After years of Joe Biden and others on the left claiming that climate change is the most serious threat faced by the U.S. and the world, it may come as a surprise – though a welcome one, to some – that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin considers China “the nation’s number one pacing challenge.” Does this mean the president and his administration have changed their minds? Not quite.
As reported in the Pentagon’s DoD News Service, Secretary Austin signed an internal memorandum directing the Department of Defense to “laser-focus” its activities and put China at the top of its “to do” list. He wrote:
“The efforts I am directing today will improve the department’s ability to revitalize our network of allies and partners, bolster deterrence, and accelerate the development of new operational concepts, emerging capabilities, future force posture, and a modernized civilian and military workforce.”
Referring to a department senior official’s comments, reporter Jim Garamone explained:
“The initiatives call on the department to invest in America’s unparalleled network of allies and partners. They also chart the need to bolster deterrence across all domains of warfare and look to accelerate the development of new operational concepts.”
The senior official was most likely one of the members of the Defense Department China Task Force Austin formed shortly after taking his position.
But wait – almost exactly as Austin announced and signed his directive, President Biden himself doubled down on his insistence that climate change is, in fact, the most pressing threat to the nation. According to Fox News, “President Biden warned military servicemembers Wednesday that top Pentagon officials consider climate change to be the ‘greatest threat’ to America’s national security in the coming years.” And what is the president’s evidence for this statement?
“When I went over to the tank in the Pentagon when I was first elected vice president with President Obama, the military sat us down and let us know what the greatest threats facing America were the greatest physical threats,” Fox News quoted Biden as saying. “This not a joke. You know what the Joint Chief told us the greatest threat facing America was? Global warming.”
That was roughly thirteen years ago when China was just a large country of interest, not today’s existential military competitor.
Who do you believe? The smart money is on Secretary Austin: Climate change is not the greatest threat to national security – China is. With that in mind, the value of the Pentagon directive is to get the efforts of the whole-of-the-defense-establishment moving in the same direction to confront and confound China’s geopolitical mischief and threatening expansion of the Communist Chinese Party’s (CCP) military capability. One could argue this directive is a Cold War-like declaration to mobilize the U.S. military capability to defeat the Soviet Union.
The directive, if implemented enthusiastically, is an opportunity for the military services, the joint chiefs of staff, and the defense agencies to speak with one voice regarding the strategic imperative – defeating the CCP’s global dominance objectives. Most important, the directive gives the institutional backing and strength of the Defense establishment.
This directive puts teeth in the rationale for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. It will allow much more credible advocacy for funding to “maintain a conventional military advantage necessary to deter aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.” The Air Force and Navy will have much better cases to make for their budgets since the unified focus of the department is on China.
The president’s budget request established that the “Defense Department emphasized the Navy and Air Force capability in the Indo-Pacific to counter China.”
Still, to the relief of many, Secretary Austin’s directive shows that at least someone in the administration recognizes China as the real threat to the nation. The question now is: Will Biden listen to his secretary of defense?
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.