Is war with China inevitable or can the world’s top two economies and military powers manage to live together in peace and prosperity in spite of their differences? Are Beijing’s aims to replace the United States as the largest economy and mightiest military power by whatever it takes and at any cost achievable through a relatively peaceful rivalry or will the significant differences and red lines eventually result in armed conflict? As with most predictions about the future, we can only hope for the best and prepare for the worst. War should never be considered inevitable because the cost to both sides and to the world would be enormous.

Americans need, therefore, to understand that we are far from being prepared for the worst, that being a war with China. The risks are great. They include an attempt by the People’s Republic to occupy Taiwan, continued militarization of the South China Sea and interference with freedom of navigation and attempts to undermine the security of the United States through cyberwarfare and espionage.

An attempt by the PRC to occupy Taiwan currently presents the greatest risk of war. President Joe Biden has said on at least three occasions that we would defend Taiwan against such an attack. Xi Jinping, however, insists that this is a red line that we dare not cross. But if we fail to honor our agreement with Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, we would lose all credibility with our Asian allies. Taiwan, a leading producer of microprocessors and an important trading partner, is of far more strategic importance than Ukraine whose defense against the Russian invasion we are largely funding and supplying.

China is unlikely to attempt an invasion of Taiwan, however, unless they are confident of succeeding or convinced that the United States will not respond with force. It is imperative, then, that we deter such an invasion by demonstrating convincingly that they cannot win, much as we demonstrated to the Soviet Union after the Cuban Missile Crisis that they could not prevail in a conflict with us, resulting in the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. Convincing the PRC will require a strong alliance including Japan, Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and others but it must be led by the United States. It will also require a substantial increase in the size of our military, especially our navy and air force.

The United States has committed more than $27 billion in military equipment and supplies to Ukraine resulting in a shortage of ammunition and some weapons which the military would need in a war with China. Our defense industries have struggled to replenish these supplies. The shortages will only grow worse as the war drags on with no end in sight. Nor is it entirely clear what the end would be, other than driving the Russian occupiers from all of Ukraine, including Crimea which Russia annexed before the invasion. Under the current rules by which aid is provided, Russia is free to attack Ukraine but Ukraine cannot attack Russia so even if the Ukrainians succeed in driving Putin’s troops out of Ukraine, it would not necessarily end the war if Russia remains free to regroup and attack again. It is difficult to see a realistic path to victory for Ukraine in a war of attrition with its huge neighbor.

As U.S. weapons and ammunition inventories shrink, it is apparent that U.S. defense industries, having experienced mergers and consolidations since the Gulf Wars, are not equipped to rapidly replenish or surge production in the event of war with China. But expanding that capacity requires heavy investment in facilities and workforce which these companies will not make without firm commitments from the federal government that survive changing administrations. Given the time it takes to expand this capacity and to build ships, aircraft, tanks and complex weapons systems, we are far from ready to respond to the worst-case scenario or to deter China from initiating a conflict at a time of its choosing.

Studies have shown that the U.S. would run out of ammunition and missiles early in a protracted war with China. Recent war games have demonstrated that ship and aircraft losses and personnel casualties would be very high on both sides even if only conventional weapons were used. The sooner the U.S. can shift the burden of Ukraine’s defense to its European neighbors where it belongs, or negotiate an end to this destructive war, the sooner we can intensify our focus on Asia where it belongs.

Preparing for the worst is expensive and not what Americans want to hear given the size of our federal debt and our domestic priorities but we have little choice. An expansion of our defense industry’s capacity to surge up production levels capable of deterring or, if deterrence fails, winning a war with China is needed before it’s too late, if it not already is. This means less money wasted on climate control measures that have zero effect on global climate control, the war on fossil fuels and other feel-good programs and pork. On the positive side, a needed defense build-up would result in many thousands of good jobs for a very good cause, much as the defense build-up before and during WWII ended the Great Depression.

Vol. 39, No. 5 - Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023

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