With China determined to surpass us as the world’s preeminent economy and military superpower, it’s increasingly important that Americans and, for that matter, the rest of the western world accustomed to our leadership, understand what that would mean for us and for our children and grandchildren. This isn’t just a friendly contest for international bragging rights. It’s become quite clear that the issues which divide us can result in much more than friendly economic competition. Life would be much different for us in a world influenced by Chinese economic and military superiority.

It should go without saying that our problems are not with the Chinese people but with the ruling Chinese Communist Party which controls every decision and policy of importance in the People’s Republic and whose principal objectives are to retain power, crush dissent and project its influence and values throughout the world. Unfortunately, many Americans and most of our European allies appear to view China as an indispensable trading partner and source of affordable products that they have become accustomed to having. They see Russia as their principal threat as do many Americans of liberal persuasion, thanks largely to lingering Democrat collusion fantasies, and seem oblivious to China’s massive military buildup, including a large blue-water navy.

That buildup is far from just defensive in nature nor is it limited to preparations to re-unite Taiwan by force. China recently tested a hypersonic missile capable of orbiting the earth before homing in on a target of its choice which could be an American city. Hypersonic missiles are more difficult to track than ballistic missiles and more capable of evading defensive systems. They are obviously not just intended for China’s own defense. Meanwhile, hundreds of missile silos were discovered in China’s interior desert areas which probably contain nuclear missiles. These developments strongly suggest that the PRC intends not just to match but to substantially exceed our military capability and to prevail in an armed conflict.

Clearly, neither the United States nor the PRC desires an armed conflict but, given our differences over vital interests, the risk nevertheless exists. The best way to deter armed conflict is to maintain sufficient military capability to convince Beijing that it would be devastating, not just to China and its people, but to the Communist Party and its leaders. This will require a significant increase in our defense budgets and in the infrastructure and underlying economy that can afford and sustain a strong military.

The nation’s top counterintelligence official, Michael Orlando, said recently that his National Counterintelligence and Security Center will narrow its focus to five fields: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semi-conductors, biotechnology and autonomous systems. These are now the drivers of economic and military growth, he said, and losing world leadership in these areas could mean the loss of our role as the world’s dominant superpower.

It’s past time for more serious discussion on our future defense posture. Do we wish to invest enough in a military that will convince Beijing’s leaders that they cannot surpass us or do we wish to cede global leadership to the People’s Republic and transition into an entitlement state like our European allies and just try to get along with an increasingly aggressive China in pursuit of its destiny?

As we learned in Economics 101, Guns vs. Butter was the name given by economists to a simple model used to show the relationship between investment in defense and investment in civilian goods. In a modern major economy, civilian goods would include benefits and entitlements. We are at a ‘Guns vs. Butter’ moment. We can continue to spend lavishly on entitlements as the Biden Build Back Better Bill proposes or we can spend enough on defense to ensure that we won’t have to actually use it. Beijing’s leaders may be ruthless but they aren’t suicidal.

We can survive a reduction in free stuff and cradle-to-grave benefits. For most of our history, there was no economic safety net but we still managed to become the world’s strongest economy and only superpower. But will our nation continue to prosper if the PRC succeeds us in that role? Alas, maintaining world economic and military leadership does not come cheaply. We can have both guns and butter but not unlimited amounts of both.

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