Gen. Mark Milley is naive in his threat assumptions
Commercial satellites passing over the western desert of China have revealed a massive, previously undetected nuclear missile range under construction. Multiple silos have been constructed in a place where six months previously, nothing existed. Military analysts believe China has added 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to its arsenal.
Meanwhile, since 2019, China’s navy has been engaged in a shipbuilding spree, specifically of their submarines, aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, so much so that one Chinese official described it as akin to “dropping dumplings in water.”
In the United States, however, the US Navy’s shipbuilding has remained stagnant. All the Navy’s proverbial chips are in their aircraft carriers. These super expensive weapons platforms have become the ultimate power projection tool since the Second World War. America’s carriers, though, are both expensive to build and maintain. America’s flat tops are also surprisingly susceptible to anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weapons systems of the kind that China has spent the last decade peppering the regions nearest their shores with.
Today, China fields an impressive suite of weapons and tracking systems that could conceivably allow them to attack—and possibly sink—an American aircraft carrier before it could ever get near enough to China’s shores to be a real threat. America possesses 11 supercarriers, the bulk of which are deployed worldwide, with some others staying in American waters for refit and repair. But the cost and time it takes to build these leviathans of war means that putting them at risk is a dangerous proposition. If one (or more) carriers are lost in battle—before they can even effectively attack the enemy—then replacing them will be difficult, and their loss will create a gap at a critical time for the US Navy.
If a war between China and the United States ever erupted, it would be fought mainly at sea, in waters closer to China than the United States. The battlespace would be highly contested and fraught with dangers for conventional offensive systems like the aircraft carrier. If the aircraft carrier was the ubiquitous weapon in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, then, in all probability, the submarine will be the primary weapon for the Americans in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, the United States has not invested in building more submarines. And the current fleet of subs is insufficient for China’s challenge.
Rather than address this glaring vulnerability, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), US Army General Mark Milley, recently told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that China would not have the capability to invade Taiwan before 2027. More dangerously, Gen. Milley asserted that a Chinese attack on Taiwan in the next 18 to 24 months would be “technically complex.”
Given just how far China has come in such a short time (they are the second-largest economy globally with a rapidly advancing high-technology base), one has to wonder what Gen. Milley and the Pentagon are thinking with this assessment?
Few in Washington believed Japan could ever mount a serious challenge to the United States Armed Forces. No one believed Pearl Harbor was ever at risk because launching such an attack on Hawaii was too technically complex for the Japanese. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire proved all the naysayers wrong.
Gen. Milley should put his Critical Race Theory books down and read more history. Just because Chinawas an agrarian backwater ruled by a cult of personality 40 years ago does not mean that China is that way today. In fact, China has rapidly evolved—with the help of ignorant American policymakers and greedy Western corporations—into a highly innovative, potent, and dynamic force that seeks to challenge America’s status as the world’s dominant power.
While clad in a Mao suit, President Xi Jinping told his people on the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party that he would “bash” America’s “skull against the Great Wall.”
Those of us in the national security trade often speak about the precarious “balance of power” tipping in favor of a strategic rival like China. Beijing believes that the Americans are distracted, that their military is stretched to its breaking point, and that the Biden Administration will ultimately not defend Taiwan (Beijing might be right in that assumption).
At a time when China is throwing vast (and growing) sums of money at enabling their forces to effectively challenge the US military, the American defense budget remains “flat”—and the monies that the Defense Department has at its disposal are being misallocated into systems, like the aircraft carrier, that may not be as effective against China’s growing military threat as many strategists in Washington assume.
Washington’s policymakers continue yearning to uphold “stability.” But, as Nassim Taleb’s works have shown, once a complex system reaches “stability,” it immediately begins breaking down. Whether the current international system is stable or not, the fact remains that America’s position in that system is far from stable.
The Biden administration has talked about Chinese aggression, but its defense budget and its military leaders have yet to show they fully understand the extent and nature of that threat. Therefore, with all of its growing power and wealth, China is more likely to strike against the US and its allies sooner than 2027.