ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently published his trip report from site visits to several major Chinese installations in the New York Times. One line especially jumped out:
We still don’t fully understand China’s justification for the rapid growth in its defense spending or its long-term military modernization goals.
The statement is calculated to be naïve – failing to acknowledge Chinese naval ambition in the Western Pacific is a way of delegitimizing the claims while leaving the door open for negotiation. But it’s close to hypocritical to question China’s defense growth without expecting China to reciprocate.
This [Pentagon] budget has basically doubled in the last decade. And my own experience here is in that doubling, we've lost our ability to prioritize, to make hard decisions, to do tough analysis, to make trades.
This glass house is going to need some reinforcing. GEN Dempsey, ADM Mullen’s successor, will have to provide a better answer when China poses the question. In the meantime, we’d all do well to consider whether PLA spending might also suffer from the same sort of political, parochial, symbolic, and bureaucratic spending indiscipline that’s weighted the Pentagon down over the past decade.