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What to Do with U.S. Military Might?

Jul 30 , 2015
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

On July 1, the Pentagon released the updated National Military Strategy (NMS) of the United States. It contains four parts — namely “the strategic environment”, “the military environment”, “an integrated military strategy” and “joint force initiatives” – as well as the chairman’s foreword and conclusion. The 2015 NMS analyzes the international security environment facing the United States and its impact factors, America’s military capabilities and challenges, defines the US national security interests and major military objectives. In addition, it puts forward suggestions for the US military force’s capacity-building and the ways to address the challenges.[1]

“Complexity and rapid change characterize today’s strategic environment,” the 2015 NMS points out, “driven by globalization, the diffusion of technology, and demographic shifts.” Under these circumstances, the security environment was becoming more serious. America’s security has been challenged from two actors, namely non-state actors and the traditional state actors. It is significantly different from the situation depicted in the 2011 NMS. At that time, the security threats facing the United States were mainly from non-state actors, which carried out irregular warfare. However, compared to the threats by non-state actors, the United States should pay more attention to the threats posed by traditional state actors,, according to the report, which says there are two types of states, namely the countries maintaining the status quo, which “support(s) the established institutions and processes dedicated to preventing conflict, respecting sovereignty, and furthering human rights”, and the revisionist countries, which are “attempting to revise key aspects of the international order and are acting in a manner that threatens our national security interests.” Russia, Iran, North Korea and China are classified as the latter, all becoming the main threats to US national security.

Nevertheless, comparatively speaking, the 2015 NMS seems more moderate to China. It reiterated that “We support China’s rise and encourage it to become a partner for greater international security.” However, the report also said that “China’s actions are adding tension to the Asia-Pacific region,” particularly pointing to China’s construction on the Nansha Islands and using words like “land reclamation” and “aggressive”. Obviously, the United States shows complicated psychology towards China’s rise: on the one hand, the US hopes China could become a partner for maintaining security, promoting prosperity and enhancing global governance; on the other hand it has suspicions of and vigilance against China. This mentality has caused the fuzziness and uncertainty of the US strategic cognition on China. The news released by US Department of Defense said that, compared with Russia, Iran and North Korea, “China is in a different class, but could be a threat to the United States”.[2] The US Military Times also said the United States is “continuing to thread the line between China the economic ally and China the regional competitor”.[3]


To address the challenges, the US military should take integrated measures including the use of diplomacy, military and development, as the report says. In terms of diplomacy, the United States needs to “remain committed to engagement with all nations to communicate our values, promote transparency, and reduce the potential for miscalculation.” In military terms, the United States must strengthen the military deployment and presence around the world, and build a more stable, powerful network of allies and partnerships globally. “The presence of U.S. military forces in key locations around the world underpins the international order and provides opportunities to engage with other countries while positioning forces to respond to crises.” With regard to the development, the United States needs to build a flexible, powerful, resilient Joint Force in order to enhance its capacity to execute globally integrated operations.

Throughout the report, it is pessimistic in assessing the international situation, but there is no change in willingness and determination to maintain US global dominance and primacy. The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, points out in the introduction that “Today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service. Since the last National Military Strategy was published in 2011, global disorder has significantly increased while some of our comparative military advantage has begun to erode.” The report’s text also emphasizes that “The United States is the world’s strongest nation, enjoying unique advantages in technology, energy, alliances and partnerships, and demographics. However, these advantages are being challenged.” All these words demonstrate a sense of crisis for the U.S. to keep its edge. Nevertheless, consistent with the strategies previously released, the 2015 NMS also showed the firm determination to maintain US global dominance, even taking unilateral military actions, “While we prefer to act in concert with others, we will act unilaterally if the situation demands.”

The new military strategy is deeply influenced by the US strategic culture and security concepts. Since World War II, to identify and define “self” and “the other” has become the main parts of the U.S. strategic culture. In other words, the United States must look for “the other” to determine its own national identity and strategic choice. The most important “other” is to find the “enemy”, which is clearly different from the culture formed in the period of America’s rise. At that time, the US followed the strategy of isolationism, and not making enemies was a first and foremost principle. On July 4, 1821, then US Secretary of State John Quincy Adams cautioned that the United States “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”[4]All has been changing. After World War II, as a global power, the United States has been in an active search for enemies, even deliberately making enemies in order to establish its identity and realize strategic objectives. However, since the end of the Cold War, the United States haven’t determined a relatively permanent enemy, which makes itself deeply lost. Thus, the United States has been working hard to find the adversaries, the lists going from the states like China, Iran and Russia to non-state actors like Al-Qaida and ISIL. This behavior even make the US fall into paranoia. Gregory A. Daddis, a professor at the US Military Academy, has criticized his country for being “addicted to war, afraid of peace”, and attempting to use military force to seek absolute security.[5]

Meanwhile, the 2015 NMS is not conducive to the improvement of major-powers relations. Ted Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, has pointed out that this report would deepen misunderstanding between the United States and China and Russia and further increase their hostility to the United States: “China and Russia have ample reason to regard an array of US actions as deeply threatening to their interests.”[6] In fact, Chinese and Russian governments have made clear responses to the new national military strategy. On July 3, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press conference that the Chinese government was “dissatisfied with and opposed to some contents of the U.S. report which groundlessly exaggerates the China threat,” specifically its depiction of recent Chinese island reconstruction efforts in the South China Sea. She urged Washington  to “throw away the Cold War mentality, take an unbiased perspective of China’s strategic intention, [and] work together with China to advance the building of the new model of major-country relationship [reflecting] the spirit of non-confrontation, non-conflicts, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”[7] The day before, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also hit back at the US report, saying, “The use of such language in this document points, shall we say, to what is probably a confrontational attitude devoid of any objectivity towards our country.” He added: “Of course this will hardly contribute to attempts to steer bilateral relations in the direction of normalization.” [8] Fundamentally speaking, to advance the relationship between the U.S. and major powers like Russia and China is in the interests of all parties. Therefore, each party should take constructive and concrete actions to move the relationship forward, and not attach inappropriate labels to others, to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy.


[1] “T​h​e​ ​N​a​t​i​o​n​a​l​ ​M​i​l​i​t​a​r​y​ ​S​t​r​a​t​e​g​y​ ​o​f​ ​t​h​e​ ​U​n​i​t​e​d​ ​S​t​a​t​e​s​ ​o​f​ ​A​m​e​r​i​c​a: The United States Military’s Contribution To National Security,” June 2015,http___www.jcs.mil_Portals_36_Documents_Publications_2015_National_Military_Strategy.pdf








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