America War with China
Boldness is often prudence. Great-power competition can prevent great-power conflict. Conversely, failure to compete and to demonstrate and protect interests can lead to power vacuums and misunderstandings that can, in turn, lead to an escalation of tensions and actual conflict. States may use incidents as a pretext to launch wars they seek, but military incidents themselves are not a significant cause of major conflicts.
Ultimately, war is a dangerous enterprise and a force conditioned to avoid risk develops habits that may leave it disadvantaged against an opportunistic, willful, and risk-accepting adversary. While there has been considerable discussion of conflict between China and America, and the risk of war between the two, there is surprisingly little discussion of what such a war might entail. Discussions of general war with the Soviet Union in Europe had clear strategic objectives - Soviet conquest of Western Europe - and were lavishly illustrated with maps covered in arrows. An American war with China is singularly lacking in maps with arrows.
It seems that as of 2020 the United States did not have an operations plan [OPLAN] or even a Concept Plan [CONPLAN] for general war with China. There was a Joint Operational Concept under development. The joint operating concept [JOpsC] is a concept paper that describes how the Joint Force is envisioned to operate. A joint operating concept is a combatant command document that describes how a joint commander intends to operate. It also informs joint doctrine development and planning. It does not constitute official direction to the entire joint force or sanctioned joint doctrine.
"The strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific is not between our two nations, it is a competition between liberty - the fundamental idea behind a free and open Indo-Pacific - and authoritarianism, the absence of liberty, and the objective of the Communist Party of China," commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson said 01 May 2021. According to the admiral, to keep the peace, the United States and its allies “must be prepared to fight and win”.
Graham Allison, author of “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap,” describes the “dynamic inherent when a rising power becomes more confident, a ruling power fears losing its edge, and entangling alliances on each side drive the parties toward war.”3 Key to his theory is the well-known and often quoted observation that wars are fostered by “fear, honor, and [conflicting] interest” between states.4 Professor Allison focuses his book on examining the chances for war between the existing superpower (the United States) and the rising power (the People’s Republic of China) using these theoretical perspectives.
Allison is explicit in stating that war between the US and China is not inevitable. Allison does advise that leaders and senior advisors in both nations must carefully examine history in order to fashion a strategy to advance their national interests while avoiding war. In viewing the literature, there are those whom view war between the US and China as inevitable or highly likely and others, equally adamant, whose view is that the chance for war is hyped and conflict can be avoided by wise statesmanship.
War with China would almost certainly not involve large Army formations entering the Chinese mainland. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told an audience of West Point cadets on 25 February 2011 that "... any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it... As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations...”
In recent decades America and China had not positioned each other as adversaries. Both Republican and Democratic administrations had understood the importance of developing stable and friendly relations with China. They had tried to put the relationship back on track after taking office if there had been any slippages.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks stated 19 March 2021 : "Strategic competition is a defining feature of the 21st century. This competition was not preordained or inevitable, but it was certainly predictable. In its 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Defense Department opined that the United States is the world's only superpower today, and it is expected to remain so throughout the 1997-to-2015 period. But, it continued, in the period beyond 2015, there is the possibility that a regional great power or global peer competitor may emerge. The document then explicitly called out Russia and China as having the potential to be such competitors.
"Over the past several decades and across multiple administrations, the economic security and governance differences between the United States and the People's Republic of China have come into sharper focus. During the Obama administration, the department joined with the rest of the national security community in undertaking a rebalance or pivot to Asia. More recently, the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2019 Commission on the National Defense Strategy, of which I was a member, highlighted the growth of the People's Liberation Army's capabilities and helped crystallize a bipartisan consensus around the defense challenge.
"Beijing has demonstrated increased military competence and a willingness to take risks, and it has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the Indo-Pacific region. In 2020 alone, over a host of issues, Beijing escalated tensions between itself and a number of its neighbors, including Australia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. It was involved in an armed confrontation with India along the line of actual control which resulted in the loss of life on both sides and further tightened its grip on Hong Kong, including by instituting an oppressive national security law. The PRC's actions constitute a threat to regional peace and stability, and to the rules-based international order on which our security and prosperity and those of our allies depend.
"Against this backdrop, President Biden recently released his interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which highlights the PRC's increasing assertiveness. The interim guidance notes that Beijing is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system. To advance the interests of the American people and our democracy, the United States must be able to compete for the future of our way of life across all these dimensions. For the United States military, that will often mean serving as a supporting player to diplomatic, economic, and other soft power tools. But it will also require the U.S. to demonstrate the will and capability to credibly deter PRC aggression."
China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is increasing its efforts to replace the United States as a major world power, strengthening its military for greater force projection and seeking ways to present its one-party, authoritarian style of government as an alternative to Western models of liberal democracy. China’s ruling Communist Party now sees itself engaged “in a systemic struggle with the United States and other democratic countries over the future of the world order,” the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) said in its annual report released on 01 December 2020. “Beijing seeks to use its growing power to transform the international order, ultimately legitimizing its repressive governance system; expanding its economic, security, and political interests and restoring China to what it views as its rightful place in the world.” Military modernization programs are now pushing China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) toward new capabilities as a “world-class military,” the report by the USCC, established in 2000 to report each year to the U.S. Congress, said.
China’s takeover of Hong Kong under a draconian national security law, bringing it “under full and direct authoritarian rule,” has also resulted in new international scrutiny of Beijing’s intentions around the world, the USCC report said. “This action was one of many in 2020—including border skirmishes with India, military exercises to intimidate Taiwan, and pressure on Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among others—that demonstrated the Chinese government’s indifference to its reputation abroad.”
Beijing’s final move on Hong Kong, silencing of criticism and dissent at home, and abusive campaigns of cultural assimilation against the Tibetans, ethnic Mongolians, and mostly Muslim Uyghurs living under its rule have also caught the world’s attention, according to the report. The self-governing island of Taiwan, facing growing calls from China to unify with the mainland under a “one country, two systems” model now shown to be flawed, took note of Hong Kong’s fate and has rejected Beijing’s demands.
The United States drafted a plan on 17 November 2020 outlining the threats and responses needed to counter challenges presented by China, including the “refashioning” of US foreign policy. “Meeting the China challenge requires the United States to return to the fundamentals,” according to the 74-page document published by the US State Department. The ten tasks needed to be carried out by the US, according to the State Department document are:
- Secure freedom in the US by preserving constitutional government and fostering a robust civil society.
- Maintain the world’s most powerful, agile, and technologically sophisticated military and enhance security cooperation with allies and partners.
- Fortify the free, open, and rules-based international order, which is composed of sovereign nation-states and based on respect for human rights and fidelity to the rule of law.
- Reevaluate alliance system and international organizations in which the US participates to determine where they benefit the US and where they fall short.
- Strengthen alliance system by more effectively sharing responsibilities and build new ones rooted in freedom, democracy, national sovereignty, human rights, and the rule of law.
- Promote US interests by looking for opportunities to cooperate with Beijing subject to norms of fairness and reciprocity, constrain and deter China when circumstances require and support those in China who seek freedom.
- Educate US citizens about the scope and implications of the China challenge because this is the only way they can be expected to back the complex mix of demanding policies that the US must adopt to secure freedom.
- Train a new generation of public servants — in diplomacy, military affairs, finance, economics, science and technology, and other fields — and public policy thinkers who not only attain fluency in Chinese and acquire extensive knowledge of China’s culture and history, but who also attain fluency in the languages, and acquire extensive knowledge of the cultures and histories.
- Reform US education, equip students to shoulder responsibilities of citizenship in a free and democratic society by understanding America’s legacy of liberty. Prepare them to meet the special demands of a complex, information-age, globalized economy for expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
- Champion the principles of freedom through example. Sanctions may be needed in more difficult circumstances as well as other forms of non-military pressure. If the nation’s vital interests are at stake and all else has failed, military force may also be used.
In the document, Washington cites China’s “recklessness” in allowing the coronavirus to spread across the globe and cause one of the deadliest pandemics in decades. Beijing took part in disinformation campaigns to cover up its responsibility, the paper said. “Yet many people lack a proper understanding of the character and scope of the China challenge,” the report said. The State Department accused China of developing its capabilities with the “long-term goal of achieving global preeminence and placing a socialist stamp on world order.”
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