Relax, boys and girls: China will not be invading Taiwan and the U.S. Navy will not be attacking Chinese forces any time soon. It’s a scam, a nonsense, a Muppet show whose purpose is to cover up the incompetence and corruption that led the Pentagon to spend trillions on obsolete weapons. We lost the South China Sea years ago. We are in much the same position as Britain was in Singapore at the end of 1941, except we know it, unlike the dim-witted Brits. We just can’t admit it.
The US Department of Defense has known since at least 2012 – when I advised the late Andrew Marshall at the Office of Net Assessment – that Chinese surface-to-surface missiles (STS) can destroy US aircraft carriers or other military assets that are not submerged. The US military only recently acknowledged this in official assessments.
Unlike the Reagan administration, which prioritized missile defense, we are doing little to counter China’s formidable capabilities. We cannot test defense against hypersonic missiles because we cannot even fire a hypersonic missile. Lockheed canceled its flagship hypersonics program last March.
China is not under time pressure to intervene militarily. From a military perspective, a sea landing like the invasion of Normandy in December 1944 would be pointless. Taiwan has 11 days of storage capacity for natural gas consumption. A Chinese blockade would soon force Taiwan to surrender.
The Pentagon knows this and is not stupid enough to get into a firefight. Yet American commanders talk as if Chinese soldiers are about to attack Taiwanese beaches. In March 2021, Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Philip Davidson warned that China could invade Taiwan by 2027. Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday said he “cannot rule out” a Chinese invasion attempt as early as 2023.
Really? Why should China even risk military action of any kind in the Taiwan Strait? For now, China is getting everything it wants from the island. Taiwanese investment on the mainland is $4 billion per year and rising. Taiwanese chip engineers built China’s chip factories.
Aside from the risk of a nuclear exchange – chillingly portrayed in Admiral James Stavridis’ thriller “2034” – the least consequence of a kinetic confrontation would be a global economic downturn due to trade restrictions.
China has a distinct advantage in home theater, and it’s growing. It can negotiate with Taiwan whenever it wants. “The PLARF’s conventional arm is the largest ground-based missile force in the world, with over 2,200 conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles and with enough anti-ship missiles to attack every U.S. surface combatant ship in the South China Sea with sufficient firepower to match each ship’s missile defenses,” as Maj. Christopher J. Mihal wrote in a U.S. Army magazine in 2021.
“The [People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s] “Ground-based missile forces complement the air- and sea-based precision strike capabilities of the PLAAF and PLAN,” the Pentagon said Report dated November 29, 2022, “Military and security policy developments involving the People’s Republic of China”. “The PLARF continues to expand its inventory of DF-26 IRBMs designed for rapid replacement of conventional and nuclear warheads. They are also capable of precision land strike and anti-ship attacks in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and the South China Sea from mainland China.
This does not yet take into account the Chinese hypersonic missiles, against which there is no defense; Hypersonic missiles fly just as fast as the anti-missiles they are designed to intercept. “China has tested and deployed a new, longer-range hypersonic missile that is likely capable of evading U.S. defenses, according to a top-secret document overlooked among themrecently leaked. Now the public can see what American intelligence agencies already knew: China is rapidly improving its ability to attack thousands of miles from its shores and prevent the United States from intervening. Josh Rogin reported last April in the Washington Post.
A single circumstance would cause China to take military action against Taiwan, and that is a step towards sovereignty by the island. In August 2022, during the visit of then-House Speaker Pelosi, a virtual two-day blockade of Taiwan was imposed. In China’s calculations, the speaker of the House of Representatives is second only to the president, and Pelosi’s visit raised the prospect of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
As long as China can maintain the diplomatic fiction that Taiwan is a breakaway province belonging to China, it will refrain from using force. But Beijing would view American support for an independent Taiwan as an attempt to crush China, as imperialist powers did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and respond with all the power at its disposal.
If we don’t want war, all we have to do is preserve Taiwan’s status quo.
In sad imitation of the great powers of the past, the United States has invested in the wrong weapons for a war that will never be fought again. Battleships made up the lion’s share of every combatant’s military budget before World War II, and as Victor Davis Hanson notes The Second World WarsGermany and Japan made the mistake of building battleships instead of aircraft carriers, and that probably cost them the war. After Japanese bombers sank four U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor and two British capital ships near Singapore in December 1941, no Navy ever laid down a battleship again. The aircraft carrier dominated the seas for half a century. Now rockets have made the carrier obsolete.
Under Reagan, the federal budget for development (construction of weapons prototypes) was 0.75 percent of GDP; today it is only 0.25 percent. If we want to restore the American military’s technological edge, we must mobilize our national resources and fund Reagan-scale research and development. This requires a radical shift in defense priorities from perpetual wars to high-tech weapons. That’s true, but in the best case scenario it would take years to achieve.
Meanwhile, China talking nonsense will get us nowhere. The kind of “denial” that applies to our national debate about Taiwan has more to do with Freud than with Clausewitz. It’s time to stop posing and start rebuilding.
David P. Goldman is deputy editor of Asia Times and a Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute. He was previously global head of debt research at Bank of America.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.