Daily Dispatches
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert
Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert

Top Navy officer: Don’t antagonize China

Military

The U.S. Navy’s top ranking officer went to the Naval War College last week seeking input and suggestions from faculty and students before signing off on a new maritime strategy document for the United States. What he got was an earful about how best to debate the U.S. strategic response to Chinese military ambitions.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, told the “Current Strategy Forum” the updated maritime strategy will emphasize cyber warfare and issues such as increased ship activity in the Arctic due to climate change. But the Navy Times reports counter-China strategies dominated the discussion, with several speakers suggesting the chief recalibrate his priorities. 

“The rise of China as a challenger is the most significant strategic challenge for the U.S.,” Hal Brands, a historian at Duke University, told the audience at the Newport, R.I., college.

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“The U.S. is not devoting enough resources to addressing China’s rise,” claimed Aaron Friedberg, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University.

But Greenert suggested discussing a counter-China strategy in public might not be the best diplomatic strategy, according to the U.S. Naval Institute.

“If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize,” Greenert said. “You probably have a sense about how much we trade with that country, it’s astounding.”

The leaders of any country, not just China, would be antagonized to hear U.S. military officials say they were planning and preparing for potential conflict with them, Greenert said. 

But that is exactly what military planners in the Pentagon have been doing for decades. Plans have been developed for all kinds of contingencies, including a so-called zombie infestation.

“In a classified nature we look at all of this,” Greenert said. “There are groups up [at the Naval War College] that talk about it all the time.”

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, while the Pentagon seldom singles out China as a potential adversary publicly, the growing capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—especially the PLA Navy (PLAN)—drives larger strategy discussions in the military and in Congress.

Military planners present the problem of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2/AD)—the ability of a force to deny a superior force access to a particular area—without mentioning specific countries or regions.

But Friedberg disputed Greenert’s reticence to discuss the U.S. strategic response to China’s military ambitions.

“I think it’s going to be important for our readers to find ways to talk about China as a military challenge,” Friedberg said. “There should be an ongoing debate to define what China is doing.”

Michael Cochrane
Michael Cochrane

Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.

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