“Historic New Missions” That Aren’t New and Hardly Historic

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Stop the presses! The Pentagon’s just-issued annual report on China says its military is expanding into “new historic missions” beyond its traditional role of self-defense. The press is already highlighting that alarming phrase.

Some are sure to see these as “new hysteric missions” and contend they require increased U.S. defense spending to blunt their impact.

But…just what are these “new historic missions”? And who decided they’re either new or historic?

It seems they’re eight years old (the Pentagon has a different definition of new than most folks) and the language isn’t the Pentagon’s but China’s, according to the Pentagon report:

The PLA is expanding its participation in military operations other than war, consistent with President and Central Military Commission Chairman Hu Jintao’s Christmas Eve 2004 statement to the armed forces, where he outlined a set of “new historic missions” for the PLA.

Battleland didn’t even know most Chinese celebrated Christmas, never mind issuing military strategic documents timed to the Christian holiday.

And as for those new missions?

This mission statement calls on the PLA to protect China’s expanding national interests and adopt a larger role in promoting international peace and security. The “non-war” operations associated with these missions include counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), UN peacekeeping, sea lanes protection, and securing space-based assets.

The report goes on to point out that the Chinese military’s main activity continues to be readying for war over Taiwan.

This is the latest in a series of congressionally-mandated annual reports on the Chinese military. Yes, China’s military budget has grown every year for more than 20 years, and yes, it is becoming better, bigger and more ambitious. This should not come as a surprise to any rational human, but apparently alarms some on Capitol Hill who have trouble keeping things in perspective.

Thankfully, the Pentagon’s language is calm and measured, even if it does include a nifty map showing how the U.S. is within range of two of Beijing’s long-range missile types (giving missile-defense boosters yet another crowbar for cash). Unlike the blood-red covers of the Reagan-era Pentagon’s Soviet Military Power, this year’s cover of Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2012 — and the artwork inside — is awash in calming hues of pastel yellows and blues. There’s not even a photo of China’s supposed stealth fighter, the J-20. Where is Cap Weinberger when you need him?

Bottom Line #1: there’s nothing of moment in this report.

Bottom Line #2: the Pentagon says it cost $85,000 to produce it “during the 2012 fiscal year.” That interesting caveat makes sense, given that we’ve read most of this stuff before, in prior years’ versions.