The Likelihood of War With China

The RAND organization considers the likelihood of war between the United States and China:

A recent study issued by the RAND Corporation indicates that a significant fraction of U.S. surface-naval forces involved, including aircraft carriers, and an even greater fraction of Chinese forces could be destroyed early in a spiraling armed conflict.

Although the military balance in the western Pacific still favors the U.S., this is shifting as China invests a major share of its growing military budget into “anti-access/area-denial” capabilities, like anti-ship missiles, designed to strike U.S. forces in the region.

Moreover, although the U.S. spends about three times what China does on military capabilities, China can concentrate on the western Pacific, whereas the U.S. faces threats elsewhere, such as Russia, Iran and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Although China’s military disadvantage is shrinking, it would suffer immense harm—more than the U.S.—in the event of a war. Although the collapse of bilateral trade would damage both economies, virtually all of China’s trade, being seaborne, would be disrupted by a war in the western Pacific.

Does anyone know of any wargaming of direct military conflict between the United States and China that did not expressly preclude it that did not escalate to a nuclear exchange between the two countries? I don’t.

I don’t believe, as RAND apparently does, that complacency will lead to war. I think that the most likely cause of war between the United States and China is the U. S. going to war with North Korea (for whatever reason) and China entering the conflict on North Korea’s side.

That’s the reason I believe in putting what pressure we can on the Chinese authorities, particularly soft power sorts of pressure, before the situation with North Korea gets beyond any control.

6 comments… add one
  • michael reynolds

    1) The NK regime calculates that sans nukes we may knock them off like we did Saddam and Qaddafi. So the NK regime cannot walk away from nukes.

    2) If the NK regime cannot retreat on nukes then Chinese pressure is unlikely to be effective unless China is willing to threaten the regime’s existence.

    3) Which takes us back to the regime’s survival and the foolishness from their perspective of giving up nukes.

    4) Which leaves us threatening military action, which in turn argues strongly for the NKs keeping their nukes.

    5) Meanwhile our faint hope that the Chinese will take down the NKs limits our willingness to confront them in the South China Sea.

    6) George W. Bush couldn’t square this circle, nor could Barack Obama.

    7) The only acceptable (to us) conclusion is an internal NK coup.

    8) But NK is a bad place to plot against the government, and a coup-plotter would have to ask himself whether he in turn should favor the US/SK or China. And wonder which would be more likely to bump him off early in the game.

    9) Which means even a coup regime would have to think very seriously about keeping nukes.

    From which I conclude, (with only moderate confidence,) that a decade from now NK will have nukes. Or we’ll have had World War III.

  • The NK regime calculates that sans nukes we may knock them off like we did Saddam and Qaddafi. So the NK regime cannot walk away from nukes.

    I agree. Add that to the many reasons those were both errors.

    If the NK regime cannot retreat on nukes then Chinese pressure is unlikely to be effective unless China is willing to threaten the regime’s existence.

    Regime survival is threatened with or without nukes. They’re better off without although they don’t see it that way.

    Meanwhile our faint hope that the Chinese will take down the NKs limits our willingness to confront them in the South China Sea.

    Which is why I repeat my soft power proposals. I believe that the Chinese authorities are more susceptible to them than they or you think they are. Their own survival depends on credibility. Every time the North Koreans detonate another nuclear weapon it chips away at their credibility.

    George W. Bush couldn’t square this circle, nor could Barack Obama.

    And they bamboozled Bill Clinton.

    The only acceptable (to us) conclusion is an internal NK coup.

    Since there are internal North Korean sources that have been saying that, should Kim continue down his present path there will be an internal NK coup, it seems the likelihood of that is rising.

  • michael reynolds

    After today Trump needs a very big distraction, and he needs it bad. There are perp walks coming for Manafort, Stone, Lewandowski, possibly Flynn. And maybe the head crook himself.

    An ignorant, stupid and unhinged man-baby incapable of backing down or even admitting error, in desperate need of a change of subject on the one hand; and a shaky totalitarian with pop-gun nukes and VX and a whole bunch of artillery on the other. The State Department is neutered, the DoD is missing lots of senior appointees and Trump has cut himself off from reality. If one of the clowns on Fox and Friends says the wrong thing we could be in the middle of WWIII in a hurry.

    One of those rare times I wish I didn’t live on the west coast.

  • TastyBits

    You finally got that “wascally wabbit”. By now, you should have figured out that throwing him into the brier patch is not the best move, but you ought to consider what is and is not the brier patch. I would not let Rachel Maddow make the determination, but I am not one of the smartest people in the whole wide world.

    Even if he were impeached for treason, found guilty, and faced an actual firing squad, it has been the most amusing two months, but anything Hillary Clinton tried would be a disaster like everything else. Sen. Sanders would have been somewhat amusing. but the Right would have gotten real boring, real fast.

    (Please do not list Hillary Clinton’s great achievements. Unbelievably, I am not impressed. As First Lady, she was too incompetent to do her one job, but then again, it did get her the Senate gig. She can remember to breathe, mostly, but as we learned during the campaign, she is still apt to forget.)

  • Andy

    In 1965, Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reported said this on the question of India and the bomb (Quoting from the Wikipedia entry):

    “Pakistan will fight, fight for a thousand years. If.. India builds the (atom) bomb…. (Pakistan) will eat grass or (leaves), even go hungry, but we (Pakistan) will get one of our own (atom bomb)…. We (Pakistan) have no other Choice!”

    I think the North Korean leadership sees itself in a similar situation – that the bomb is the only way they can guarantee the future of the regime and they are willing to make huge sacrifices in order to get it.

    So, in one sense, China and North Korea are frenemies. China has not extended its nuclear umbrella to North Korea and the North believes the Chinese might not come to their aid if attacked. If that’s true then Chinese moves to put more pressure on the North will just reinforce their desire to have a credible nuclear capability.

  • Gray Shambler

    Seem to remember Reagan moving theater nukes into Europe in the 80’s, designed to protect, and provoke Soviet military expenditures they could not sustain.
    Now, we have the addition of Patriot anti-missile batteries as well.
    The Kim’s will never give up the nukes, and won’t commit suicide either, but possibly He could be pressured to overextend financially, to overplay his hand out of fear, and raise the likelihood of a coup.
    Or,we could wait and watch for another 50 years, we could retreat with honor and leave the problem to the Koreans, but we would probably be drawn back in anyway as America’s evil is deeply embedded into their “educational” system.

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