NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Chinese Military is No Threat to United States

March 12, 2003

The ongoing modernization of the Chinese military poses less of a threat to the United States than recent studies by the Pentagon and a congressionally mandated commission have posited, according to a Cato Institute analyst. Ivan Eland says both studies exaggerated China's military strength by focusing on the modest improvements of specific sectors rather than the overall still-antiquated state of Chinese forces.

China's military and its modernization must also be put in the context of U.S. interests in East Asia and compared with the U.S. military and other militaries in East Asia, especially the Taiwanese military. Viewed in that context, China's military modernization does not look especially threatening.

  • The United States still spends about 10 times what China does on national defense -- $400 billion versus roughly $40 billion per year -- and is modernizing its forces much faster.
  • In addition, much of the increase in China's official defense spending is soaked up by expenses unrelated to acquiring new weapons.
  • Thus, China's spending on new armaments is equivalent to that of a nation that spends only $10 billion to $20 billion per year on defense.
  • In contrast, the United States spends well over $100 billion per year to acquire new weapons.

Even without U.S. assistance, says Eland. Taiwan's modern military could probably dissuade China from attacking. Taiwan does not have to be able to win a conflict; it need only make the costs of any attack unacceptable to China. Thus, he concludes, the informal U.S. security guarantee is unneeded.

Source: Ivan Eland, "Is Chinese Military Modernization a Threat to the United States?" Policy Analysis No. 465, January 2003, Cato Institute.

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