The single scariest night of my life may have been on October 22, 1962, when I thought that all the duck-and-covermoments of my childhood were coming home to roost. President John F. Kennedy appeared on national television (and radio) to warn us all to duck and cover. The Soviet Union, it seemed, had managed to emplace medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba that could reach major East coast cities. He was ordering a naval "quarantine" of the island. As he put it, "We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced."
That was the beginning of what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Of course, I'm here today, so neither New Haven, where I was then a freshman in college, nor New York, where I grew up, had its Hiroshima moment, nor did anyplace else in the U.S., Russia, or Cuba. Still, it felt too close for comfort.
Despite all the years of the Cold War still to come, I never again felt that unforgettable sense that a nuclear war might break out. But never say never, not on a planet filled with such weaponry, not when its two major powers, the U.S. and China, are increasingly facing off, particularly over the island of Taiwan.
Last month, for instance, Admiral Sam Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, called China a "pacing threat," explaining that "I worry about China's intentions. It doesn't make a difference to me whether it is tomorrow, next year, or whether it is in six years. At Pacific Fleet and Indo-Pacific Command we have a duty to be ready to respond to threats to U.S. security." And that "duty," he added, includes delivering a fleet "capable of thwarting any effort on the part of the Chinese to upend that [world] order, to include the unification by force of Taiwan to the People's Republic of China."
Meanwhile, in Army circles, there is increasing discussion of the possibility of stationing a U.S. armored brigade combat team as a "tripwire force" on that very island. That way, should Beijing decide to invade, it would face U.S. troops from second one. And just as such thinking was emerging in military circles here, a Chinese publication put out a "detailed outline of a three-stage surprise attack which could pave the way for an assault landing on Taiwan." All of this, of course, was happening as the Biden administration ramps up its distinctly anti-China-focused foreign policy.
So, welcome to the world TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, founder of the Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy, considers as he peers into a future in which the Chinese Missile Crisis of 2024 or 2026 is anything but beyond imagining. Tom
On the Brink in 2026
U.S.-China Near-War Status Report
It's the summer of 2026, five years after the Biden administration identified the People's Republic of China as the principal threat to U.S. security and Congress passed a raft of laws mandating a society-wide mobilization to ensure permanent U.S. domination of the Asia-Pacific region. Although major armed conflict between the United States and China has not yet broken out, numerous crises have erupted in the western Pacific and the two countries are constantly poised for war. International diplomacy has largely broken down, with talks over climate change, pandemic relief, and nuclear nonproliferation at a standstill. For most security analysts, it's not a matter of if a U.S.-China war will erupt, but when.
Does this sound fanciful? Not if you read the statements coming out of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the upper ranks of Congress these days.
"China poses the greatest long-term challenge to the United States and strengthening deterrence against China will require DoD to work in concert with other instruments of national power," the Pentagon's 2022 Defense Budget Overview asserts. "A combat-credible Joint Force will underpin a whole-of-nation approach to competition and ensure the Nation leads from a position of strength."
On this basis, the Pentagon requested $715 billion in military expenditures for 2022, with a significant chunk of those funds to be spent on the procurement of advanced ships, planes, and missiles intended for a potential all-out, "high-intensity" war with China. An extra $38 billion was sought for the design and production of nuclear weapons, another key aspect of the drive to overpower China.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress, contending that even such sums were insufficient to ensure continued U.S. superiority vis-à-vis that country, are pressing for further increases in the 2022 Pentagon budget. Many have also endorsed the EAGLE Act, short for Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement a measure intended to provide hundreds of billions of dollars for increased military aid to America's Asian allies and for research on advanced technologies deemed essential for any future high-tech arms race with China.
Imagine, then, that such trends only gain momentum over the next five years. What will this country be like in 2026? What can we expect from an intensifying new Cold War with China that, by then, could be on the verge of turning hot?
Taiwan 2026: Perpetually on the Brink
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