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Mullen to China: We’re Staying in Your Backyard

By Spencer Ackerman

Here’s how to understand what’s driving the new National Military Strategy, released today by the U.S. military’s top officer: China, China and China.

Ostensibly, Adm. Mike Mullen’s document is about how the U.S. military ought to organize and prepare for future threats. The watchwords there: building networks, whether with civilian government and international agencies or foreign partner forces, prepared to “extend” U.S. “competitive advantages” in military tech and training to all who seek its help. That sets a “transition from a force that has been engaged in sustained combat operations to a Joint Force that is shaped for the future,” Mullen’s team writes — one in which the U.S. bolsters its military strength through deep alliances even as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars end.

And it so happens that China is at the intersection of all of those trends. The strategy itself doesn’t call China out very much, but China’s influence is written between most of the lines. U.S. “strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region.” For “decades to come” the military will keep a robust presence in Northeast Asia. Across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, the U.S. will “seek new ways to catalyze greater regional security cooperation,” including with traditional Chinese allies like Vietnam.

Even when the strategy isn’t talking about Asia, the expansion of Chinese military power isn’t far from its focus. An enduring interest of the U.S. is “assured access to and freedom of maneuver within the global commons — shared areas of sea, air, and space — and globally connected domains.” That’s been the Pentagon’s warning to China all last year, as the Chinese military adopted an aggro definition of its core interests.

States are developing “anti-access and area-denial capabilities and strategies to constrain U.S. and international freedom of action.” You mean, like China’s new anti-ship missile and stealth jet?

To be very clear: the strategy doesn’t call for any kind of hostile posture toward China. Echoing years’ worth of statements from Pentagon leaders, it seeks a “positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship” with China that “welcomes” a “responsible leadership role” for the Chinese. It wants to deepen the U.S.-Chinese military relationship and work with China to stop pirates and WMD proliferation.

But there’s a hard edge to that as well. Mullen’s strategy expresses concern about “the extent and strategic intent” of Chinese military expansion, whether it’s in Pacific waters or in cyberspace. It warns, in the next breath, “we will be prepared to demonstrate the will and commit the resources needed to oppose any nation’s actions that jeopardize access to and use of the global commons and cyberspace, or that threaten the security of our allies.”

All this is in keeping with Mullen’s tenure as chairman. He’s big on multilateralism and keen to offer an extended hand to the Chinese — with the understanding that the U.S. isn’t leaving the Pacific. This is the first revision of the National Military Strategy since 2004 — “First, while protecting the United States we must win the War on Terrorism,” that document began (.pdf) — and perhaps Mullen’s last big strategy document before his term as chairman expires later this year. It’s not surprising he’d want to codify his perspective.

Still, if you were a Chinese diplomat looking for clues about how the U.S. military views you, you’d find the strategy a target-rich environment. Chinese military development is decades behind the U.S.’ But that’s not something the U.S. likes to consider a strategic cushion.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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