Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does High Seas Drama Spell America's Economic Doom?

The U.S. and Chinese military appeared to be engaged in a new round of brinksmanship. Eight years ago, a collision of planes occurred in the air over Hainan Island--this time, near collision of ships on the high seas near Hainan.

In both cases, the American side was engaged in “routine” surveillance and the Chinese side strenuously objected to being spied on. In the case of USNS Impeccable, Pentagon admitted that the ship was trolling for data on the development of China’s submarine base on the Hainan Island.

Pentagon said that the crew was made of civilians, as if that would render the mission benign—no doubt on same logic as hiring mercenaries in Iraq to lessen the appearance of American involvement.

The question is why would the Pentagon provoke an incident at a sensitive time when the Obama Administration is cultivating closer cooperation with Beijing for a host of reasons from international stability to economic recovery?

In late 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced in midst of a flotilla surrounding the aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk, to the surprise and embarrassment of the U.S. Navy for not even knowing the sub was there. Perhaps the Pentagon wished to have no more such surprises.

Another reason for the Pentagon action is to reinforce the justification needed for the amount Obama has set aside for defense, which at $663.7 billion is nearly half of the total national budget. Take away $130 billion for the two-front wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget still leaves over $530 billion for “advanced weapon systems development.”

The only other budgeted spending that seems remotely comparable to defense is the $633.8 billion Obama has set aside for national health care—but to be spent over 10 years, not one.

As we face mounting deficit, how can we justify spending such vast sum of money for weapon development, especially now that the former evil empire, USSR, has imploded? Perhaps Pentagon feels that a pumped up China as a potential threat will convince Congress that the same state of urgent threat continues.

China in its nuanced way has been trying to tell the Pentagon that China is not a participant in an arms race, but is merely satisfied to maintain a credible second strike capability to deter any other powers from entertaining funny ideas.

Surprising the Kitty Hawk flotilla was one way to tell the U.S. that China has silent running subs. Shooting down one of their old satellites was to provide another benchmark for the Pentagon.

In the mid 1990’s Chinese nuclear scientists were delighted to find Danny Stillman of Los Alamos, who was in charge of gathering intelligence on China’s nuclear weapon development. They invited Stillman to make numerous trips to China to visit their nuclear test and development centers so that he can accurately report on state of China’s nuclear weapons—a sort of reverse espionage to make sure the other party gets it right.

Unfortunately, Pentagon failed or did not want to comprehend China’s message but instead choose to consider each development as justification to work on even more deadly offensive weapons—as if Pentagon needs to absolutely overwhelm China’s capability. However, it seems intuitive that the expenditure required to develop a second strike capability is orders of magnitude less than it is to develop the offensive capability necessary to snuff out second strikes.

President Ronald Reagan has been largely credited with introducing the star wars strategy and convincing the Russians that they need keep up with the American level of spending for arms until suddenly the USSR discovered that they were bankrupted.

Now there is no one around to drive the Americans to bankruptcy but we seemed determined to spend into bankruptcy anyway. Perhaps Pentagon believes that they can borrow from the Chinese to finance the over the top defense budget?

An edited version is in New America Media.

1 comment:

Chong Kok Wai said...

The world has given too much trust to US to be the sole superpower. It is too big a responsibility any president can take in his power. It is important to have another equally powerful forces to neutralise the evil within the POTUS so that he or she will think many times before doing anything insane that will threaten humankind.