Jeffrey LewisPatience is a Virtue

Or, Chillax About the China Military Power Report.

Five Republican Senators — John Cornyn, John McCain, James Risch, Pat Roberts and James Inhofe — have written a letter suggesting that the Department of Defense is deliberately delaying the annual Report on Chinese Military Power.  Wendell Minnick at Defense News and Josh Rogin in The Cable have both reported on the letter, as well as its argument that there is something untoward about its delay.

There are vague hints, in the letter, that Obama appointees may be interfering, to some nefarious end, like some right-wing version of the “Manchurian Candidate.”

So, it is worth asking, is the report actually late?

Strictly speaking, yes.  The report was due March 1.  But since 2002, the Pentagon has never submitted the report before the March 1 deadline.  Congressionally-mandated reports are often, even usually, late.  It’s not like anyone goes to jail for missing a Congressional deadline.  Both the Minnick and Rogin article note that the previous reports have all been late.

The more interesting question is whether this report is, as Josh Rogin asserts, “extremely late.”

I actually went through the archive of press announcements to see if late July was in fact unusual for the release China Military Power Report.  The answer?  It is late, but not unusually so.

Here are the dates of each report since 2000, using the date of the press announcement.  (Congress may have received its copy a day or so earlier.)

June 23, 2000

July 12, 2002

July 30, 2003

May 29, 2004

July 19, 2005

May 23, 2006

May 25, 2007

March 3, 2008

March 25, 2009

As you can see, this report is now the second latest report.  (DOD completely failed to issue a report in 2001.)

But three other reports were issued in July. And then, of course, there is 2001 when DoD never got around to issuing a report at all. I am not sure I would say the report is unusually late.  It is certainly too early for a partisan and grandstanding letter to the Administration.

There is an interesting question about the best time to release the report.  The 2006 and 2007 reports were released immediately prior to the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue, which DOD didn’t like.  DOD made a deliberate effort in 2008 and 2009 to issue the report early in March so that the diplomatic fallout was ancient history by the time Gates was sipping a Singapore Sling with his Asian counterparts.

Obviously that didn’t happen this year, so a late-June or July release seems reasonable.  If I had to guess, the Administration most likely has been waiting to see how diplomatic efforts at the ASEAN Regional Forum turned out, with initiatives on dispute resolution in the South China Sea and condemning North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan as relatively high priorities.  Compared to these efforts, releasing the report ought to be a secondary priority.


  1. Wendell Minnick (History)

    You are absolutely correct. The DoD report is always late. Much of it is due to bureaucratic inertia and in some cases internecine warfare within the military intelligence community on what should be in it and what should not. This year, though, it seems to be part political and part traditional governmental tardiness. China has become increasingly arrogant about its “core values” and there appears to be few who can stomach challenging Beijing’s aggressive diplomatic behavior. Though Clinton’s comments at the recent ASEAN (ARF) summit does give hope.

    • Peter J. Brown (History)

      The delay may be either a direct result of the U.S. losing considerable ground of late in its attempt to clamp down on Iran — all of the BRIC bloc nations seem to be doing their utmost to preserve their ties to Tehran by playing the sanctions game as loosely as possible — or an attempt by the Obama Adminstration to figure out how to best avoid a complete collapse of any and all efforts to engage in meaningful space arms control. Of course, one cannot overlook the role here of the upcoming elections from the standpoint of buying time given the downhill slide of the Democrats in particular. Let’s face it, the White House is stuck between a rock and a hard place with this one.

  2. 3.1415 (History)

    Aw, Gee, some senators are actually waiting for the report. Did they catch all the inaccuracies and inconsistencies? The DOD seems to be quite oblivious to those errors as they come up again and again.

  3. Dwayne Day (History)

    I wrote about the report two years ago:

    As I noted then, it is clear that some material is kept out of the report deliberately, so that we don’t let the Chinese know that we are aware of some of their activities (like testing their ASAT). But it’s equally clear that some sloppy and false statements appear in the report. A better question to ask would be about the report’s quality and purpose.