Hawkish House members who resisted Pentagon spending reductions in the new deficit-cutting law are using a new report on China’s increasing military might to bolster their stance against additional sizable military cuts.
Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) quickly reacted to the Pentagon’s release on Wednesday of its annual report on Chinese military capability. The 84-page document says the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) appears poised to reach its goal of building a modern, regionally-focused military by 2020 following substantial investment in hardware and technology over the past decade.
HASC Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) said while his panel must review the report more, two things stand out: that China’s increasing military might and ability to deny access to the western Pacific is impacting the stability of the region, and that the nation believes it can use the “United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests.”
“Therefore, security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the U.S. military in an attempt to control spending,” McKeon argued in a statement. “This is an unacceptable outcome in such a vital region of the globe.”
McKeon’s support was crucial for the passage of the deficit-cutting plan President Barack Obama signed into law Aug. 2. The HASC chairman backed it, while saying he had “deep reservations,” though key members of his committee voted against it. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had pled with them for their support on Aug. 1.
The new law calls for $350 billion in defense-related reductions over the next decade. It also says if a new so-called “super committee” of 12 lawmakers and the full Congress can’t agree on up to $1.5 trillion in additional government savings by the end of the year, the Pentagon automatically will be cut by $500 billion or $600 billion by 2021.
The Pentagon’s new report, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011,” states China has multiple weapon systems that have reached maturity or will become operational in the next few years. The nation is refurbishing an aircraft carrier it bought from Ukraine and is developing its own indigenous carrier that could be operational in 2015, while developing systems including a fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter and DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, the report says.
Michael Schiffer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, told reporters Wednesday that China’s increasing military capabilities are “potentially destabilizing the regional military balances.”
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), head of the HASC Readiness subcommittee, lamented that while “the Pentagon has skipped a generation of modernization, repeatedly failed to meet its own goals from shipbuilding to bolstering the aircraft carrier fleet, and is currently facing the masthead of a trillion dollars in defense cuts, the Chinese have met the goals of their sustained modernization program and are steadily increasing their own military budget.”
“There is no question that China is rapidly closing the technology gap and striving to challenge the United States’ military prowess–there is a question, though, of whether the United States will simply cede its global and military leadership role to a nation with uncertain intentions, but known disregard for human rights, basic freedoms, and democratic institutions,” Forbes maintained in a statement.
Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, sent letters to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other administration officials earlier this week calling for the release of the China report, which was due to Congress in March.
HASC member Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) argued the China report “signals the danger of additional (U.S.) defense spending cuts.”
“The U.S. military will continue losing ground in the areas of readiness and force projection while China, for all its advancements in recent years, including its economic advantages, will continue acquiring systems and capability that threaten U.S. military resources and global security interests,” Hunter argued in a statement, arguing the United States must “continue making the necessary investments in America’s national defense to meet any emerging threat.”