The PRC is well on the way to developing its armed forces into a technologically advanced force capable of defending the vital interests of the CCP and the PRC at home and abroad. It has recognised that to deal with the potential security challenges it faces, the PRC requires a wide range of flexible and advanced military capabilities. Unlike democratic states, the PRC needs to ensure that its military capabilities are flexible enough to deal with internal threats posed by its own population. The 21st century is filled with uncertainty and the potential for conflict between nation-states, particularly as developing powers emerge such as India and China, is still there. The expanding economies of these developing nations with a big reliance on exports demands that access routes to foreign markets remain secure and that new sources of diminishing natural resources are exploited and controlled. The PRC has realised that its security interests are wide ranging and are no longer limited to continental affairs and thus needs the capability to deal with these accordingly. The post Cold War security situation on the world stage is massively complex with many inter-locking facets. It is arguably much more dangerous than during the Cold War purely because of the instability brought about by the myriad of threats that nations now face.
The 1991 Persian Gulf War showcased to the world the advances in military technology that had been made in the last few years of the Cold War. Although many analysts had already begun talking about these advances as an RMA, it was Operation Desert Storm that brought it to the forefront of discussions in this field. It has been argued that these advances were just the start of the process and that a true RMA would see warfare radically change so that only the most advanced militaries would be capable of carrying it out. However the current RMA does not give military planners a one stop solution to military conflicts. A nation that develops its military capabilities along a single focused path risks being unable to respond to all potential challenges.
Many of the capabilities that are put forward as the potential end goal of this RMA, such as cyber or information warfare, are only useable against an opponent who has a relatively high technology infrastructure. The conflicts that have taken place since Operation Desert Storm have often been against opponents with massively inferior capabilities. However this has not stopped those low technology opponents from causing problems and has demonstrated that no matter how advanced a force is, it will still have weaknesses that can be exploited. History has shown that whenever a military advance is made a counter to that advance will always be developed. In today’s conflicts asymmetric or COIN warfare has been developed by those who could not fight a stronger foe on conventional terms. This is not to say that advanced technologies should not continue to be developed. A nation would do well to develop those technologies in tandem with a force structure able to combat a wide range of potential threats. No one was able to predict the global security situation that developed following the end of the Cold War and no one can predict with much certainty what the next 25 – 50 years holds.
After being initially taken by surprise after Operation Desert Storm and subsequent operations during the last decade of the 20th century, the PLA has begun the processes needed to drag its capabilities into the 21st century. It is now in the position where it has the potential to be able to challenge other advanced militaries that may threaten the PRC’s security objectives. However it is very clear that there is a huge amount of work still to do. Many capabilities that are required by the PRC to fulfil the security objectives it has set for itself are still very much in the developmental stage and as such run the potential risk of never being fully realised. As with any technology, these RMA style advances are undergoing constant development. It is likely therefore, that any gap that currently exists between the level the PRC has reached and advanced nations such as the US will remain unless extra resources are devoted to the effort. Whatever the results the PRC has made clear its intent to become, in the short to medium term the leading regional power and in the long term to possess the ability to project its power globally.
The final chapter demonstrated what the PRC could achieve given its current level of military capability. It is clear from the studies, especially the Taiwan scenario that the PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional, or non-nuclear, conflict with the US. Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US. This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR and power projection capabilities. The PLAN is still lacking in amphibious assault ships and transport aircraft which are essential if the PRC is to try an invasion of Taiwan. The improvements that the PRC has made however, give it the ability to try a range of military options when trying to resolve the Taiwan situation. Two decades ago the PLAN was barely sufficient to guard the PRC’s coastline whereas now it is capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions including a blockade of Taiwan. The capabilities of other branches of the PLA give the PRC further options to deal with Taiwan before resorting to an invasion. How the PRC would deal with a conflict in the SCS illustrates that against many of its potential opponents the PRC is already superior. The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US or other nations that have developed their capabilities along the lines of the current RMA clearly does not matter in every security challenge. The PRC’s continued development of a full spectrum of capabilities will put it in good stead to be able to deal with all the security challenges it currently faces plus any new ones that appear in the next 25 – 50 years.
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