Marc Rockwell-Pate/US Navy
This is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22.
While the United States has more or less effectively taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by China’s rise (namely, by expanding the countries’ economic relationship), its record on addressing the challenges posed by that rise is shakier. These challenges, of course, are great and threaten to directly impinge on U.S. national security interests. Here are, perhaps, the top four national security challenges that China poses:
- China’s military modernization is enabling it to challenge the American military’s unimpeded access to Asia’s maritime and air commons and to directly threaten U.S. territory in the Pacific. It is similarly threatening access to the cyber and space commons.
- The People’s Liberation Army likewise poses growing coercive threats to U.S. allies and partners, such as Japan and Taiwan, and other friendly countries in the region. It is intentionally stirring up trouble in the South China Sea in hopes of eventually settling territorial disputes on its own terms. China, in short, increasingly threatens the long peace that has held in Asia for the past three decades.
- Beijing is growing and modernizing its strategic weapons arsenal and developing its nuclear doctrine, both in an opaque manner. The transparency necessary for assuring stable mutual deterrence is disturbingly lacking.
- China is making the world safe for autocracies, like North Korea and Iran, by maintaining or deepening economic ties with those states amid their international isolation (thus, in a way, subsidizing their nuclear weapons programs) and by exercising its veto threat on the United Nations Security Council to water down potentially effective resolutions. Beijing similarly makes efforts to stifle freedom in countries that are already democratic. In so doing, the People’s Republic is impeding the spread of liberal democracy, the proliferation of which is a key U.S. interest.
The challenges that the United States faces in dealing with China—whether of direct concern to U.S. national security or not—are of course much more numerous and include gross human rights violations, unfair trading practices, serious and widespread environmental degradation, active and harmful espionage, arms proliferation, and energetic efforts to alter long-standing international norms. It is the president’s charge to address all of these challenges while at the same time nourishing the dynamic economic ties that benefit both countries.
Yet disturbingly, with continued economic troubles both at home and abroad, the ongoing and perhaps more pressing threats of terrorism and failing states, and a smaller defense budget (and thus a smaller military), the next U.S. presidential administration may well find this task—one at which the United States cannot afford to fail—more difficult than ever.
Michael Mazza is a senior research associate at AEI