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The Rebalance Is Dead! Long Live the Rebalance!

The traditional post-Cold War American way of war, focused on long-range strike and the rapid establishment of air and sea superiority, is changing. The United States is confronting new challenges by developing operational concepts that create a more favorable strategic environment and allow the United States to prevail in conflict with the military it already fields. In 2010, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments produced a report proposing an Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept that outlined China’s ability to create no-go zones and the imperative for the U.S. military to withstand an initial attack and then execute a high-intensity campaign. The Pentagon sought to distance itself from the assertive concept, which was particularly controversial in its emphasis on strikes against the Chinese mainland, and rolled out a replacement joint concept. More geopolitically neutral and with a greater substantive role for the Army, the Joint Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC) concept is still at its core very similar to ASB. As it considers the role of new operational concepts in the Western Pacific, the Pentagon should acknowledge that access is contested, but not concede that access has been denied. Continued access and maneuver may remain possible even in hostile environments. Alongside the third offset, the United States should utilize cost imposition strategies and encourage China to spend on operationally weaker areas, particularly ones where it will cost more for China to address its shortcomings than it would cost for the United States to exploit them. Tactically, the United States should emphasize resilience, thereby reducing the attractiveness of early strikes. Finally, instead of creating one operational concept, the Pentagon should produce multiple operational concepts, including concepts for lower-intensity conflicts that originate in maritime and territorial disputes.