Today’s geopolitical climate has created new and dangerous challenges for America’s defense and the support of democracy and freedom worldwide. These challenges demand a reexamination of the U.S. defense budget to ensure that America’s forces retain the capabilities to defend the nation and deter aggression abroad. The expert authors of the new volume Defense Budgeting for a Safer World (Hoover Institution Press) review the significant areas of debate in the U.S. defense budget and provide recommendations for aligning it with new global realities. Chief among these new realities are China’s modernized military and the nation’s objectives in the South China Sea and for reunification with Taiwan, testing U.S. dominance in the world order and raising questions about allies’ security and the U.S. ability to counter threats from the People’s Liberation Army.
In her contribution to the new volume, in a chapter titled “The Military Challenge of the People’s Republic of China,” Center Fellow Oriana Skylar Mastro reviews the last quarter-century of developments in China’s strategy for reunification with Taiwan. Mastro explains that the original shape of that strategy, strengthening ties with Taiwan to persuade the population, “has failed” and now takes the form of belligerent air and sea incursions, increasingly sophisticated military exercises, and official Chinese rhetoric about the inevitability of reunification and the impossibility of Taiwan’s independence has intensified.
Mastro notes that “China’s military modernization has focused on the ability to prevent a decisive U.S. response, referred to as its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy." The United States, as a non-resident power in the Asia-Pacific, depends on its aircraft carriers to project power in the South China Sea, but these carriers are vulnerable to Chinese ballistic systems. Because it will likely have to operate outside the first island chain — that is, the “barrier” extending from Japan, past Taiwan and the Philippines, to maritime and peninsular Southeast Asia — the U.S. military depends on “enablers” to accomplish its missions, like aerial refueling and satellites for cyber capabilities. These assets are likewise vulnerable to Chinese disruption/attack, as are U.S. forward bases in Asia, such as Okinawa.
Mastro’s recommendations to mitigate current U.S. weaknesses to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan include "more access, basing, and overflight," "more mass on targets," and "leveraging partners." While Chinese military power has not surpassed that of the United States, Mastro warns that if U.S. deterrence is not maintained and improved, Chinese leadership may become confident enough to move against Taiwan, resulting in a war with the United States. On the other hand, she assesses that the needed deterrence is possible if the proper steps are taken now.