Monday 23 May 2022 | 23:32 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 May 2022 | 23:32 | SYDNEY

Paul Dibb on China military rise


Sam Roggeveen


10 August 2011 16:57

I'm sympathetic to Paul Dibb's broad point that commentary about China's military build-up is a bit overwrought, though when he closes his recent op-ed by saying that we should not 'frighten ourselves to death by drumming up the next military threat to Australia and basing our defence policy on the likelihood that we are going to be attacked by China', he's probably guilty of constructing a straw man. The debate has not become quite that feverish.

A few specific comments about Dibb's piece:

  1. Why, in making the case for China's military inferiority over the US, does Dibb focus so heavily on nuclear weapons? Would a larger Chinese nuclear arsenal change the overall strategic balance with the US very much? Would it give China a much greater ability to throw its weight around in the region? I tend to think the answer on both counts is 'no', which suggests China's small nuclear arsenal is not a good indicator of its overall strategic weakness.
  2. Dibb's description of Chinese conventional military weaknesses is more telling, but China doesn't have to be America's global equal or even to match the US in the Pacific. To change the regional strategic status quo, all it needs is the ability to challenge US control of the sea, and it is well on the way to doing that.
  3. Dibb dismisses China's nascent anti-ship ballistic missile capability by pointing out that 'the US has the capability, with prompt global conventional strikes, to seriously damage China’s command and control.' This implies US strikes against the Chinese mainland, which has some serious implications for escalation control.
  4. Dibb's reminder about China's 'deep structural problems' and 'profound governance and social deficiencies' is timely, but does he suggest that we should bank on these weaknesses when designing our own strategic plans? Is it wise to assume that China will falter?

Photo by Flickr user Digi_shot.