The American Legion Magazine
August 2007
By Alan W. Dowd

A new study conducted by the RAND Corporation on behalf of the U.S. Air Force raises the frightening possibility that the People’s Republic of China could effectively defeat the United States in a future conflict by employing anti-access strategies—“actions that would impede the deployment of U.S. forces into the combat theater, limit the locations from which those forces could effectively operate, or force them to operate from locations farther from the locus of conflict than they would normally prefer.” 

Among such strategies are:

-pressuring American allies to limit or deny the United States the use of bases;

-striking or jamming information and computer systems to delay the deployment of U.S. military forces;

-disrupting U.S. logistics systems to prevent the timely delivery of supplies and/or delay the arrival of reinforcements;

-attacking air bases and ports to prevent or disrupt the deployment of forces and supplies; and/or

-attacking aircraft carriers to limit America’s reach.  

“The net result of these strategies is that China could actually defeat the United States in a conflict—not in the traditional sense of destroying the U.S. military, but in the sense of China accomplishing its military and political objectives while preventing America from achieving some or all of its objectives,” according to Roger Cliff, lead author of the study. Cliff and other authors conclude that “the potential Chinese threat to U.S. facilities in the Western Pacific is real and growing.”

None of this should come as a surprise to Americans. The Pentagon was raising similar warnings as far back as 2000, when it argued that the PRC was developing assets and positioning them near Taiwan in such a way as “to achieve a military solution before outside powers [can] intervene militarily.”

All hope is not lost, however. The RAND researchers urge Washington to counter the PRC’s asymmetric anti-access strategies by:

-strengthening passive defenses at air bases in the region, including strengthening runways, hardening aircraft hangars and switching to underground fuel tanks;

-deploying air and missile defense systems near critical facilities;

-enhancing coordination between U.S. forces and local security forces, who would serve as a first line of defense against Chinese covert operations;

-diversifying basing options for U.S. warplanes;

-permanently deploying a second carrier in the region;

-reducing the vulnerability of naval forces to attack while in port;

-reducing the vulnerability of command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems;

-taking steps both to deter and to mitigate the potential effects of high-altitude nuclear detonations; and

-bolstering the capabilities of allied nations.