Saturday, September 17, 2005

New Cold War? U.S. adapting to shifts in Pacific

Shifts in Pacific force U.S. to adapt thinking
New plans reflect reaction to China's growing power

By Edward Cody
Updated: 5:31 a.m. ET Sept. 17, 2005
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Adull-gray B-2 bomber sat poised in a typhoon-proof air-conditioned hangar, its bat wings stretching 172 feet across. The bomb bay was fitted for 80 GPS-guided bombs, at 500 pounds each, that could be delivered to any target in Asia within a few hours.

The hulking stealth aircraft is a symbol of new times in the Pacific.

"Having this airplane in theater sends a message to the world," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Bussiere, of St. Johnsbury, Vt., who arrived at Andersen last February with four of the boomerang-shaped strategic warplanes.

The deployment of Bussiere's squadron, replacing a contingent of aging B-52s, marked part of a broad U.S. military realignment in the fast-changing Pacific. The reposturing, scheduled to run over several years, has been designed to strengthen U.S. military forces in Asia and usher them into a new era, reacting primarily to China's expanding diplomatic, economic and military power.

The rise of China as a regional force has shaken assumptions that had governed this vast region since the end of World War II, including that of uncontested U.S. naval and air power from California to the Chinese coast. With those days soon to end, senior officers said, the U.S. military in Asia is retooling to reflect new war-making technology, better prepare for military crises and counter any future threat from the emergent Chinese navy and air force.

Asian Cold War?
Some U.S. specialists have predicted an Asian Cold War or outright conflict as a newly muscular China gets ready to project power beyond its shores. But U.S. military planners in the region have a different interpretation of the Chinese challenge. The goal, they said in interviews, is to maximize U.S. forces here -- as demonstrated by the B-2 deployment. However, the planners also said the United States was seeking to build a network of contacts with the Chinese government and military through which the power overlap could be managed rather than fought over.

"Do we have to have conflict because of the rise of China? I don't believe so," said Adm. William J. Fallon, who heads the Hawaii-based Pacific Command from an office with a sweeping view of Pearl Harbor and the vast ocean beyond.

"As they grow, there's going to be an inevitable push as they take advantage of their economic ability to improve their military capabilities," he said of the Chinese. "We ought to recognize that as a reality. This is not a zero-sum game.

"I do not buy the program," he said, referring to the presumption that conflict cannot be avoided. "I just don't buy it."

Fallon said he had received a clear mandate in this regard from Washington, despite widely noticed remarks in June from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld questioning China's motives in modernizing its military forces. In addition, Fallon said in an interview, this approach means China's cultivation of stronger diplomatic and military ties with other Asian nations does not have to compete with U.S. changes in the Pacific.

"A rising China that is actively engaged in helping the countries of the region maintain security and stability can be a very good thing," he explained.

The admiral, who has led the Pacific Command for six months, got his start building military ties with China during a maiden visit there Sept. 5-9. Although he and his 300,000 troops have responsibility for 43 countries and more than 100 million square miles, Fallon said China's size and growth make it the center of his network-building efforts.

Eventually, he said during a stop in Beijing, he would like military-to-military contacts to grow to the point where he could invite Chinese officers to observe U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But, he acknowledged, there is a long path ahead before that would be possible.

The Taiwan factor
Despite the resolve to get along, the U.S. military in Asia has long faced off with China as part of the struggle over Taiwan. Many of the U.S. moves underway in Asia have been designed to better counter the improving Chinese military in any conflict over Taiwan. Similarly, many of China's weapons acquisitions and other improvements have been made with a view to the possibility of fighting the United States over Taiwan.

This uneasy equation, Fallon said, is "a fact of life."

Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States has pledged to assist Taiwan in its defense. Whether this would mean military intervention in the event of a Chinese attack would be up to the leadership in Washington. But conversations with U.S. military planners in the region made it clear they feel mandated to be ready if it comes to that.

In his confirmation hearing to become Air Force chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley told the Senate Armed Services Committee in June that calculating the right mix of U.S. air power in Asia to defeat China in case of conflict was "at the top of my list." Fallon, in hearings several months earlier, expressed concern that recent Chinese military improvements, particularly in submarines, should not be allowed to alter the balance against Taiwan and, in case of conflict, U.S. forces that could be sent in to help.

The two were referring to the fruits of China's two-decade-old military modernization program. After years as the world's largest military reliant chiefly on masses of soldiers, the Chinese armed forces have sought to leap into the age of electronic warfare. Through acquisitions from Russia and elsewhere, along with developments in their own defense industry, they have laid the groundwork for a newly potent navy and air force, equipped with modern missiles able for the first time to pose a threat to U.S. forces in the region.

The long-standing danger of Taiwan becoming a reason to go to war against China has been part of the broader military realignment, contributing to concern over the extent to which China's rise changes the environment for U.S. military forces.

"China is a huge piece of the puzzle right now, and the military certainly recognizes it," said Col. Michael Boera, who commands the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing at Andersen.

Shifting Japan
Another part of the U.S. military's new environment is a shifting Japan, which has moved away from postwar pacifism and tightened strategic ties with the United States. One clear sign of the evolution was Japan's decision to buy PAC-3 and Aegis anti-missile systems from the United States. The layered defense system, Japanese and U.S. officials noted, was designed to protect Japan -- and U.S. forces based in Japan -- against any threat from Chinese medium-range missiles as well as any North Korean attack.

Some Taiwanese officials have suggested the possibility of an integrated U.S., Japanese and Taiwanese missile defense system based on PAC-3 and Aegis. Fallon noted, however, that Taiwan's defense spending was nowhere near the level needed for that; the Taipei government has still not decided whether to finance purchase of a PAC-3 system on offer from Washington for the last four years.

Nonetheless, Japan and the United States for the first time last February identified stability around Taiwan as a "common strategic objective." Although China complained, Japanese officials called the decision a logical response to China's expanding missile arsenal. Southern Japanese islands, including Okinawa and its many U.S. forces, fall well within Chinese missile range, they noted.

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