Chinese military strategy is smarter than American military strategy. China merely has to project force while the other ends up being bogged down in a myriad of expensive unresolvable conflicts. The United States needs to realize it cannot save Iraq and it certainly cannot save Afghanistan. History has proven that Western powers ultimately fail to alter events in countries where ethnic and cultural rivalries are heavily entrenched. And in wars specifically involving people of color, the United States has achieved little success. China has considered it unnecessary to engage in costly military endeavors.
Unlike the United States, which believes it is obligated to solve global instead of domestic challenges, China has not wasted precious financial resources trying to shape other nations in their own image. Historically, China considered itself the Middle Kingdom. The Chinese saw their culture as superior to those of others, yet also believed in not trying to impose its perceived cultural superiority on others. It was a pointless effort as far as the Chinese were concerned. Why try and change the world when you already have what you need within your borders?
This seems to be what Chinese strategic thinking is based on. China need not answer to anyone and has smartly stayed out of the fray of costly conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia. Why spend money attempting to save people who do not want your help? The Chinese have seen the United States bankrupt itself trying to hold Iraq and Afghanistan together with minimal success. If anything, the Chinese have informally contracted the United States military as a proverbial security guard. China spends hardly a dime in protecting its borders from terrorists as the United States is doing it for them. The United States coincidentally creates a buffer zone around China’s south and central Asian borders, using American dollars and taking on the unenviable burden of managing global security.
To put it simply, the Chinese have no need to preempt threats against the homeland because someone is already doing it for them. They have few enemies because they have not invaded other countries and have not told others what they can and cannot do. The Chinese have understood the value of keeping their noses out of other people’s business. They are perfectly content to allow the United States to contend with the baggage of being a global police force, while China avoids incurring threats from terrorist organizations and displeasure from emerging powers.
China has also developed an ingenious strategy with regards to arms. While China does not possess the kind of advanced arsenal utilized by the United States military, it makes up for the deficit in sheer numbers. But here is the interesting part. China never intends to use this military equipment. The Chinese have come to realize that the United States has, what I will call, a “qualitative military edge” fetish. In other words, the United States, while it recognizes the inferiority of Chinese military technology compared to its own, is obsessed with maintaining a military advantage no potential enemy can reach. However, what use is all this advanced weaponry when it will never be used in battle?
Let us take the F-22 Raptor for instance. This expensive aircraft has been in service for almost a decade, but has yet to fire a single air-to-air missile in combat. As a matter of fact, the last time the United States actually shot down a manned enemy aircraft was 1993. For those who are bad with numbers, the last air-to-air kill happened 21 years ago. The United States has the best combat pilots in the world, whose deadliness is only enhanced by their constant training regimen and superior equipment. There is not a single air force in the world that can contend with American combat pilots. That is an established fact. Yet the United States somehow thinks it is due for a conventional war with the Chinese, evinced by its so-called “Pivot to Asia”. While this is mainly a show of force aimed at deterring potential Chinese aggression against our allies in the region, it is nevertheless an expensive endeavor, requiring the United States to commit an extensive array of military assets, such as the F-22.
But what reason would the Chinese have to even engage the United States or its allies. One could say the Diaoyu / Senkaku islands spat between China and Japan is evidence of Chinese desires to infringe upon Japanese sovereignty. But this is absolute nonsense. For starters, these islands, which are virtually uninhabitable, possess no strategic or even tactical significance. They are rocks for all intents and purposes. If the Chinese really wanted to infringe upon Japanese sovereignty they would be focusing their attention on Hokkaido.
What about Taiwan though? Again, there is more fear than facts regarding this situation. Despite Chinese perceptions of Taiwan being a renegade province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it actually maintains extensive trade ties with the Republic of China (ROC) which is Taiwan’s official name. In fact, Chinese from China routinely visit the island for vacation and some Taiwanese even travel to China. In spite of all the blustery rhetoric, China has no interest in invading Taiwan. The United States may think otherwise, but the evidence simply does not exist to substantiate such fears. China understands they have much to lose by trying to settle an old score with a breakaway republic of Chinese nationalists. The United States will certainly respond with overwhelming force and defeat the Chinese in a relatively short period of time.
China lacks a blue water navy, an expression which characterizes a navy as having global reach. You need a navy to invade and hold an island and China does not have enough naval assets to capture, hold, and defend the island from American or allied counterattacks. The conflict would be a mess for the Chinese as they would be facing not just the United States but a plethora of allies that would likely include Japan, Australia, France, India, and possibly the United Kingdom. Such an allied naval force would dwarf the Chinese navy and make any naval engagement extremely risky. China has no aircraft carriers, it operates a fleet of inferior submarines, and has no ability to project respectable naval power beyond its immediate twelve mile limit or its 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
In sum, the central Chinese concept is to get the United States to spend itself into oblivion, developing military technology that will never be used in battle against the Chinese. The American defense doctrine of maintaining a qualitative military edge in the interest of defending American interests in wars that may never happen is simply unsustainable. The Chinese have recognized this glaring flaw and continue to build up an arsenal of inferior equipment, knowing the United States will foolishly invest in technology instead of more important matters such as training and force retention. Let us remember that China was home to one of the greatest military minds in human history, Sun Tzu. Tzu wrote extensively about the concept of deception and the Chinese have perfected the concept quite admirably. They have gotten the United States to fear a paper tiger. The Chinese have managed to subdue the United States militarily without firing a single shot. It has let the United States bleed itself in battles which will yield little benefit. China has tricked the United States into thinking that global supremacy is predicated upon a large and technologically advanced military force, capable of projecting power around the globe.
Western civilization has a habit of engaging in costly and ultimately failed attempts to shape the globe. Alexander the Great managed to conquer the known world, but died early and ultimately had his vast global empire collapse amid infighting amongst his generals and their descendents. The Romans also had an extensive empire but ultimately found the exercise to be quite unwieldy and were ultimately taken over by the barbarians they looked down upon. The British once had vast colonial holdings in North America, the Caribbean, Africa, as well as East, South, and Central Asia. But following the Second World War, the British were quickly reduced to a North Atlantic collection of islands with minimal global influence. The sun had finally set on the vaunted British Empire and a number of other European colonial powers. The United States is likely to suffer the same fate. In time, the United States will also be forced to withdraw its military forces from the far corners of the globe.
The Chinese have been watching Western blunders for quite some time and have discerned patterns in Western behavior. China has taken the collective Western ego and turned it into a liability. In particular, the United States hates to have its pride wounded and believes tough talk, enhanced with military action, is the only means of maintaining global dominance. It reacts rather predictably to threats from abroad and has yet to demonstrate an more effective strategy. Furthermore, the logistical constraints of maintaining a global force is expensive and ultimately puts a strain on domestic resources. This was another concept Sun Tzu taught the Chinese. Logistics are arguably more important than the battles themselves. For in order to have fighting force you must keep your troops fed, pay them, give them weapons, maintain their weapons, move their weapons, transport your troops, fuel your equipment, and provide protection for your supply lines. There is more to a military than fighting a war and the Chinese are letting the United States overextend itself. The United States is not exceptional compared to its Western antecedents and is just as likely to commit the very same errors, which it has committed time and again.
The United States needs to stop mirror imaging or assuming that the Chinese will act in the way our noted foreign policy experts say they will. It needs to recognize that the Chinese military concept of armed supremacy is far different from our own. The American defense doctrine is to defend the homeland against all threats, both real and potential. Meanwhile, the Chinese defense doctrine is to keep your efforts focused and discerning, involving yourself in military matters only when necessary. The United States believes military strength is based upon an ability to use kinetic weaponry, while the Chinese believe in embracing a diversified arsenal of kinetic and digital weapons. An ability to harm the economy of your enemy with lines of code is much more consequential than fighting for a piece of land with bullets, bombs, and missiles. The United States may be able to beat the Chinese on a conventional battlefield, but may not be able to defend against a devastating attack upon our country with a determined band of hackers. Granted, the United States is perfectly capable of defending itself from Chinese cyber attacks. However, the mere ability to even launch such an attack should be cause for concern. Cyber weapons are probably the best deterrent China has against the United States, besides its nuclear arsenal.
Ultimately, one needs to ask what China would gain by going to war. China and the United States, regardless of their diplomatic jousting, live through symbiosis. They are interdependent powers which rely on each other economically. It makes absolutely no sense to jeopardize your economic supremacy over some unbridled sense of patriotism and duty. All too often, pundits and policymakers forget that wars cost money. One simply does not wake up one morning and says he wants to go war. He cannot simply point to a place on the map and say I want to hurt this guy without having a good reason for doing so. Yet ad infinitum, men do just that. They do not think several steps ahead and often react instead of responding with sense. Western armies have consistently operated under the premise that wars have no impact on their local economies. All too often Americans are told that only five percent of their GDP goes towards the military. That is an established fact. However, spending two trillion dollars on Iraq is bound to have negative consequences, regardless of how small your military spending is relative to GDP. Expenditures this large will most certainly take finances away from other sectors of the economy and ironically, leave less economic resources available to fund wars.