the national budget going to
the military will give us early indications of a change in national priorities.
all of these areas we need to do a historical analysis that will establish a
baseline against which to analyze trends. We
also need to deal in absolute values avoiding the previously discussed
analytical traps of attempting conversions to dollars or other equivalency
measures. Our relative comparisons
must be measured against the other major categories of Chinese national budget
investments and not against external values.
are the priorities within the Chinese defense investments and are those
we have determined how much of the overall pie is being gobbled up by the
military we must ferret out who in the military is getting how much of the
military piece of the pie. Is it
going to the strategic forces, the ground forces, air forces, naval forces,
research and development, C4I, space-based capabilities, training, readiness,
etc? Where is the investment being
made? What appear to be the
priorities and are there any discernible trends in the investment? This helps to identify priorities and whether or not they are
changing over time.
again historical data is essential for accurate assessments of trends and
changes in priorities. Answering
accurately these questions on where the defense investment is going gives us
some indication of national military strategy and can give some early
indications of where we can expect to find increased military capabilities being
deployed in the future.
capabilities is the PLA getting for the investment that the Chinese government
assessments need to be results oriented. It
is not enough to examine the input side of the equation as we have in the first
two key questions even though that analysis is essential.
It is also necessary to see what China is getting for its investments in
its military. What new systems and
capabilities are being developed and deployed?
How capable are those systems and are the numbers significant?
Are these systems produced indigenously or imported and what does this
tell us about the state of Chinese defense industries?
Can the PLA effectively operate, support and integrate the new systems
into their forces?
it is in this area that we do our best assessments. This is the "bean counting" exercise.
There are however elements that go well beyond mere "bean
counting" and require qualitative as well as quantitative assessments.
Additionally, while capabilities may give us some insights into
intentions, there is not always a direct relationship as there are very few
military capabilities that are purely offensive or defensive.
What is Chinese national military strategy
and is it changing?
answering this key question, it is first essential to examine China's
declaratory strategy. Mike
Pillsbury has done some good work in this area in particular. I believe that China's declaratory military strategy is
relatively simple and straightforward. First,
it is to maintain strategic level deterrence with a limited but survivable
nuclear arsenal. Second, it is to
prevail in any limited regional conflict along its lengthy land borders.
The capabilities required to rapidly respond to such regional
contingencies also are a factor in maintaining domestic stability.
Finally, it seeks vis-a-vis the
US and Japan to put in place an area denial strategy that while primarily a
defensive strategy is also a necessary prerequisite for offensive actions
against Taiwan. While China is
unable to totally implement this national military strategy today, I would argue
that it constitutes the Chinese declaratory strategy.
declaratory strategies are important and are often the tool with which a nation
deters a more powerful adversary or intimidates a weaker neighbor, they do not
always either reflect the actual strategy that a nation will employ or
accurately reflect its real intentions. Declaratory
strategy must be validated. Does
the priority of investments and the capabilities being developed and deployed
dovetail with the declared strategy? Is the declared strategy consistent with professional
military education and the utilization of the best and the brightest of its
human resources? Do training and
exercises validate the declared strategy?
there are significant disconnects between the declared strategy on the one hand
and investments, capabilities, doctrine and training on the other, what does it
tell us about real national military strategy?
It is essential in these assessments to work from two different
directions. The first is to start
with the declaratory strategy and determine if that strategy is validated by
investments, capabilities, doctrine and training. The second is to start by examining investments,
capabilities, doctrine and training to determine what national military strategy
is consistent with the national priorities in those areas.
ultimate and critical objective is to determine what the real Chinese national
military strategy is. Often this
strategic analysis is clouded by personal and political agendas that seek only
to validate a preconceived outcome. Selective use of data coupled with exaggerated conclusions
does sell books. The value of many
in this audience is that they are not corrupted by a political agenda and adhere
to high standards of academic analysis that are essential if we are to get it
right and the stakes for our future are too high to get it wrong.
Does Chinese military development require
any changes in US policy or strategy?
our assessments facilitate our accurately answering the first four questions, we
must then examine what are our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Does the Chinese military development and strategy exploit those
vulnerabilities and weaknesses? Can
we implement our own strategy for any reasonable scenario even in the face of
Chinese military development? This
requires not just in-depth analysis but also comprehensive use of all the tools
that we have developed such as net assessments, wargaming, exercises, etc.
we can accurately determine the Chinese strategy, capabilities and intentions,
we are in a good position to make the correct policy and strategy choices. We
are not interested in a conflict with China and have nothing to gain and a lot
to lose from such a conflict. We do
not want China as an enemy. At the
same time, we are also not willing to accept a Chinese dominance in East Asia
that would significantly reduce U.S. influence in the region. Our overarching
objective is to deter China from taking military actions that will destabilize
East Asia and could draw the U.S. into a new conflict or Cold War with China.
For deterrence to be effective it is necessary for U.S. policy and
strategy to effectively shape Chinese intentions.
The object of deterrence is always shaping intentions.
Therefore, our objective must be to clearly demonstrate both the
capability and the will to defeat any Chinese military strategy that is inimical
to our interests in East Asia.
greatest danger that we face is that we will ignore our own vulnerabilities and
weaknesses by constructing scenarios that play to our strengths.
Often the outcome of any wargame or assessment is determined not by the
exercise but by the assumptions. Just
as we must require the most exacting and objective standards in analyzing
Chinese strategy, capabilities and intentions, we must hold our own strategy,
capabilities and intentions to the same exacting standards.
efforts here and that of other researchers can go a long ways in answering these
key questions. The fifth key
question will be answered by professional military officers, policy makers (dare
I say politicians) and strategists. None
of them will probably speak Chinese or have the depth of knowledge on China that
this assembled group has. Nonetheless,
they will determine the U.S. policy and strategy and they will make the program
decisions to support the strategy and policies that they select.
The chance of them getting the fifth answer right will be greatly
enhanced if your efforts and those of others result in posing the right
questions on Chinese military capabilities.
Only then can you give policy makers through your assessments the right
analytical foundation on which to base their decisions.
That is the real potential value of this center and of the efforts you
undertake here. Because what you
are doing is important and can be relevant if the criteria that I have discussed
is satisfied, I wish you the best of luck in your research and look forward to
the papers and discussions.
TALKING PAPER WAS PREPARED FOR "CHINESE
MILITARY STUDIES: A CONFERENCE ON THE STATE OF THE FIELD" HELD AT THE
NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY ON 26-27 OCTOBER 2000.