Asia-Pacific is ‘most critical region’ for U.S. military, experts say

Asia-Pacific is ‘most critical region’ for U.S. military, experts say

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Russia remains a threat but over the next 15 years, the Asia-Pacific will be the most critical region for the U.S. military, a panel of defense policy experts said at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

“Asia is the most critical region going to 2030 and beyond, and China’s rise cannot be paused,” said Kathleen Hicks, a senior vice president and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S. goals and interests will be “greatly challenged” by China, she said during the panel discussion, titled “Threats in the 2030 Operating Environment.”

Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China demonstrate water rescue skills to members of the U.S. Army Pacific in late November. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Behlin)

Peter Brookes, senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation, agreed. “With the prospects of its comprehensive national power, China will be our biggest strategic challenge in the 21st century,” he said.

He described the country as “a nation of superlatives.” China has the world’s largest population and the second-largest economy, and it consumes more energy than any other country.

Also, Chinese defense spending has grown by 10 percent per year for the last 20 years, Brookes said, making it the second-highest defense budget in the world after the U.S.

Military spending has included building its first indigenous aircraft carrier, and creating the world’s largest ballistic missile force.

China’s goals include returning to a position of strength and respect on the world stage and recovering lost territories, Brookes said. “Taiwan is certainly on the list and now, they’re claiming a million square miles in the South China Sea.”

China is not a future threat; it’s a current threat, Brookes said, adding that in the near future, “A superpower competition in the Pacific is very likely.”

Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School, said Russia may now have the potential for conventional overmatch against the U.S. military.

As American forces have downsized, “They have increased their capability in certain areas, and they have gone after our strengths,” he said.

Jones said Russian investments in integrated air defense, electronic warfare and cyberspace “are cracking our capability to synchronize forces.”

Peter W. Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said because the U.S. cannot count on overmatch in the future, Army investments in new technologies could play a critical role.

He listed five key technology areas: robotics, software, energy weapons, 3-D printing, and human performance modification.