China battle plan raises nuclear fear
In a new paper the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the fashionable ''AirSea Battle'' concept - which Washington strategists are developing to keep the US grip on its sea and air power near the Chinese mainland - contains ''uncertainties and potential shortfalls'' that could heighten the nuclear risk.
The paper, written by the institute's senior analyst for defence strategy, Benjamin Schreer, urges the Australian government to keep a cautious distance from the plan for now. Australia would probably play a role in the strategy, particularly with US Marines in Darwin.
The AirSea Battle plan assumes any conflict between the US and China - most likely over Taiwan or Chinese skirmishing with Japan - would remain below the level of nuclear strikes.
But Dr Schreer writes that ''such an outcome is far from certain''. Part of any US plan to strike at China would involve ''blinding'' the People's Liberation Army by hitting its surveillance, intelligence and command systems.
This could provoke panic on the Chinese side and ''consequently increase the chances of Chinese nuclear pre-emption'', he writes.
''AirSea Battle thus raises the spectre of a series of miscalculations on both sides if Beijing perceives conventional attacks on its homeland as an attempt to disarm its nuclear strike capability, in which case it might be faced with a classical 'use them or lose them dilemma'.''
The paper comes amid rising tensions between China and Japan over territorial disputes in the East China Sea, and between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea.
American military planners are developing the AirSea Battle plan to overcome the shift in the strategic balance caused by China's growing military might.
China's long-range missiles, submarines and stealth bomber squadrons, could soon threaten US bases and aircraft carrier groups in the region, potentially deterring the US from coming to the aid of Taiwan or Japan in a conflict.
The institute urges the government not to publicly endorse the plan for now, but demand Washington explain more clearly how and when it would enact the plan, and what the political goals are.