The United States Studies Centre (USSC), a research center based at the University of Sydney in Australia, released a study titled, "Averting Crisis: American Strategy, Military Spending and Collective Defence in the Indo-Pacific." The study makes the argument that the US would not be able to defeat China in a military confrontation in the Indo-Pacific.
The USSC is funded by the Australian government, over the past five years one percent of their budget came from the US government and eight percent came from "US-based foundations, companies or individuals."
The three researchers whose names are on the study are part of the USSC’s Foreign Policy and Defence program. The program lists its partners as the Australian government, The US defense company Northrop Grumman, the French defense company Thales and the US State Department.
The study says the US is disadvantaged in the region because of, "ongoing wars in the Middle East, budget austerity, underinvestment in advanced military capabilities and the scale of America’s liberal order-building agenda."
The researchers often cite the 2018 Department of Defense’s National Defense Strategy (NDS). The NDS share the researcher’s concerns with respect to the Indo-Pacific region and shows a desire to prioritize the threats of China and Russia. The NDS says, "China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage."
The researchers spend a lot of time on the US defense budget. The study says, "Repeated failures by Congress to pass regular and sustained budgets has hindered the Pentagon’s ability to effectively allocate resources and plan over the long term."
Both the House and the Senate just passed a $2.78 trillion two-year spending budget. $1.48 trillion of that is for military spending, which is more than half. The US spends more on military than any other nation, spending more than the next seven countries combined. China comes in second but still spend less than half of what the US does. It is not hard to pass increases in military spending through Congress.
The study blames an outdated "superpower mindset" for the US not prioritizing China as its main threat and continuing costly and wasteful wars in the Middle East. The researchers recognize how the wars in the Middle East have put a strain on the US military. But the idea of building a stronger military presence in the Indo-Pacific region to confront China is also a "superpower mindset." Countries like Australia have relied on the US to protect their interests in that region since World War II.
The ANZUS treaty was signed in 1951 between the US, New Zealand and Australia to ensure collective security between the three nations. The treaty ensures a collective response to an attack on the nations interests in the region. It was signed out of fear for a resurgent imperial Japan. Australia and New Zealand lost faith in protection from the British after they surrendered Singapore to the Japanese during World War II. New Zealand was effectively frozen out of the deal after they banned nuclear-powered and armed ships from entering their waters in the 1980’s.
After explaining the decline in the US military’s technology and defenses in the region, part four of the study says, "The state of the US military and its questionable ability to execute a strategy of conventional deterrence in the Indo-Pacific should be of grave concern to policymakers in Australia and other like-minded countries." They argue for a NATO like coalition in the region, "Contributing to a regional balancing coalition designed to prevent this eventuality by deterring conflict in the first place is, for Canberra, the next best strategic policy option in the wake of America’s now defunct uncontested military primacy."
The study says that Australia should also limit their involvement in the Middle East and refocus on the Indo-Pacific. The study reads, "Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to consume a disproportionate share of the Australian Department of Defence’s operating budget." The study also recommends Australia and its allies should, "Establish new, and expand existing, high-end military exercises."
Hypersonic weapons are the new threat the Pentagon has been hyping. "I think it’s clear that in the realm of hypersonics we are playing catch up, especially relative to the Chinese. We need to be able to not only match but to overmatch, especially the Chinese," a Pentagon engineer told CNBC. The USSC study mentions China’s hypersonic capabilities, a weapon their partner Northrop Grumman has announced development of.
When looking at a lengthy study like this one, it is important to keep in mind where it is coming from. The Australian government and the defense companies partnered with the USSC no doubt have interest in increasing and maintaining a large US military presence in the Indo-Pacific.
The Washington Times reported on the study, without mentioning the USSC’s affiliation with the Australian government and Northrop Grumman. The Times article hyped up the Chinese threat. The opening paragraph reads, "The US no longer enjoys military supremacy in the Pacific, a shocking new report claims, and China is now fully capable of launching a surprise attack that would easily overwhelm American forces."
This study raises the question, why does the US have such a strong military presence in the region? China has no presence around the US mainland and only has one official foreign military base in Djibouti. Although the US is in the midst of a trade war with China, they are still each other’s top trading partners.
The US just made a deal with Taiwan to sell them 66 fighter jets. China’s foreign ministry spokesman said the arms sale "constitute severe interference in China’s internal affairs." Beijing still considers Taiwan to be a part of China, the US being the only thing standing in the way of reunification (or annexation depending on your view). In July, the US sailed a warship through the Taiwan strait, increasing tensions with China.
Recent protests in Hong Kong have the US government’s fingerprints all over them. China accused the US of being involved, although officials in Washington deny it and President Trump tweeted that he "can’t imagine why" the US would be blamed. The tax payer funded nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has had a strong presence in Hong Kong. The NED has long been an instrument for US regime change operations.
In 2018 the NED ran programs in Hong Kong titled, "Expanding Worker Rights and Democracy," "Promoting Engagement of Fundamental Rights," and "Strengthening Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Protection."
The US aggression towards China has not provoked a response from them, demonstrating they might not be the big threat the USSC study makes them out to be. The "superpower mindset" that plagues the foreign policy establishment in Washington needs to be dismantled. US military hegemony in the Indo-Pacific only benefits the defense contractors and foreign governments who sponsored this study.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.