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  • Author: Robert O. Work, Greg Grant
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: During the Cold War, the U.S. military relied on technological superiority to “offset” the Soviet Union’s advantages in time, space, and force size. Our military-technical edge allowed the U.S. Joint Force to adopt force postures and operational concepts that largely compensated for the Soviet military’s numerical conventional advantage without needing to match it man-for-man or tank-for-tank. After the Cold War ended, this same military-technical advantage provided the U.S. military a decisive conventional overmatch against regional adversaries for over two decades. Now, however, the “rogue” regional powers that have preoccupied U.S. attention for so long have been replaced by two great powers with substantially greater capabilities. A resurgent and revanchist Russia and a rising, increasingly more powerful China are taking aggressive actions that threaten regional security and stability and challenge the existing international order. Without question, of these two great-power competitors, China poses the greater challenge over the long term. Since about 1885, the United States never has faced a competitor or even group of competitors with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) larger than its own. China surpassed the United States in purchasing power parity in 2014 and is on track to have the world’s largest GDP in absolute terms by 2030. In comparison, our Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, was hobbled by unsustainable economic contradictions that ultimately crumbled under pressure. At the height of its power, its GDP was roughly 40 percent the size of the United States’. If that is not concerning enough for U.S. strategic planners, Chinese technological capabilities are growing as rapidly as its economic power. The Soviets were never able to match, much less overcome, America’s technological superiority. The same may not be true for China—certainly not for lack of trying. Indeed, China is keenly focused on blunting the U.S. military’s technological superiority, even as it strives to achieve technological parity, and eventually technological dominance. Chinese strategists do not explicitly describe their aims in this manner. Nevertheless, after considering what the Chinese military has accomplished technologically in little more than two decades and what they plan to do in the decades to come, any objective assessment must at least consider the possibility that the U.S. Joint Force is close to becoming the victim of a deliberate, patient, and robustly resourced military-technical offset strategy. The purpose of this paper is to describe this strategy and outline its key lines of effort.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Cold War, National Security, Military Affairs, Soviet Union
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Asia, North America, United States of America