The Evolving Asia-Pacific and America’s Place in it

This blog will be about a lot of things: war, politics, geography, military and civilian leaders, national cultures, global and regional institutions (my love for running might just make the cut some days). But, above all, the focus will be on U.S. strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. As a professional strategic practitioner and one who will soon teach “Military Strategy” academically, my gaze will be towards the Far East.

Additionally, the US PACOM area of responsibility is home to two great shifts. First, the gradual shift of economic power from West to East. Second, the regional shift of (again, economic) power to the People’s Republic of China. Most folks refer to this as the “Rise of China,” a statement that has become so dominant in political science discourse that it might as well have it’s own drinking game. But there is something to the concept, as seen, in the really slick scanned document I’ve provided at the left.
China has overtaken long-stagnant Japan as the world’s second largest economy, behind only the United States. Impressively, China’s economy was one-eighth that of the U.S. in 2001 ~ now the gap is down to less than three to one. This increase represents China’s industrialization; it’s growth to a first world nation. One can, in the chart above, see that at Purchasing Power Parity, China is sitting at roughly $7500 per captia, still a fraction of Japan, the U.S., and most of the fully developed world.

As China’s economy grows, so too does it’s ability to provide for a military to be able to effectively protect those interests. John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism proscribes that a country’s potential power comes from it’s population and it’s wealth. China, famously, has the world’s largest population and a rapidly increasing level of wealth. And, China appears poised to be the world’s largest economy around 2020.

Now, it doesn’t take rocket science to extrapolate from the above curve to see where China’s economy might take it’s military spending…

China 2011 GDP $6T x 2% (Mil Expend.) = $120B
USA 2011 GDP $14T x 4% = $560B (w/out supplementals)

China 2030 GDP $74T x 2% = ~$1.5T
USA 2030 GDP $38T x 4% = ~$1.5T

Military spending crossover point in 2030, using curve above as “baseline,” and assuming relative levels of defense spending stay consistent.

Now, a word on the “baseline” predictions; in short, they’re nearly 100% wrong! However, they do provide a useful method for thinking out to the future. One must approach with caution. But, there is a useful point to be made in this economic analysis, that highlights two essential truths about the challenge that China’s rapid economic growth presents:

The U.S. cannot and will not be able to enjoy primacy in the Asia-Pacific as it has since September 2, 1945. China will be too powerful, either economically or militarily, due to it’s sheer size and the amount it still has to grow.

Conversely, China will not be able to dominate the Asia-Pacific due to the relative combined strengths of it’s strategic competitors in the region. India, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore…all still look to the U.S. for security and look on China with apprehension.

These two statements form the basis for this blog, which I consider to be a personal thought experiment. My goal is to write weekly, hopefully twice per week, reflecting on the major issues in the region. I’m interested to see where it takes me.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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