Despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and recent nuclear saber-rattling, the Biden administration views China as the top threat facing America — and will focus the military on addressing the danger posed by Beijing.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described China as “the pacing challenge” for the Pentagon in the 80-page unclassified version of this year’s National Defense Strategy, released Thursday.
“As the president’s national security strategy notes, [China] is the only competitor out there with both the attempt to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the power to do so,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon.
While the document says war with China is “neither inevitable nor desirable,” defense and military experts, including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, have said the Communist country could try to take Taiwan by force anytime between now and 2027 — something Biden has said would trigger a US response.
“The PRC’s increasingly provocative rhetoric and coercive activity towards Taiwan are destabilizing, risk miscalculation, and threaten the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” the document states, using the official acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “This is part of a broader pattern of destabilizing and coercive [Chinese] behavior that stretches across the East China Sea, the South China Sea and along the Line of Actual Control [between China and India].”
Thursday’s strategy calls for the US to prevent China from obtaining “dominance over key regions,” referring to Beijing’s growing pressure campaigns and influence over smaller countries in Southeast Asia, as well as Africa and South America.
The effort is especially important as China’s military undergoes rapid acceleration, developing hypersonic missiles before the US, building a larger fleet than the US Navy’s and boosting its nuclear stockpile from the estimated 350 it has now to an expected 1,000 by 2030, the Pentagon has estimated.
“[China] has expanded and modernized nearly every aspect of [its military], with a focus on offsetting US military advantages,” the strategy said.
To combat the threat, the strategy charges the Pentagon with doubling down on its efforts to develop advanced technologies, investing in cyber capabilities and ensuring all military branches can work seamlessly together, as well as with allies.
“China is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and informational warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare,” the document said. “The [People’s Liberation Army] seeks to target the ability of the Joint Force to project power to defend vital US interests and aid our allies in a crisis or conflict.”
Meanwhile, the document describes Russia an “acute threat” as it continues to kill tens of thousands in Ukraine and threaten NATO members. It also notes Moscow’s “serious, continuing risks in key areas” such as global nuclear threats, cyber attacks, chemical and biological weapons and undersea warfare.
“Contemptuous of its neighbors’ independence, Russia’s government seeks to use force to impose border changes and to reimpose an imperial sphere of influence,” the Pentagon said in its strategy. “Although its leaders’ political and military actions intended to fracture NATO have backfired dramatically, the goal remains.”
Each presidential administration traditionally issues its own version of a national defense strategy, in which they lay out the top priorities and challenges facing the nation. It is first of its kind since the Trump administration’s 2018 strategy, written by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis. That document was the first to focus on China over prioritizing counterterrorism operations in the Middle East.
Originally delivered to Congress in March, the document’s public release comes about two weeks after the White House released its National Security Strategy, which included similar key takeaways.
Just last week, the Heritage Foundation published a scathing report rating the current US military as “weak” for focusing too much on alliances and diplomacy over hard power.
““[T]he current US military force is at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict,” the report said. “The force would probably not be able to do more and is certainly ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous [major conflicts.]”
Still, the Pentagon in its document calls “mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships” the nation’s “greatest global strategic advantage – and they are a center of gravity for this strategy.”