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14 March, 2009

Does high sea drama portend economic doom for the US?

This is the 500th post of this blog

New America Media

The U.S. and Chinese military appear to be engaged in another round of brinksmanship. Eight years ago, it was over a collision of planes over Hainan Island. This time, it is the near collision of ships on the high seas near Hainan.

In both cases, the American side was engaged in “routine” surveillance while the Chinese side strenuously objected to being spied on. In the latest case involving the USNS Impeccable, the Pentagon admitted that the ship was trolling for data on the new nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The Pentagon said that the crew was made of civilians, as if that would render the mission benign—no doubt on the same logic as hiring mercenaries in Iraq to lessen the appearance of American involvement.

The question is why would the Pentagon provoke an incident at a sensitive time when the Obama Administration is cultivating closer cooperation with Beijing for a host of reasons from international stability to economic recovery?
In late 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced amidst of a flotilla surrounding the aircraft carrier, Kitty Hawk, to the surprise and embarrassment of the U.S. Navy. Perhaps the Pentagon wished to have no more such surprises by having close surveillance of China. Or another reason may be to reinforce the justification needed for the amount Obama has set aside for defense, which at $663.7 billion is nearly half of the total national budget. Take away $130 billion for the two-front wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget still leaves over $530 billion for “advanced weapon systems development.”

The only other budgeted spending that seems remotely comparable to defense is the $633.8 billion Obama has set aside for national health care—but to be spent over 10 years, not one.

As we face a mounting deficit, how can we justify spending such vast sums of money for weapon development, especially now that the former evil empire, USSR, has imploded? Perhaps the Pentagon sees a pumped up China as a potential threat that will convince Congress to continue on military spending.

China in its own ways has been trying to tell the Pentagon that it is not a participant in an arms race, but is merely satisfied to maintain and display a credible second-strike capability to deter any other powers from entertaining funny ideas. Surprising the Kitty Hawk flotilla was one way to tell the U.S. that China has silent running subs. Shooting down one of their old satellites was another way to provide benchmark for the Pentagon.

In the mid 1990’s, Chinese nuclear scientists were delighted to discover Danny Stillman of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He was in charge of gathering intelligence on China’s nuclear weapon development. They invited Stillman to make numerous visits to China’s nuclear test and development centers so that he can accurately report on China’s nuclear capability —a sort of reverse espionage to make sure the other party gets it right.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon failed or did not want to comprehend China’s message. Instead it chooses to consider each of China’s military developments as justification to work on even more deadly offensive weapons—as if Pentagon needs to absolutely overwhelm China’s capability. However, it seems intuitive that the expenditure required to develop a second strike capability is far less expensive than it is to develop the offensive capability necessary to snuff out second strikes.

President Ronald Reagan has been largely credited with introducing the star wars strategy and convincing the USSR that they need to keep up with their American spending for arms until it went bankrupt.

Now there is no one around to drive the Americans to bankruptcy. But we seemed nevertheless determined to spend into bankruptcy. Perhaps the Pentagon believes that they can borrow from the Chinese to cover the over-the-top defense budget?

Dr. George Koo is a retired business consultant and a board member of the New America Media.

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