It is important to point out that the major theme related to security in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to the US Congress on January 28 evening was military retrenchment.
Highlighting the fact that he had reduced foreign deployment (mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan) from 180,000 when he took office to 60,000 troops today, he emphasized that the main threat was terrorism, not what Senator John McCain earlier in the day in the confirmation hearings for former Senator Max Baucus as Ambassador to Beijing said was “the rising threat from China”. And even as regards terrorists, Obama said “America must move off a permanent war footing” and that he “will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow [Americans] to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.” Included in this reduced effort is imposing “prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.” Rather, the US, he stated, would “aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners” Further, the US president elaborated that “in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.” he attributed the supposed success the America has had in Syria, in moving Israel towards accepting an independent Palestine, and in halting “the progress of Iran’s nuclear program” to “American diplomacy backed by power”.
Mirroring his boss’ views, Sen. Baucus responded to McCain’s threat perception of China as “a rising threat or challenge to peace and security in Asia because of the profound belief in the Chinese leadership that China must, and will, regain the dominant role that they had for a couple of thousand years in Asia” by saying that “The overarching goal here is for us as a country…to engage China with eyes wide open to try to find common ground,” such as through improved military-to-military cooperation in a complicated relationship.
It provides more and growing evidence of a US that’s simply unwilling to risk a fight with China and a Washington bending over backwards to avoid it including, as mentioned in my piece — “America an unreliable partner”, any conflict between China and any Asian strategic partner in which American security interests are not directly engaged. In fact, military-to-military cooperation will only end up benefitting the Chinese military by exposing PLAN to new ways of fusing and using its forces, and new technologies and novel ways of utilizing them, etc.
It compels the governments of India and other countries of Asia on the Chinese periphery and with manifest security problems with China to think of joining in a collective hedging strategy to curtail Chinese ambitions and the use of its military muscle. This the Asian countries won’t be able to do if New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Hanoi and the ASEAN states continue to disregard the imperatives of strategic geography and believe that accommodating China will prevent and preempt conflict with it in the future.