The Marine Corps’ Radical Shift Toward China (excerpt)
(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies; issued March 25, 2020)
(This commentary has been updated to incorporate material from the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 report.)


Last July, General Berger electrified the national security community with planning guidance that proposed to align the Marine Corps with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) by making major changes to forces, equipment, and training. Though dramatic in concept, the guidance lacked specifics.

General Berger has now provided those specifics, and they are as radical as the concepts. Gone are tanks and capabilities for sustained ground combat and counterinsurgency. Instead, the corps focuses on long-range and precision strike for a maritime campaign in the Western Pacific against China. But this new Marine Corps faces major risks if the future is different from that envisioned or if the new concepts for operations in a hostile environment prove more difficult to implement than the Marine Corps’ war games indicate.

Background

For many years, strategists have yearned to refocus the military services on the Pacific and China. China, with its growing economy, modernizing military, and evident desire to reassert regional hegemony, has loomed as the primary long-term challenge to the United States. The Obama administration talked about a “rebalance” to the Pacific but was unable to put many specifics against the concept before it was dragged back to Europe and the Middle East in 2014 with the Russian occupation of Crimea and ISIS’s campaign in Syria and Iraq.

The Trump administration’s NDS focused on great power competition with China or Russia, —but China seemed to have priority. In 2019, acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan stated that DOD’s focus was “China, China, China.” To meet this new challenge, the NDS called for changes in military forces: “We cannot expect success fighting tomorrow’s conflicts with yesterday’s weapons or equipment.” The NDS also signaled that modernization was more important than the size of the force, implying a willingness to get smaller in order to build the capabilities needed for great power conflict.

However, the NDS was vague on specifics about what changes were required, and many observers criticized the administration for not making sufficient changes in subsequent budgets. (end of excerpt)


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