After the end of the Cold War, "the Pacific Ocean became, in effect, an American lake," says Princeton international affairs professor Aaron L. Friedberg in The New York Times. But over the last decade, as America's attention was consumed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and now moves on to proposed fiscal austerity measures — the nation's capacity to police those waters with impunity has fallen prey to "China’s relentless military buildup." China has, for instance, developed "relatively inexpensive but highly accurate non-nuclear ballistic missles" that "could destroy or disable" America's key ports and airfields in the Western Pacific. And unless the U.S. and its Asian allies invest in their own military capabilities and coordinate with one another, China's dangerous game could end very badly. Here, an excerpt:
Although a direct confrontation seems unlikely, China appears to seek the option of dealing a knockout blow to America's forward forces, leaving Washington with difficult choices about how to respond.
Those preparations do not mean that China wants war with the United States. To the contrary, they seem intended mostly to overawe its neighbors while dissuading Washington from coming to their aid if there is ever a clash. Uncertain of whether they can rely on American support, and unable to match China's power on their own, other countries may decide they must accommodate China's wishes.
In the words of the ancient military theorist Sun Tzu, China is acquiring the means to "win without fighting" — to establish itself as Asia's dominant power by eroding the credibility of America's security guarantees, hollowing out its alliances and eventually easing it out of the region.