Yep, it happened again for the 11th time this year. (In 2020, the number was 13.) An American warship, in this case the guided-missile destroyer Milius, sailed through the Taiwan Strait between mainland China and the disputed island of Taiwan to, as a Navy spokesperson put it, "demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific." From the Navy point of view, the Milius's recent voyage is nothing but a vivid demonstration that "the United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows." Who cares how upset Chinese officials might get?
And honestly, who can deny it? Anywhere is anywhere, no matter how loaded (if you'll excuse that all-too-loaded word) the situation there might be. If Chinese officials are disturbed, how unreasonable of them! TomDispatch regular Michael Klare, in fact, keeps a tally of such close encounters of the naval kind at his Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy website. So far this year, he's already counted 56 of them in the region, no small number when you think about it and any one of which could lead, all too literally, to an explosive situation.
Yes, the spokesmen for the Chinese government, which claims the island of Taiwan as its own, complain bitterly about such constant provocations (as those officials see it). As one put it in response to the latest American sortie, "U.S. warships have repeatedly flexed muscles, made provocations, and stirred up trouble in the Taiwan Strait in the name of 'freedom of navigation.' This is by no means commitment to freedom and openness, but rather deliberate disruption and sabotage of regional peace and stability" but who really cares?
Now, admittedly, I have yet to see American officials invite Chinese naval vessels to sail up and down the California coast, but no one in Washington would mind that, would they? Of course not! In fact, I'm sure, that, in the name of upholding international law, there's an open invitation to some Chinese guided-missile destroyer to visit soon and often! In the meantime, as Klare suggests today, such maneuvers might be the least of our future problems with a potential World War III looming on the horizon. Tom
Countdown to World War III?
It May Arrive Sooner Than You Think
When the Department of Defense released its annual report on Chinese military strength in early November, one claim generated headlines around the world. By 2030, it suggested, China would probably have 1,000 nuclear warheads three times more than at present and enough to pose a substantial threat to the United States. As a Washington Post headline put it, typically enough: "China accelerates nuclear weapons expansion, seeks 1,000 warheads or more, Pentagon says."
The media, however, largely ignored a far more significant claim in that same report: that China would be ready to conduct "intelligentized" warfare by 2027, enabling the Chinese to effectively resist any U.S. military response should it decide to invade the island of Taiwan, which they view as a renegade province. To the newsmakers of this moment, that might have seemed like far less of a headline-grabber than those future warheads, but the implications couldn't be more consequential. Let me, then, offer you a basic translation of that finding: as the Pentagon sees things, be prepared for World War III to break out any time after January 1, 2027.
To appreciate just how terrifying that calculation is, four key questions have to be answered. What does the Pentagon mean by "intelligentized" warfare? Why would it be so significant if China achieved it? Why do U.S. military officials assume that a war over Taiwan could erupt the moment China masters such warfare? And why would such a war over Taiwan almost certainly turn into World War III, with every likelihood of going nuclear?
Why "Intelligentization" Matters
First, let's consider "intelligentized" warfare. Pentagon officials routinely assert that China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), already outmatches the U.S. in sheer numbers more troops, more tanks, more planes, and especially more ships. Certainly, numbers do matter, but in the sort of high-paced "multi-domain" warfare American strategists envision for the future, "information dominance" in the form of superior intelligence, communications, and battlefield coordination is expected to matter more. Only when the PLA is "intelligentized" in this fashion, so the thinking goes, will it be able to engage U.S. forces with any confidence of success.
The naval aspect of the military balance between the two global powers is considered especially critical since any conflict between them is expected to erupt either in the South China Sea or in the waters around Taiwan. Washington analysts regularly emphasize the PLA's superiority in sheer numbers of combat naval "platforms." A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report released in October, for instance, noted that "China's navy is, by far, the largest of any country in East Asia, and within the past few years it has surpassed the U.S. Navy in numbers of battle force ships, making China's navy the numerically largest in the world." Statements like these are routinely cited by Congressional hawks to secure more naval funding to close the "gap" in strength between the two countries.
As it happens, though, a careful review of comparative naval analyses suggests that the U.S. still enjoys a commanding lead in critical areas like intelligence collection, target acquisition, anti-submarine warfare, and data-sharing among myriad combat platforms sometimes called C4ISR (for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), or to use the Chinese terms, "informationized" and "intelligentized" warfare.
"Although China's naval modernization effort has substantially improved China's naval capabilities in recent years," the CRS report noted, "China's navy currently is assessed as having limitations or weaknesses in certain areas, including joint operations with other parts of China's military, antisubmarine warfare, [and] long-range targeting."
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