Perhaps owing to being dominant for so long, American leaders sometimes appear so confident of winning in wartime that they are myopic about what happens during peacetime – the so-called “phase zero” in US military terms.
Consider Asia. It’s not that US forces aren’t busy in the region, but rather there’s been a longstanding indifference towards China’s military buildup and its undermining of US alliances and commitment to Asia.
If the US isn’t careful, this creeping subversion could put it in the strategic equivalent of wrestling’s Full Nelson and unable to move beyond phase zero at acceptable cost.
China’s military buildup and expansion has never evoked a consistent sense of threat on the US side — just recall a US Pacific Command chief who considered global warming his biggest challenge in the Asia Pacific.
Admiral Harry Harris, the current PACOM commander, described Chinese submarines as Model-T’s while the American versions are Corvettes.
A previous commander, Admiral Dennis Blair, also downplayed China’s capabilities, noting it would take only 10-15 minutes to neutralize Beijing’s man-made islands in the South China Sea — the so-called “Great Wall of Sand.”
Glib dismissals that make for good newspaper quotes, while the noose tightens.
If more evidence is needed of American dismissiveness mixed with a dose of hubris, consider the decision to invite China to the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, known as RIMPAC, in Hawaii in 2014 and 2016.
The People’s Liberation Army was invited despite well-understood intelligence risks (try ‘acoustic signatures’ for starters), and apparently in the belief that exposure to US awesomeness would convince China to behave. An invitation to China for RIMPAC 2018 is apparently still open.
One would think American leaders would know better after recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan that you underestimate adversaries or overestimate yourself at your own peril.
Less recent experiences teach the same lesson. Condescension toward China’s military is this generation’s version of 1930’s thinking that the Japanese were incapable of producing fighter aircraft like the Zero or Long Lance torpedoes.
It was equally impossible that the Imperial Japanese Navy could ever match — much less outclass — the Royal Navy. Britannia had ruled the waves for a century, after all.
Improvements in China’s naval and air forces over the phase zero of the last decade are impressive and alarming. It also happened faster than all but a handful of American analysts predicted.
As China has gained de facto control of the South China Sea and threatens similar in the East China Sea, it has also quietly ensconced itself in the South Pacific islands and is moving into the Indian Ocean.
At the same time, Beijing has pulled US allies like the Philippines and Thailand into its orbit, raising doubts in other countries about US commitment.
US military forces — as powerful and professional as they are — would likely defeat the People’s Liberation Army in a straight up fight, though at a cost nobody much wants to think about.
This also assumes moving from phase zero to phase one (war looks likely) and then into phase two (the shooting starts) is automatic. It isn’t.
If China’s military were to do something like, say, grab Japan’s Senkaku islands or perhaps teach Taiwan a lesson, there will be voices in the US arguing that a military response carries too high a price.
This shows that if China as a smart adversary makes the proper strategic moves in phase zero, there might not be a phase one or a phase two, because the US awakes to finds itself in a stranglehold it can’t get out of, except at too high a price.
It’s always the rule to make it so that your adversary, rather than you, can’t get out of phase zero. That comes from taking the adversary seriously.
Grant Newsham is a retired US Marine Officer and a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies
Its the economic, stupid
" It’s always the rule to make it so that your adversary, rather than you, can’t get out of phase zero. That comes from taking the adversary seriously."
The problem, Grant, is that nobody can take the US seriously. Like your article just after the OBOR meeting in Beijing… It seems written by Modi…. or John Mc Cain… Ruling the waves of crap
Paranoid? China is primarily a peaceful trading nation, whilst the US is addicted to war and violence. Just look at history. I welcome a China taking more of a leadership role in the world. It will be a more peaceful place….
Frank, US and UK are just the death contractors of the zionists…
A brief but accurate summary of the state of affairs. We’ve become a very short-term thinking culture. China is playing the long game. Thanks, Grant, for a thoughtful article.
Valerie Moody, using FaceBoobs ?
Another lame article pn the Middle kingdom————Part of Fake News!!
Just a quick remider the bancrupt states ,without the shit Arabs wealthy wahibbis money they already declined with out it ……the new qorld economic order just begin …..
Sounds like an ex marine’s butt is hurting because the USA is slowly losing its empire.
Propagating a perceived China threat would only execerbate the West’s and Japan’s economic problem. Misallocation of resources (like previous US administrations did was a total waste of money, producing weapons America does not want to use and its "allies" can’t affprd to buy) that stifle economc recovery in the EU, US and Japan. That money could have been spent on education, infrastructure upgrade and other economic enhncement projects.
President Donald Trump whom you military "experts" and the establishment-owned press casticized may actually be right in forgng a less confrontational relationship with China. As proven during the Obama Admoinistration, gettin g tough on China did not produce tangible results. China in fact built more islands and installed weapons on them. o that end, it does not seem like China is be "scared" by US military might. So how tough do you want President Trump to be, Mr. Newsham?
American media take on Chinese military is dismissive capabilites on one day, existential threat the next day, depending on which isles of political interests they serving that day.
China builds, offering the hope of better lives to so many people. The US Military blows stuff up, destroying lives. Which do you prefer?
The article is a good wakeup call for the U.S. and Asian countries which value stability and rules-based order in Asia. While China tries to distract everyone with this OBOR stuff, its military simultaneously enroaches on the territory of neighbooring countries. China has started wars with India and Vietnam and it won’t hesistate to use military force in the future if it thinks it can get away with it.
Arrogance & hubris, applies to all.
–A bullet has no political affiliation.
A time will come when China will be the strongest military power in the world. This time the US and its allies will be bullied by China. The US should act now.
". . .American leaders sometimes appear so confident of winning in wartime…"
If true, that would be really stupid since there has been no winning any time recently even given weak adversaries. So perhaps they’re afraid of losing again?
Meanwhile China jabs the US in its eastern waters, but it focuses its principal investment in One Belt, One Road economic investments to the west, where the markets are.
If US does nothing still it will lose as its populace is 4 times smaller to china…china will become a maor military power,scientific,economic & also cultural in 2 decades….if US & china both decide to go to war now both will cease to exist….the dragon will swallow the eagle…..the eagle can now prey on some snakes but it should keep away from the dragon
It’s American pride, vanity and wastefulness that will kill it. It happened to all past great nations.China has long thrived on being underrated.
Asia is a peace now; would he US be so utterly immoral as to START a war that will kill millions now?
What if, likely, Asia is still at peace in 2040, would he US be so utterly immoral as to START a war that will kill millions then?
China will aim for comprehensive national development and put just 2% of GDP on defense, comes 2040 or later, what could the USA do then?
There is simply nothing that the USA can do now and in the years to come to constrict China that even countries in Asia will concur.
The key in the Taiwan Relation Act is that it was ratified without Taiwan’s participation. Would the US be so immoral as to START a war for Taiwan and push it into the inferno?
The Chinese mainland will have very effective means to peacefully coerce Taiwan into accepting a Hong Kong-like deal. The US will be militarily paralyzed no matter how much the US keeps spending on preparation for war.
American military advantages over China has very limited and redundant significance. China is never going to start a war and the US is sane and moral enough to never start a war. China will have very effective means of coercive peace.
China is simply winning enough and there is paltry little the USA can do irrespective of any military might over China. Yes, the US has the minimal decency to not push Taiwan and Japan into the inferno of war, no matter how ideologically charged and self-righteous.
America can do nothing to stop China’s military build up. We just need to increase our generaltional lead in technology over China. Five CSGs in the SCS backed up by stealth aircraft the F-22, the F-35 and the B-2. Virginia class subs everywhere in the SCS. SSGNs posing an extreme threat. China is not getting hostile for the next decade. Cool down.
As for Japan the Royal Navy had a 1902 Naval Agreement with Japan until the US forced Britain to abrogate it in 1922. Japanese warships carried out courtesy visits on behalf of Royal Navy. USA as creditor to UK post-WW1 squeezed them to cancel treaty and cut Japan adrift
Spoken like a true cowardly bully.
China was peaceful country who used to have a good relation with its neighbors. When it started to become stronger she bullied her small neighbors like Philippines and other nations, claiming all terretories inside other nation’s EEZ. Recently, treatening Philippines with war if it insist of its right. If China will continue behaving this way the whole international communities will turn against her.
What a naive and ignorant comment, Frank Burton. You shoul learn more about the Korean war in 1953, Tibet, Xinjiang or the way the red China violently, miilitarily invaded the Paracels islands from South Vietnam in Feb 1974.
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