The Pentagon Can’t Spend China Into Submission, But Alliances Can Deter It, House Dems Say

The second hearing in as many days for the INDOPACOM commander turns toward alliance-building.

It’s a pipe dream to think the U.S. military will ultimately cow China, but a network of alliances might do the job, Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday.

“The idea that we can build a military large enough and strong enough to dominate China in the modern world is not realistic and is fraught with danger,” said Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “So I hope we can better understand how to make proper investments.” 

Smith spoke during a hearing in which Adm. Philip Davidson, who leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, appeared before Congress for the second time this week to discuss such investments. While Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee featured questions about how and to what degree the U.S. should invest in its nuclear and naval capabilities against China, Wednesday’s hearing before the HASC turned to the question of investing in partnership-building in the region. 

The presence of United States forces in the region was never questioned. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the U.S. must maintain a military presence in the INDOPACOM region. But funding such a presence — installations, equipment, personnel, and joint exercises — is only possible if U.S. allies do the same. 

“The United States simply can't do this alone. And certainly not in isolation,” Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., said at the outset of his questioning. 

This focus on partnerships — rather than place the financial onus on the U.S. to support a strong enough presence in the region — allows each country to rely on the other to invest in interoperable equipment. And, according to U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams, interoperability has been at the “core” of these alliances for decades. 

“They seek U.S. equipment,” Davidson said of allies in the region. “I think it’s incredibly generates compatibility and interoperability.” 

When asked if he believed the U.S. could successfully deter Chinese aggression using investments in partnerships in the region, Abrams said the simple answer is, “yes.”

However, maintaining those alliances will still involve significant financial resources. 

China plans on the U.S. “financially, fiscally, no longer being able to compete — the United States in many ways declining economically to the point where we can’t afford to be a competitor with China,” Rep. Kaiali’i Kehele, D-Hawaii, said. And China is working on convincing U.S. allies of its plans for U.S. financial decline. 

Davidson concurred that one of China’s “talking points” is that the U.S. is “on the decline and they’re on the rise.” How, Kehele asked of Davidson, is the U.S. working to prevent this?

“One of the key advances of the United States over the course of post-World War II history is our ability to lead the world in innovation,” Davidson said. “That’s led not only to prosperity in this nation, but I would say across the globe as well...There’s plenty of opportunities for the United States to continue to lead the globe there.” 

“I’m an optimist about America,” Davidson added. “If we focus on our strengths.”