• Adm. Philip S. Davidson, USN, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warns of Chinese aggression in his Tuesday keynote luncheon address at WEST 2020. Photo by Michael Carpenter
     Adm. Philip S. Davidson, USN, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warns of Chinese aggression in his Tuesday keynote luncheon address at WEST 2020. Photo by Michael Carpenter

Credible Deterrence Needed to Stop China

March 3, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The United States must team with allies to address a wide range of potential scenarios.

A broadly expanded and multifaceted training effort entailing multiple friends and allies will be necessary to forestall Chinese adventurism in the Indo-Pacific region, said the commander of U.S. forces there. Adm. Philip S. Davidson, USN, commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, laid out an extensive description of the threat China poses to the global community on the final day of WEST 2020, the conference and exposition in San Diego March 2-3 co-sponsored by AFCEA International and USNI.

“The Chinese communist party represents the greatest long-term strategic threat in the 21st century,” Adm. Davidson declared. “It wants to supplant the existing rules-based international order.”

He continued that China uses diplomatic and economic threats to bully other states as it employs a whole-of-government approach to garner support and influence. “China wants Chinese international power to be more important than international law,” he warranted.

To avoid going to war, the United States must build a credible deterrent against China’s many types of aggression. “Deterrence is only effective if the adversary believes a [good] combat capability exists,” the admiral pointed out, adding, “Deterrence by punishment alone leaves few options if deterrence fails.

“I’m not saying the U.S. faces a new Cold War,” he continued. “Containment is not part of the strategy. But, like the Cold War, we must deter and be able to fight if deterrence fails. It is not enough to play defense. Deterrence must have a strong offense as well. It must pose multiple dilemmas to the adversary as well.”

To build this deterrence, the United States must “leverage an array of interoperable allies,” Adm. Davidson offered. And that deterrence must continue to underwrite the rules based international order.

The admiral listed several actions the United States should pursue to build this deterrence. Foremost among these is the establishment of a network of joint training ranges throughout the Pacific area. This would entail integrating U.S. ranges in the region with ranges in Japan and Australia, among others. These training ranges would give allied forces the chance to rehearse joint and coalition operations under conditions typical of the region.

The test site on Kwajalein Atoll is uniquely designed to carry out missile testing and space operations, he pointed out. And this is one warfighting discipline where the allies must team to defeat a growing Chinese strength. The admiral said that integrated air and missile defense is vital and must leverage and protect critical allies—and they must invest in it as well.

He noted that carrying out joint training on regional ranges can serve two purposes. One is to reveal capabilities that the allied nations want China to see, which will enhance their deterrent effect. The other purpose is to conceal activities that the allies don’t want China to see.

This complex approach to deterrence depends a great deal on allied participation, he remarked. “Our critical advantage is our network of allies and partners,” Adm. Davidson stated. But that cannot be taken for granted.

“China’s pernicious activities, including corruption, pose the biggest threat to establishing our deterrence with our partners,” he warned. “We have to continue promoting our values regionally.”


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