16 December 2013

Deterrence by Denial: How to Prevent China From Using Force

Andrew S. Erickson, “Deterrence by Denial: How to Prevent China From Using Force,” The National Interest, 16 December 2013.

In contrast to ongoing limitations, shared interests, and even opportunities for increasingly-robust cooperation far away, China’s navy and other services are achieving formidable anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities closer to shore. Beijing is prioritizing an “anti-Navy” to deter U.S. intervention in the Western Pacific over a blue-water, power-projection navy. The Chinese have identified, and are exploiting, limitations in U.S. weapons systems that stem from fundamental physical principles. For example, quiet diesel submarines will always be difficult to detect, track and kill. Fixed targets like airbases will always be difficult to defend against ballistic missiles.

Beijing seeks to wield this growing might to pursue outstanding territorial and maritime claims and to carve out in the Yellow, East and South China Seas and airspace above them a “zone of exceptionalism” within which existing global security, legal, and resource management norms are subordinated to its parochial national interests. This can only weaken the global system on which all nations’ security and prosperity depends, and will continue to destabilize a vital but vulnerable region that remains haunted by history. If not addressed properly, China’s rise as a major A2/AD military power could give it unprecedented capacity to deny sanctuary and communications to U.S. forces, and thereby challenge the type of military operations for which the U.S. has equipped and prepared. While the Soviet Union posed significant challenges to the U.S. Army and Air Force based in continental Europe in the Cold War, the precision-weapons revolution and the maritime geography of the Asia-Pacific theater enable Chinese A2/AD to render U.S. forces, largely naval and island-based air forces, far more vulnerable.

This article draws on testimony that Dr. Erickson delivered on 11 December 2013 before the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee hearing “U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to PLA Naval Forces.” Erickson testified as an individual, not as a representative of the U.S. Navy; these are solely his personal views.