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 defense.gov 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.