Is Now the Right Time?

At 1945 James Holmes argues that, from a Clausewitzian standpoint, right now may be the perfect time for China to attack the United States:

Brands and Beckley are professors at Johns Hopkins and Tufts, respectively. Though they don’t mention the sage of nineteenth-century Prussia in their lucidly written new book Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, they apply Clausewitzian logic to Communist China, arguing that the world is witnessing “peak China.” If China stands at the zenith of its power, and if Chinese Communist Party magnates know it, then they might reason that now is their best opportunity to use military might to settle longstanding grudges.

My own view is that practically all of that is premature but a lot including the survival of the United States, the survival of China, and, possibly, the survival of the human species depends on China’s objectives and how the Chinese authorities evaluate the relative strengths of the U. S. and China.

There’s another possible scenario: China and the U. S. may be co-dependent with both recognizing that. In that event regardless of their relative strengths, it would be highly unlikely for China to engage the United States.

I would also point out that China’s military doctrine is completely untested while ours is proven. We continue to be strong militarily and weak politically as Soviet, Chinese, and Russian leaders have all recognized. I suspect that China’s way of war more closely resembles Russia’s than it does ours.

Would a second Pearl Harbor have a different outcome than the first?

13 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    A question. Why directly confront an adversary when indirectly could work too?

    Like the old British strategy; subsidize and finance everyone who has a conflict with the West (Russia / Iran / North Korea / Venezuela).

    The West tends to think it has more financial resources then anyone else; but as the British are finding, getting involved in hot wars are a very expensive endeavor indeed.

  • TastyBits Link

    This is mostly silly, at best. What does a war with China look like. The US cannot invade and occupy China, and China cannot invade and occupy the US. Same for Russia.

    Also, the Chinese are not the Japanese.

  • steve Link

    CHina has one aircraft carrier? Exactly how would they attack the US?


  • Grey Shambler Link

    Using a fifth column of Leftist Stooges.
    Purchasing the support of entertainers, athletes, and politicians.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    It should be said the Chinese did launch an attack that surprised the US in the past.

    During the Korean War, as the Americans army approached the Yalu, nobody believed the Chinese would intervene in the war despite the Chinese saying that the Americans in trying to win the war and having troops on the Chinese border were crossing a red line. So the consequent Chinese intervention was a big surprise.

    I doubt that will happen again, it requires US troops practically on the Chinese border (and a land border at that) and that the US believe Chinese intervention was unlikely like MacArthur did.

  • CHina has one aircraft carrier? Exactly how would they attack the US?

    If they cared to they could probably sink every aircraft carrier we have in the Pacific using hypersonic weapons. Or they could do considerable damage to the U. S. mainland with the nuclear arsenal they’re known to have.

    Either one of those is what I would mean by “a second Pearl Harbot”. The issue is what happens then?

  • bob sykes Link

    Steve, China has three air craft carriers, two operational ski-jump carriers, and one big deck carrier undergoing sea trials. A fourth is under construction. Also, they have both land-based and submarine-based missiles with nuclear warheads. But a conventional war to push us out of the western Pacific is more likely.

    There will not be a war with China unless we start it, which is entirely possible. China still has 600 million people in poverty, and Xi and the CPC have stated that their highest priority is to raise them up to the middle class standard of the other 800 million. That requires a generation of peace.

    The most likely way for the US to start a war is to provoke Taiwan to declare independence, which we are in fact trying to do.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    China have 2 operational aircraft carrier (but 1 is mostly for training); 1 in construction (noteworthy is it has an electromagnetic catapult); and supposedly the next one after will be a nuclear powered one, but no date has been set.

    Here is a question; why presume China strategy is like Japan? Surprise attacks to begin a war like Pearl Harbor fit with the Japanese way of war — the Japanese did a similar thing against the Russians in 1905. I don’t believe that’s the Chinese way of war.

    I am reminded from the Art of War — “ The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Another point is the CCP was made through asymmetric warfare.

    In some sense; the Chinese have very much focused on other spheres of power rather then military power — financial, “soft” cultural power, and information sphere.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler
    Much like smart bombs, hypersonic weapons are highly overrated.

    @bob sykes
    The US has 10 carrier battle groups and 80 years of operational knowledge.

  • Much like smart bombs, hypersonic weapons are highly overrated.

    I’ve read explanations of how that is the case in defense publications. My guess is we won’t be certain unless they’re actually used.

    What I think is important to keep in mind is that the failures of our various wars, e.g. Afghanistan, have been more political failures than military ones. Don’t be misled into think we have military problems because our generals are making political decisions. Generals are politicians, too. Otherwise they wouldn’t be generals.

  • steve Link

    If they nuke us we nuke them. I don’t think China has shown signs of a death wish.


  • TastyBits Link

    It might be the time to re-taking Taiwan, reuniting S. Korea, take smaller islands, etc., but the US is not getting into a conventional war with China over any of these.

    While China’s military is worthless, China is not Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, or Russia. An economic or other unconventional war is possible, but while China is dependent upon the dollar, it is not helpless.

    (The dollar is used for foreign trade because it is the most available by an order of magnitude, at least. The maximum number of bitcoins possible is 21 million, and that ain’t gonna cut it.)

    The most likely first strike will be in space. For an all out war, satellites will need to be disabled, destroyed, or hacked. Inserting a small time distortion in GPS would render it ineffective or useless.

    The US military used to teach manual navigation, but it has been decades since I was in the Marine Corps School of Infantry. The US Navy was still teaching navigating by the stars, and the ships had a timeclock(s). They also did ongoing training for manual navigation.

    So, a modern Pearl Harbor would be in Earth’s orbit, and when your GPS goes haywire, head to your fallout shelter.

    As for hypersonic weapons, they are expensive, and more sophisticated weapons are not as mass producible as the dumb versions. Next, they need to be employed tactically and strategically. Then, one hypersonic missile is not sinking an aircraft carrier, and in battle formation, ships camouflage and/or conceal their position.

    Furthermore, distance affects accuracy, and your range to a US carrier battle will determine how quickly you will die. When you fire your fancy hypersonic missile, you just gave away your position, and a lot of dumb bombs are going to rain down on you.

    The US is a bully, and like all bullies, the US is not going to pick on anybody that can retaliate. The US thinks it can bully Russia, and we are likely to stumble into an all out war with Russia. Contrary to popular belief, Russia is not a ten foot tall powerhouse. Russia is a five foot tall paranoid with a lot of nuclear weapons.

    If the Chinese think they can win an all out war with the US, they are as delusional as their cheerleaders, and I say, “bring it on.”

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I don’t believe the Chinese have an intention of starting an all-out war; or even start a kinetic conflict if the status quo persists.

    But a dispute over Taiwan is not out of the realm of the imagination.

    President Biden has said 4 times that if Taiwan is attacked, the US will defend Taiwan using US force. Biden also stated provocatively that Taiwan independence is a matter for Taiwan to decide.

    As I see it, even the US abandoning the “One China” policy has < 50% chance of causing the Chinese to use force (through it probably will sever diplomatic relations between the US and China). But a formal declaration of Taiwan independence, excessive arms supply and / or stationing of US forces in Taiwan (as happened between 1952-1979) is likely to trigger a kinetic reaction. My thinking the most likely reaction would be a blockade of Taiwan. If the blockade could not be broken by Taiwan itself — it would put immense pressure on the US navy to break the blockade by force — then who knows….

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