America’s new Cold War with China is heating up. The communist Chinese have engaged in case after case of industrial espionage, they are building militarized islands in the South China Sea, the Chinese Navy and Air Force harass Taiwan and Japan, and China’s leader has made threatening remarks about Taiwan. It looks like a war might be on the horizon. So, that begs the question, can America defeat China in a war?
To answer that question, Mark Esper, the US Secretary of Defense, recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Pentagon is Prepared for a War with China.”
In it, Esper covers his answer, and the Pentagon’s to “can America defeat China in a war?” It is a highly interesting article that every American should read and think about, as they might soon find themselves in a situation where “can America defeat China in a war?” is not just a theoretical question, but also one that deeply affects their life. Who knows what will happen with China, but it is better to be prepared for war than unprepared, as George Washington noted in his quote on peace.
Summary of “Can America Defeat China in a War?”
First, Esper notes the nature of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and what that nature’s implications are:
The PLA is not a military that serves the nation, let alone a constitution, as the U.S. armed forces do. The PLA belongs to—and serves—a political entity, the Chinese Communist Party. A more capable PLA is a military more able to advance the party’s domestic vision, the one-sided international system Beijing desires, and an economic and foreign-policy agenda that is often inimical to the interests of the U.S. and our allies. As a consequence, all nations that seek the prosperity and security of a free and open order must carefully consider the implications of PLA requests for access, training and technology.From: The Pentagon is Prepared for a War with China
Next, Esper gives more details as to in what ways the PLA has modernized, introducing readers to the fact that the Chinese military is no longer an army of peasants, but a military with impressive capabilities that could pose a challenge to the US during wartime and have forced military thinkers to re-examine their answer to “can America defeat China in a war?”
PLA modernization is a trend the world must study and prepare for—much like the U.S. and the West studied and addressed the Soviet armed forces in the 20th century. The PLA openly declared its intentions to complete military modernization by 2035 and become a world-class force by 2049. Its comprehensive modernization plan includes a powerful arsenal of conventional missiles alongside a suite of advanced cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities. It also includes the deployment of artificial intelligence to strengthen its authoritarian grip and continue its systematic repression of its own people, especially its Uighur population.From: The Pentagon is Prepared for a War with China
Esper then gives three examples of how the US is addressing the threat posed by China and why he thinks the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is “yes.”
First and foremost, long-term competition with China demands that we have a force that is able to compete, deter and win across all domains: air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. To support this effort, the Pentagon is investing in both advanced conventional capabilities and game-changing technologies such as hypersonic weapons, 5G communications, integrated air and missile defense, and artificial intelligence.
Second, expanding and strengthening our network of allies and partners is also vital to this effort, as this provides an asymmetric advantage that our competitors cannot match. While the PLA continues its aggressive behavior toward its neighbors in the region…American forces continue to strengthen our longstanding partnerships and defend the rights of all countries.
Third, because creating broader networks of capable, like-minded partners is core to our strategy to disrupt the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influence, the Pentagon continues to build the capacity of our partners globally… Actions such as these reduce these nations’ vulnerability to Chinese coercion, and help us expand joint training, exercises, operations and planning efforts.From: The Pentagon is Prepared for a War with China
Finally, Esper notes the difference in vision for the world between the US and China. America stands for a rules-based global order that prizes individual freedom and worldwide economic growth. China, however, is focused on dominance and cares nothing for liberty; it has oppressed its own citizens and will oppress others, if given the opportunity. For that reason, Esper says, nations that are currently examining the “can America defeat China in a war?” with apprehension should do what they can to weaken China:
Unlike Communist China, the U.S. stands for a free and open global system, where all nations can prosper in accordance with shared values and longstanding rules and norms. And unlike the armed forces of the U.S. and our allies, the PLA is a loyal tool of the Communist Party. As such, I urge all countries to examine—and consider curtailing—their relationships with the PLA to make sure they are not helping advance the Communist Party’s malign agenda toward our collective detriment.From: The Pentagon is Prepared for a War with China
My Take on “Can America Defeat China in a War?”
On one hand, I agree with Esper’s analysis of the “can America defeat China in a war?” question. We have advanced technology, from the F-35 fighter jet to huge numbers of precision-guided bombs and missiles, that the Chinese do not. Similarly, near-term advancements in weapons and tactics, such as putting lasers on fighter jets, further developing autonomous weapons, putting IRBMs on naval vessels, and using privateers to fight a naval and cyber conflict with China, might give us an edge in a future conflict.
Additionally, I think he makes an excellent point, which is that America has far more allies, and better allies, than China. The Chinese might have Russia as a temporary ally. We have a huge host of European and Indo-Pacific allies that would support us in a fight. One reason for our eventual victories in both World War I and World War II was the fighting capabilities of our allies, so that is an advantage that should not be forgotten and is something we should remember when asking “can America defeat China in a war?”
But, on the other hand, I think Esper’s answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is a bit too optimistic. Their rapidly-growing economy, carrier-killer missiles, and fast-growing navy all pose significant problems for America and will require continued investments to overcome.
Additionally, according to the Military Times, a Chinese attack would pose a huge number of problems for the US, further casting doubt on whether the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is really “yes.” They’d swarm our sensors, ships, and bases with drones and missiles, blind our satellites, and launch crippling cyberattacks. It would be a major problem.
Furthermore, Military Times notes that America might not be able to handle the casualties that we would incur during a war with China, as they would look more like the losses of The Two-Ocean War than any recent conflict. If we want to be able to know that the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is “yes,” then we need to be aware of the likely high casualty count and be ready to accept those casualties, however painful they might be.
On a similar note, The Australian states that in war games and simulations, the American military has largely lost to China. Its bases have been destroyed, ships sunk, and aircraft unable to operate. To defeat China in a war, America will need to learn how to prevent those anticipated Chinese successes and deal with a highly developed Chinese Navy and rocket force.
However, The Australian also states that Marines and Army soldiers armed with hypersonic and cruise missiles might be able to negate some of the Chinese missile threat. Those new, hypersonic weapons might help us answer “can America defeat China in a war?” more conclusively and positively because they will give us a high-end, advanced weapon system that nullifies the Chinese missile advantage and hypersonics can not really be defended against.
So, all in all, the US is in a tough spot, which makes Esper’s take on “can America defeat China in a war?” look overly optimistic. Yes, we do have a technological edge, far more experience in warfighting, and more allies that could lend us a hand. But, the Chinese have effective capabilities too and could inflict heavy casualties on American forces, casualties which Americans might be unwilling to accept.
And that’s just with looking at the relative equipment strength of the two armies. A more pressing problem is that while the Chinese are cultivating masculinity, the US military is inculcating weakness and wokeness, both of which will prove devastating in future battles.
While nothing can ever be certain, America needs to start changing its military policies if the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is to remain in our favor.
Conclusion: So, can America defeat China in a War?
My view is that, if we are willing to fight with all we’ve got, then Esper’s answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” is correct. We are still the world’s largest economy. We spend more on our military than the next ten nations combined, and that money buys some terrific weapons. Additionally, our soldiers are better motivated and far better trained than any in the PLA, a force of terror and intimidation.
But, they will take heavy losses, both in terms of personnel and equipment. So, if we want the answer to be “can America defeat China in a war?” to remain “yes,” then we need to make further investments in our military. We cannot be like the British Empire in World War I or II, where they had a small expeditionary force at first, and losing many troops would be disastrous.
America needs to invest in its shipyards to it can repair vessels quickly and build far more of them, both for cargo transportation and for fighting. We need to train more troops and expand both the Navy and Air Force; buying more submarines, destroyers, bombers, and fighter jets. We need to sell the best and most dollar-efficient equipment possible to Taiwan, Japan, India, Australia, and South Korea so that they can fight China too. Missile defense against both cruise and ballistic weapons must be expanded. And, of course, we need to improve our cyber-security and cyber weapons so that we can defeat China in the cyber realm.
The answer to “can America defeat China in a war” depends heavily on our innovation and procurement over the next few years.
But, most of all, we need to be willing to accept and inflict casualties. We can neither panic when thousands of Americans die if a carrier is sunk nor protest if Chinese civilians are killed during a bombing raid; we need to do what we were unwilling to do during the Vietnam War and fight to win, regardless of the casualties incurred or inflicted, as we did during World War II, especially during the strategic bombing campaigns. Only then will the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” truly be “yes.”
Finally, to ensure a positive answer to “can America defeat China in a war?,” America needs a President that will stand up to China. Trump is that President; he has a backbone. Biden, on the other hand, cannot be trusted to deal with China as he has a complex, corrupt, and long history with it. For the answer to “can America defeat China in a war?” to be “yes,” America needs President Trump and others like him to be in office.