U.S. and China relations have soured, and these ties seem to be at a potential breaking point. While Beijing views Washington as a significant rival, it perceives the escalating tensions as indicative of a broader geopolitical shift. Given these dynamics, how prepared is the U.S. for any emergency scenarios that might arise?
The necessity of preparedness in a US-China war underscores the importance of proactive measures to mitigate potential crises. China has had a massive military and technology buildup. While the U.S. has historically been a superpower, it faces vulnerabilities in modern geopolitics. Addressing these requires strategic realignment to prevent escalation.
Currently, the outcome of such a conflict is uncertain. However, the United States must bolster the resilience of its forces in preparation. The article advocates for strategic realignment, addresses the challenges of modern deterrence, and underscores the need for proactive readiness and diplomatic solutions.
Understanding the Intricacies of U.S.-China Relations
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The relationship between the U.S. and China has evolved over the years, revealing deep interdependencies and potential vulnerabilities. Here’s a breakdown of the complexities:
- Historical Superpower Status: For a long time, the U.S. enjoyed an unchallenged superpower status, seemingly independent of its neighbors. This perception shifted dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic when it became clear that we sourced many essential pharmaceutical ingredients and personal protective equipment used in American hospitals from China.
- The Impact of the Pandemic on Trade: The management of the COVID-19 pandemic led to reduced international travel. Consequently, the flow of goods from China to the U.S. was significantly disrupted. China’s factory shutdowns to contain the virus further impacted the supply chain, with some Chinese companies even hoarding essential commodities.
- America’s Dependence on China: The U.S.’s manufacturing capacity proved insufficient, highlighting a profound reliance on China. This dependence poses risks to the nation’s health, economic well-being, and, crucially, its capacity for self-defense.
- China’s Leverage with Rare Earth Minerals: China’s dominance in producing rare earth minerals, essential for power products, gives them a significant global advantage. Aware of this power, some officials from the Chinese Communist Party have threatened to weaponize the supply chains they control, hinting at withholding supplies from non-compliant nations, including the U.S.
- Potential for Economic Sabotage: The ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China suggest not just the possibility of military conflict but also economic sabotage. If the dynamics between these two superpowers remain unchanged, the repercussions for the American economy and society could be devastating.
In light of these complexities, the importance of preparedness has never been more evident.
The United States Is in a Vulnerable Position
While China has promised to resolve its conflicts with Taiwan peacefully, it has not yet done so. As part of the peace agreement between China and the United States, the resolution of this ongoing conflict was expected.
Taiwan is a crucial technology trade partner to the United States as they make 90% of the smallest and most sophisticated semiconductor chips in the world.
China urged the United States to not intervene in Taiwan, viewing it as an integral part of China and deeming their disputes with Taiwan as internal matters. They emphasized their aversion to external interference. However, both nations eventually reneged on their agreements, with the United States notably siding with Taiwan in the conflict.
Many observers posit these tensions could escalate into a significant regional conflict between China and the United States in the Taiwan Strait. Alarmingly, the United States might be under-equipped, as its current munition stockpiles might be inadequate against a formidable adversary like China. Specifically, there’s a shortage of precision-guided and long-range munitions, with existing supplies potentially lasting only a week in combat.
The U.S.’s vulnerability was further highlighted post the Ukraine conflict. It became clear that the U.S. relied on Ukraine for crucial supplies, including missile and radio production. The U.S. requires specific materials and components for manufacturing this equipment, often sourced from China.
Should there be a halt in key exports during a war, the U.S. would find it challenging to enhance its military capabilities. The looming question is the potential scale and devastation that might afflict America, possibly surpassing the turmoil witnessed in Ukraine. The U.S. forces could deplete the ammunition essential for sustained combat.
The Thinning Timeline
Half a decade ago, the idea of a conflict between the United States and China seemed almost unthinkable. The landscape of global politics painted a picture of relative stability between these two superpowers.
Yet, recent statements from the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have shifted this perspective dramatically. He suggests that China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has accelerated the timeline for Taiwan’s annexation.
This adjustment not only underscores the heightened tensions between the two nations, but also indicates that a potential conflict could be on the horizon. The once-distant possibility of war now looms closer, demanding the world’s undivided attention.
How China Has Been Getting Ready for a Potential U.S.–China Showdown
The historical ascent of the United States to its status as one of the world’s superpowers was driven by various factors, with the belief in manifest destiny being particularly prominent.
In a parallel manner, China has been championing similar ideals, carving out its own interpretation of manifest destiny. There’s compelling evidence suggesting China envisions itself as the nation divinely chosen to propagate democracy and capitalism throughout Asia.
A testament to this vision is China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to do the following:
- Massive military and technology buildup for the past 10 years.
- Establish pivotal shipping ports in strategic cities spanning the Indian Ocean, East China Seas, South China Seas, the Mediterranean Sea, and the South Pacific Ocean.
- Develop transportation infrastructure like railways, highways, and airports across the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
- Enhance the combat capabilities of its armed forces, with an emphasis on the Coast Guard and Navy.
- Invest substantially in a digital information network, targeting potential cyber exploitation.
- Provide advanced training to cyber specialists to bolster the nation’s prowess in the digital realm.
- Intensify the operations of Chinese hackers.
With its significant investment in global infrastructure, China aims to expand its sphere of influence, potentially gaining control over a majority of goods transported worldwide. By becoming a pivotal stakeholder for numerous local governments, China positions itself to potentially emerge as the world’s dominant superpower.
What the United States Should Do
In light of escalating tensions with China, U.S. leadership should prioritize several areas of concern in its war preparedness strategy. To effectively address the challenges posed by the evolving geopolitical landscape, the United States should:
- Relocate assets of the United States Air Force closer to China, encompassing personnel, aircraft, materials, and equipment.
- Redirect military funding from establishing bases and temporary facilities in allied nations, channeling these resources towards war preparedness against China.
- Cultivate cross-cultural competence, enabling American airmen to grasp China’s history, culture, and viewpoints. This understanding will empower them to make informed decisions in real-world situations.
- Strengthen interagency collaborations, ensuring clarity on mission sets so every agency comprehends its role, expectations, and responsibilities during wartime. Clear communication will guarantee that all agencies are well-informed about the potential adversary.
- Invest heavily in cyber networks, satellite communication radars, and broadcasting towers to facilitate seamless communication between top-tier leadership and front-line commanders.
- Initiate dialogues with partner nations, especially those in Southeast Asia, to aid the U.S. government’s strategic planning.
- Counter China’s territorial expansion by positioning more strategic assets and bolstering cyber capabilities.
- Boost the nation’s surveillance and aircraft response capabilities, including deploying additional satellites to preempt threats targeting the communication infrastructure.
- Put a spotlight on innovation across all facets, encompassing war strategies, missions, and organizational structures.
Strategic Considerations in Modern Conflict
The United States retains the option of leveraging the deterrence theory, commonly used in armed conflicts. Yet, the recent example of Russia invading Ukraine, despite the foreseeable consequences of such an action, highlights that deterrence isn’t always foolproof. However, it has proven effective in the past, notably in preventing an expected nuclear confrontation.
Engaging in a nuclear war would devastate one’s own nation, regardless of the conflict’s outcome. As once articulated by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, nuclear war is unwinnable and should never be initiated.
In the context of potential U.S.-China hostilities, deterrence seems a more prudent approach, especially considering the potential deployment of advanced 21st-century technologies.
While conventional wars can indeed be waged and won, the decision to engage hinges on a careful evaluation of the costs and benefits of initiating and escalating hostilities. In the U.S.-China scenario, the detriments of war currently seem to outweigh the benefits.
Recent global events serve as poignant reminders of the unpredictability and uncertainties inherent in armed confrontations.
The evolving U.S.-China relationship underscores the importance of preparedness for potential conflict. Historically, the U.S. has enjoyed superpower status, but China’s rise, marked by initiatives like the Belt and Road, challenges this dynamic. The vulnerabilities of the U.S., evident from its dependencies during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine conflict, highlight the need for strategic realignment.
While deterrence has historically prevented major confrontations, recent events, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, question its universal effectiveness. Given the advanced technologies of the 21st century, a U.S.-China conflict would have unpredictable outcomes, emphasizing the need for readiness and diplomatic efforts to prevent escalation.
- Air University: Preparing for US War with China—2025–2032
- Airforce Technology: Securing the Rare Earth Supply Chain Is Crucial for Defence
- Axios: Beijing Speeding Up Plans to Seize Taiwan, Blinken Says
- Council on Foreign Relations: China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative
- Council on Foreign Relations: Why China-Taiwan Relations Are So Tense
- CSIS: The U.S. Defense Industrial Base Is Not Prepared for a Possible Conflict with China
- Johns Hopkins SAIS: Technology, Complexity, Uncertainty, and Deterrence
- The Hill: With China, America Faces a Preparedness Crisis