The Pentagon’s top strategist believes communist China poses an existential threat to the U.S. after abandoning its old strategic policy of “hide and bide” — that is, to mask a burgeoning national military while waiting for the right time to unleash an aggressive foreign policy.
James H. Baker, who directs the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA), sounded the alarm during a private talk in July 2017 before a Japanese-U.S. audience.
On China, Mr. Baker said “the U.S. is presently not well poised to capitalize on this trend, nor is it clear that U.S. elites across the political spectrum understand the danger that China poses as a competitor.”
“Comparative military advantage remains with the United States (and its allies), but is being systematically undermined by increased Chinese investment, focus, training and basing,” Mr. Baker wrote.
Still, he said, China depends on globalization for prosperity, which “will inhibit more radical tendencies.”
By 2020, the Trump administration had come to view China as America’s chief adversary. Just this month, China launched another broad computer hacking attack, this time against Microsoft mail servers.
The hack was an effort to try to steal personal information and other data from millions of Americans. The FBI estimates that China has stolen private identity data on half the U.S. population.
As chief strategist for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Mr. Baker’s secretive office is presumedly producing options and assessments for the next U.S. moves. The two men worked together 10 years ago, when then-Army Lt. Gen. Austin ran the Joint Staff, which reports to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr. Baker, then an Air Force officer, was JCS strategic adviser.
Obama aides picked Mr. Baker to head the Office of Net Assessment in 2015. His 2017 talk was titled “Rise of Eurasian Revisionist Powers (Iran, Russia, China) and the Implications for the Japan-U.S. Alliance.”
Mr. Baker in his talk delivered his views on “revisionist” states — China, Russia and Iran — so labeled because they want to upend the global status quo.
“Russia and Iran also do not possess the means, and are unlikely to ever possess the means to permanently change the borders of their neighbors, or to dominate them economically.” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to change one border with his invasion and seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Iran respects little of its border with Iraq, moving units and equipment through the country to aid militias there and in Syria.
Mr. Baker’s talk also argued that China, Russia and Iran “lack the ability to substantially revise the present international order through violent or coercive means.”