October 7, 2009 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
Replete with Olympian fanfare, China just a few days ago "celebrated" the 60th anniversary of the founding and achievements of the People's Republic.
Unfortunately, not everyone is celebrating -- especially not military analysts.
They're not alone: China has big human-rights problems, especially as regards restive minorities such as the Tibetans and Uighurs (Chinese Muslims). And Beijing has limited entry by foreign companies into China's booming market of 1.3 billion people. Plus the Greens are unhappy with the "Middle Kingdom's" belching smokestacks, which make it the world's largest greenhouse-gas producer.
But it's China's military, which was proudly paraded through Tiananmen Square on National Day, that produces the biggest worries.
In a style reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, Beijing trotted out no less than 50 all-Chinese-made military systems during the spectacle. Many of the weapons weren't brand-new -- but naval attaches probably strained their necks to see at least one system: the land-based DF-21 ballistic missile.
This system -- the world's first ballistic missile capable of hitting a moving target at sea -- could be used to take out US aircraft carriers in a Sino-American dust-up. The conventionally armed missile has maneuverable warheads and a range in excess of 1,000 miles.
The Pentagon brass are worried. Other than hammering the DF-21 before it launches, the Navy has no high-confidence defense against the new Chinese missile.
Also on the naval front, China is putting a lot of effort into power projection -- that is, into being able to deploy its maritime might far beyond its coastal waters.
For decades, Beijing ignored its navy in favor of the army. But today the Chinese navy is going to sea like never before, including at least one world cruise. It has one of the world's most robust shipbuilding programs, introducing more than 10 new ship and submarine classes since the early 1990s --giving Beijing the Pacific's second-largest navy.
And Chinese aircraft carriers are in our future.
Beijing is also going gangbusters on subs. The new Jin-class ballistic-missile submarines will carry the JL-2 ICBM>, enhancing the survivability and deterrence of China's nuclear forces. Beijing's air force has a complement of new, home-built fighters.
And the army is being downsized -- but only while it's being modernized and professionalized for high-tech warfare.
Then there's the stuff you can't see at parades -- like China's hyperactive cyber- and counter-space warfare operations and capabilities, which focus on our slavish dependence on information technology and satellites.
Beijing says its military buildup is no threat to regional peace and stability. Of course, its neighbors aren't convinced.
As Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair noted earlier this year, Beijing's international behavior is driven by, among other things, a "longstanding ambition to see China play a role of a great power in East Asia and globally."
Security analysts typically calculate a threat by looking at military capabilities plus political intent. And we can clearly see China's military might growing. A defense buildup doesn't preordain conflict -- but history suggests that it's a common outcome. Considering China's grand ambitions, what is Beijing's intent with its armed forces?
Unfortunately, it's an answer we just can't get from a parade.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the New York Post