Threats to the security of our interests, and to those of our friends, come in many forms. While many see non-state terrorist organizations as the most likely dangers, others cite near-peer states (namely Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea) as far more threatening. Of the four states mentioned, China is, in my opinion, the one we should watch closely if for no other reason than their propensity to keep their expansionist efforts “under the radar”. Chinese actions in the South China Sea seem to be the most alarming but even here, they push the envelope but don’t overtly break any rules, at least not enough to cause anyone to shoot. But it is in other areas – Chinese business ventures throughout Africa, a base in Djibouti, the One Belt-One Road initiative - where they make expansionist moves that go almost unnoticed.
With this in mind, it was interesting to read a recent article about the Chinese military. The article implies that China’s lack of combat experience is a factor in its lack of credibility as a fighting force (hence its focus on increasing arms sales to gain influence). But, given China’s intention to become more globally engaged (re. Africa, One Belt, aircraft carriers), coupled with their goal of reducing its active army to under one million men (according to the linked article), is it possible that China will attempt to make up for its lack of combat experience through the use of private contractors hired from among the vast numbers about to be downsized out of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)? Will they be sent to the various regions where Chinese business ventures are taking hold (a Chinese version of Russia’s “little green men”)? Will these contractors be used in a similar fashion to Chinese “fishing boats” who float around the South China Sea as an extension of the Chinese Navy? After gaining experience in these far-flung regions, will these contractors return to train or augment the PLA?
The U.S. military has gotten a boost from the current administration but still lacks a clear threat-focus (what do we want to be prepared for). Russia, Iran, North Korea, ISIS, AQ, etc, etc…are real, but transitory concerns that must dealt with. The long-term focus should be on China. Russia, North Korea, and terrorists are like the hare…in front of the pack making noise. China is the tortoise….in the back, quietly moving forward. Meeting Chinese expansionist efforts requires robust conventional forces serving as effective deterrents coupled with special operation forces that are actively engaged wherever Chinese energies are focused, perhaps through the use of our own version of “little green men” setting conditions for success.