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What Does The USA Mean By “Peace Through Strength”?

May 29, 2020

USS Theodore Roosevelt. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In a scathing document released a week ago the Trump administration laid down its new rules for dealing with China. Titled United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China and 16 pages long, the People’s Republic is singled out as an economic competitor; a military rival; and an authoritarian state bent on subverting liberal democracy. Each of these challenges are detailed along with four strategies the US government at large will pursue to deter its main geopolitical adversary in the long run. While the four strategies elaborated by Washington, DC, are crafted like slogans, e.g. “Promote American Prosperity,” only one of them should give Beijing pause.

The unnamed authors behind United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China make it clear the struggle against the Communist state will take a while. Of the four strategies (found on pp. 9-15), it’s third that has an overt military aspect: Preserve Peace through Strength. The phrase may sound jingoistic but the underlying details are far from controversial. For some years now the US military has been pursuing a multi-faceted approach to discourage China’s from using its own military abroad. There are six aspects to this and each of them serve the same goal.

The first order of business for peace through strength is adding China to a three-way nuclear weapons treaty. It’s no secret the US wants to dismantle its existing strategic arms agreements with Russia but for China to become part of another agreement seems far-fetched, although the US does have a justifiable reason for doing so with Chinese missiles becoming so dangerous. The report makes this explicit, “the US continues to urge China’s leaders to come to the table and begin arms control and strategic risk reduction discussions as a nuclear power with…the world’s largest collection of intermediate range missile systems.”

The second aspect of peace through strength is old-fashioned arms racing. The report states, “the DOD is moving quickly to deploy hypersonic platforms, increasing investments in cyber and space capabilities, and developing more lethal fires based on resilient, adaptive, and cost-effective platforms.” By acquiring all these new weapon systems the desired outcome is, “to deter and counter Beijing’s growing ambitions and the PLA’s drive toward technological parity and superiority.”

The third aspect isn’t as bold as its predecessors. It simply emphasizes how “the US military will continue to exercise the right to navigate and operate wherever international law allows, including the South China Sea.” But there’s more to it. “We are speaking up for regional allies and partners…to help them build capacity to withstand Beijing’s attempts to use its military, paramilitary, and law enforcement forces to coerce and prevail in disputes.” This ties in with the fourth aspect, which is very familiar and should pique several Indo-Pacific countries. The authors mention a “Conventional Arms Transfer policy” that aims to strengthen regional allies with deliveries and sales of US-made equipment.

The fifth aspect is sure to rile China and its choice of plain language is even more jarring. It’s made clear the US isn’t abandoning Taiwan and “Beijing’s failure to honor its commitments under the [US-PRC] communiques, as demonstrated by its massive military buildup, compels the US to continue to assist the Taiwan military in maintaining a credible self-defense.” The $10 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan in 2019 is mentioned for added effect. The sixth and last aspect is the tamest and serves as a commitment to maintain cordial visits and exchanges between the US military and the PLA.

To summarize, the US military is now preparing for a possible conflict with China. While deterrence matters the participation of various allies are needed for a successful strategy. So contrary to proclamations of “America First” the US isn’t taking on China all by itself. The entirety of United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China is available for download here.

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