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A Tale of Two 4-Stars
Milley v. Richard
How should we talk about the People’s Republic of China?
The PRC, historically a land power, now has the world’s largest navy. I’m still a bit shocked this fact has not resulted in an appropriate response in DC and then nation at large, but complacency is a hell of a drug.
To its south, the PRC continues to make aggressive moves against India. To her east and southeast she is either threatening to seize land and sea as she is against Taiwan, or outright taking as in the South China Sea.
Diplomatically, she continues to grow her presence not just in the islands in the western Pacific, but along the world’s sea lines of communication - up to and including in the Western Hemisphere.
As we’ve covered here since 2004, the PRC is playing The Long Game with the understanding that “to be the hegemon, you have to beat the hegemon.”
Only the willfully blind or compromised cannot see the clear trends. You have to respect the PRC in this regard; they have been focused, persistent, and determined to one goal; replace the United States as the premier world power.
Though many American “elites” refuse to see it, the PRC’s elite know full well that American power resides in its sea power. To reclaim what she sees as historically hers at sea, this land power knows it must fight and defeat the Americans at sea - or have such regional strength that the Americans realize they cannot oppose the PRC righting historical wrongs west of Wake. She would be happy for us to just gracefully back away from the inevitable, but if needed she is prepared - as Japan did to Russia over a century ago - to force the new reality at war.
History has seen this pattern before, and will see it again. It is as old as our species. It doesn’t matter if you are the village elders in the forests at the edge of the steppe, or the French General Staff in 1939 - ignoring, happy-talking, mental vapor-lock, or just hoping is never the best approach to a rising power’s challenge.
Let’s look at two recent examples of the state of the conversation at the very heights of our uniformed leadership. Two very different men with two very different approaches.
Pick your player.
"We are witnessing a strategic breakout by China. The explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking. And frankly, that word breathtaking may not be enough," he said.
China is rapidly improving its strategic nuclear capability and capacity, Richard said. It's growing and enhancing its missile force, including multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. These include intermediate range ballistic missiles, mobile ICBMs and submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles.
Beijing is also pursuing advanced weapons such as hypersonics, he said.
"Because of these challenges our current terrestrial- and space-based sensor architecture may not be sufficient to detect and track these hypersonic missiles," he said.
In 2019, China tested more ballistic missiles than the rest of the world combined, he noted.
Beijing is also developing a modern nuclear command and control capability and is modernizing its conventional forces to include ships, submarines and aircraft, he added.
"They have the largest Navy in the world and they have the third largest air force in the world," he said.
As one would expect from a nuclear trained submariner with multiple command tours, Admiral Richard’s statements are fact based, direct, and are a clear representation of the world as it is.
He also outlines some proper responses to the challenges he outlines;
To better understand and respond to national security threats, the department needs to harness America's great intellectual community, as it has done before with the RAND Corporation, he said.
The ongoing National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review, are the ideal means to address the threats, inform decision makers and inform the department's path forward.
Industry as well needs to shore up the nation's defenses by delivering needed technology and systems on time and at reasonable cost, he said.
The importance of allied and partner interoperability and rigorous joint and combined war games and exercises cannot be overstated, Richard said.
You can argue the “what next” response, but you can’t argue with the “what” or “so what.”
There is something anyone from the deckplate leader to Congress to act on there.
The Joint Chiefs chairman warned against the rise of “overheated” rhetoric of a looming U.S. war with China, and he said he doubts China’s chances of “conquering” Taiwan. But, he added, the United States should continue to quicken arms shipments to the self-governing nation and its own military capabilities, just in case.
“I think there's a lot of rhetoric in China, and a lot of rhetoric elsewhere, to include the United States, that could create the perception that war is right around the corner or we’re on the brink of war with China,” Milley said in an interview with Defense One.
“And that could happen. I mean, it is possible that you could have an incident or some other trigger event that could lead to uncontrolled escalation. So, it's not impossible. But I don't think at this point I would put it in the likely category,” said Milley. “And I think that the rhetoric itself can overheat the environment.”
Milley said Taiwan needs air defense, anti-ship cruise missiles, and anti-ship mines. But he said the island itself, its population of 23 million—including 170,000 active duty military and 1-to-2 million reserves,—and China’s lack of experience make a takeover unlikely. “It favors the defense. It would be a very difficult island to capture,” he said.
“For the Chinese to conduct an amphibious and airborne operation to seize that island—to actually seize it?—That's a really difficult operation. But Xi put the challenge out there, and we'll see where it goes.”
Where do I even begin with this man who has clearly lost the bubble? This is just another datapoint.
This is from the guy who, in his own words;
Did not see AFG falling as fast as it did.
Held no one accountable for #1, even himself.
Called his PLA counterpart concerning a domestic political issue.
In open, in front of Congress and everyone, pretends to be ignorant of his military’s engagement in gender socio-political culture wars - an ignorance that supports one side of the political spectrum, while also being enthusiastic in his military’s and personal involvement in another socio-political culture war topic - an advocacy that supports the same side of the political spectrum as his ignorance.
Which 4-star do you think policy makers, leaders, and the general public should listen to and align with when it comes to the PRC?
What does history tell you?
What do the facts tell you?
What does your gut tell you?