Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept

Thomas P.M Barnett. China Security, October 2010.


In sum, ending China’s free-riding is arguably more important for long-term system-wide stability than continuing to deter China’s military invasion of Taiwan. As globalization’s networks continue to expand at a rapid pace, America’s ability to play sole Leviathan to the system naturally degrades dramatically. That means, while the likelihood of China’s military invasion of Taiwan dissipates with each passing year, the likelihood of America’s “imperial exhaustion” most certainly surpasses it in strategic importance in the near term.

History will judge US strategists most severely if our choice to maintain “access” to East Asia by triggering a regional arms race precludes our ability to draw China into strategic co-management of this era of pervasively extending globalization—without a doubt America’s greatest strategic achievement. I cannot fault the AirSea Battle Concept as an operational capability designed to keep us in the East Asian balancing “game.” But my fear is that it will—primarily by default and somewhat by “blue” ambition—serve America badly in a strategic sense, absent a proactive political and military engagement effort to balance its negative impact on the most important bilateral relationship of the modern globalization era.

Editor’s Comment:

Barnett alerts us to a prospective instance when leading with military capability is likely to be a disservice to strategic interests.

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