Transatlantic Security Initiative Associate Director Robbie Gramer and Brent Scowcroft Center Program Assistant Rachel Rizzo write for War on the Rocks on how China’s nascent military presence in the East China Sea, the Straits of Formosa, and the South China Sea are meant to ensure regional dominance and reduce the US ability to operate in the region:
In the 1930s, wary of a revanchist Germany, France constructed an elaborate fortification system stretching across its eastern border. This state-of-the-art defensive network, the Maginot Line, ultimately did little to protect France. Its effect was entirely negated by Nazi Germany’s innovative blitzkrieg strategy that wholly bypassed French defenses, unexpectedly striking through the Ardennes forest and neutral Belgium. The Maginot Line became a ubiquitous symbol of failure in defense planning; an adversary that adapted its offensive strategy to bypass the line quickly rendered one of the strongest and most elaborate defense networks the world had yet seen irrelevant. The lessons of the Maginot Line extend well into the 21st century, as China constructs a coastal and offshore defensive belt to defend both its maritime and territorial claims with high-tech and static capabilities.
With its Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, China aims to force the U.S. military to operate at a much greater distance from the Chinese mainland. Its coastal missile defense installations are a key component of its overall A2/AD strategy, supporting the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s broader campaigns of air defense, counter-landing, and naval base defense. It further bolsters this strategy through an elaborate system of coastal land-based missiles and aircraft, radars, and the PLAN’s highly trained Coastal Defense Force. Furthermore, the new islands Beijing is building in the South China Sea add to the worries of U.S. defense planners observing China’s expanding A2/AD capabilities. But the islands also force China to consolidate its forces and rely heavily on these small islands in the same way France concentrated its best forces around its advanced and immobile defensive system in the 1930’s.