What year is this? Is it 1987 or 2012? For a moment as I read the front page of the Washington Post today I wasn’t sure. According to a feature story by Greg Jaffe, the Pentagon’s plan to neutralize the Chinese military buildup, called AirSea Battle, was upsetting military leaders and defense analysts in both Beijing and Washington. AirSea Battle, more of a framework than a plan, is focused on how the Navy and the Air Force can work together to create technologies, weapons systems and operational concepts able to counter China’s efforts to threaten our military forces, friends and allies in the Western Pacific. China is investing a significant share of its fast-growing defense budget in long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, ground, air and space-based sensors, advanced air defenses and fighter jets and a modern Navy. Much of this investment is designed to deter the U.S. military from even thinking about intervening in a conflict in the region involving China. Without a focused effort to counter the Chinese military buildup, Beijing’s plan just might work.
The Washington Post story went on to mention Mr. Andrew Marshall, the dean of advanced strategic thinking at the Pentagon for more than 35 years. Mr. Marshall and several of his former subordinates are alleged — not incorrectly I might add — to be the masterminds behind AirSea Battle. Apparently, the AirSea Battle concept has caused outrage from Chinese defense officials, condescension and even contempt from some within the defense intellectual community and opposition from the parts of the military that see their future roles and missions diminished if the concept ever becomes policy.
That is when it hit me, that feeling of Déjà Vu. I can remember a number of occasions during the Cold War when Mr. Marshall’s organization, the Office of Net Assessment (NA), provoked exactly the same set of responses from Soviet generals, the State Department and various factions within the military establishment. In the 1980s, NA helped design the Navy’s Maritime Strategy which sought to counter the Soviet Union’s growing naval and power projection threat to Europe and Japan by threatening to send the Navy into Soviet waters in the event of war. Moscow deployed dozens of ships in close to home and spent huge sums of money to defend its oceanic bastions against just the possibility that the Navy might steam in harm’s way.
Then there was something called competitive strategies, an approach to the long-term strategic rivalry between the Soviet Union and the West that emphasized directing Western strengths against areas of Soviet weakness or vulnerability to progressively shape their behavior and weaken their ability to threaten the rest of the world. The competitive strategies model was actually adopted by Secretary Caspar Weinberger as part of his overall defense program. The very idea of a long-term competition between Moscow and Washington made some defense analysts and foreign service officers fume. We weren’t supposed to compete with the Soviet Union; we were supposed to make them our friend. Lots of supposedly smart people thought that competition simply delayed the day when the two political systems would converge.
Some say that Mr. Marshall and NA had a hand in convincing President Reagan to pursue his Star Wars initiative and that the goal was never to create an effective defense against massed ballistic missile strikes on the United States but instead to force the Soviet Union to spend itself into oblivion trying to counter something that would never be built. I don’t know and Mr. Marshall isn’t talking.
So, I had that warm tingle of Déjà Vu reading the story in the Washington Post. Similar people, voicing similarly vapid complaints and criticisms about the very idea that China might pose a military threat to the United States or that the Pentagon should have the temerity to think about countering that threat or that this wasn’t a fully joint effort. Even at 91, Mr. Marshall is still the agent provocateur. The good old days are coming back.
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