The previous issue of this two-part series discussed the importance and relevance of peace through strength, why this national-security approach can work in deterring the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and some of the initial steps taken by the Trump and Biden administrations aimed at this crucial objective. In this issue, we explore additional steps the White House and Congress must take to prevent a war no one wants.

Before we discuss those steps, it’s important to discuss China’s actions. America is not contriving pretexts for conflict, but rather reacting to years of aggressive behavior on Beijing’s part.

In and above the East China Sea, Beijing is constantly violating Japanese airspace (58 incursions per month), loitering coast guard vessels in Japanese waters for days at a time, and surging fishing vessels into the region. All the while, Beijing illegally claims some 90 percent of the South China Sea. Xi Jinping has backed up those claims by building 3,200 acres of illegal islands beyond PRC waters. These “Made in China” islands include SAM batteries, warplanes, anti-ship missiles and radar systems. Xi promised he would never militarize these islands. But as America and its allies learned at enormous cost last century, words don’t matter to men like Xi. All that matters are strength and the will to wield it. Xi has both. China’s annual defense budget eclipses $261 billion. It could be higher; Beijing’s books are notoriously undependable. Even accepting that figure, China’s military spending is up 517 percent since 2000. (By comparison, China spends more on arms than Britain, France, Japan and South Korea—combined.) On the strength of all that military spending, Xi now boasts a 350-ship navy—the world’s largest.

Xi’s goal is to control the resource-rich South and East China Seas, assert sovereignty claims, muscle the United States out of the Western Pacific, and of course, bring Taiwan under his heel. Xi has made clear that, one way or another, democratic Taiwan “must and will be” absorbed by the communist mainland.

Here at home, the PRC’s hack-and-harvest cyber-siege of U.S. industry costs Americans as much as $600 billion annually. Xi’s cyber-soldiers have targeted U.S. military systems; financial data on 21.5 million Americans stored by the Office of Personnel Management; networks at NASA and the Pentagon; and vaccine research at U.S. biopharmaceutical firms. That brings us to COVID-19—a local public-health problem that metastasized into a global pandemic because of Beijing’s incompetence or intention. A likely lasting consequence of the COVID-19 crisis is how it awakened America to the true nature of the PRC. We now know that Xi’s henchmen lied about human-to-human transmission; allowed thousands to leave the epicenter in Wuhan for destinations around the world; carried out a premeditated plan to hoard 2.5 billion pieces of protective equipment as the virus swept the globe; blocked scientists from sharing findings about genome sequencing for precious weeks; and continue to refuse to cooperate with international health agencies. In short, the PRC—like the USSR before it—is an ends-justify-the-means regime that has contempt for international norms of behavior and respect for only one thing: deterrent military strength.

Deterrence not only works (as discussed in the previous issue); deterrence is grafted into the very fiber of the American Republic.

“There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy,” President George Washington counseled. As America took on the burden of leading the free world, another general-president said something similar: “Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action,” President Dwight Eisenhower explained, “so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk its own destruction.” And as he penned the final chapters of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan observed, “None of the four wars in my lifetime came about because we were too strong…Our military strength is a prerequisite for peace.”

Regrettably, President Joe Biden was part of an administration that downgraded defense spending and shelved deterrent military assets. Even before the bipartisan gamble known as sequestration lopped off $500 billion in defense spending, the Obama-Biden White House had squeezed $487 billion from projected Pentagon spending. Thus, in a time metastasizing global instability, defense spending fell from 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009 to just a tick above 3 percent in 2016 ($606.9 billion). The results are not for the faint of heart.

Consider the state of the U.S. Navy, which plays the lead role in deterrence operations in a maritime domain like the South and East China Seas. Biden wants to move “60 percent of our sea power to that area of the world, to let the Chinese understand that they're not going to go any further.” This would represent a strong deterrent signal. But the U.S. Navy deploys just 297 ships—dozens fewer than the PRC—and those ships are dispersed around the world, while China’s are concentrated in its neighborhood. At the height of the Reagan rebuild, by comparison, America’s Navy boasted 594 ships. Today’s Navy may be more ambidextrous than the Cold War-era Navy, but deterrence is usually about presence. And today’s Navy lacks the ships to be all the places it’s needed. “For us to meet what combatant commanders request,” according to former CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert, “we need a Navy of 450 ships.”

Recent bipartisan efforts to rebuild America’s deterrent strength include increased defense spending, additional ships, reactivated units and a Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). The bad news is that growing the fleet and building up more deterrent assets—the DoD already is requesting additional PDI funding—will be difficult amidst the soaring costs related to COVID-19 recovery. The good news is that America is not alone.

Japan has increased defense spending nine years running. Japan is upconverting its helicopter carriers into full-fledged aircraft carriers armed with F-35s; has stood up island-defense units; has constructed East China Sea military bases laden with anti-ship and air-defense missiles; and has authorized construction of military-grade runways on Mageshima Island. Plus, Japan is literally lending a helping hand to the U.S. military—conducting 39 asset-protection missions for U.S. warships and warplanes in 2019 and 2020.

Australia is increasing defense spending by 40 percent by 2029. The Aussies are fielding new anti-ship missile systems, anti-submarine systems, cyber-defenses and squadrons of F-35s; doubling their submarine fleet; and hosting U.S. Marines, F-22s and B-52s for extended rotations.

India increased defense spending by 49 percent the past decade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently called for “growing defense and security cooperation…to protect our strategic interests.” In 2019, U.S. Marines deployed to India for exercises. In 2020, the Nimitz carrier strike group rendezvoused with a flotilla of Indian warships for maneuvers, and the two powers signed a satellite-intelligence agreement. In 2021, a U.S. B-1B and support assets visited India—the first U.S. bomber deployment to India since 1945.

These three regional powers plus the U.S. comprise the Quad—once an informal diplomatic dialogue that’s edging toward a security partnership. The Quad democracies are conducting large-scale naval maneuvers, while deepening cooperation on military basing, intelligence-sharing and supply-chain resilience.

Out-of-area allies are pitching in, too. France is enforcing freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, sending warships through the Taiwan Strait, deploying attack submarines in the region, and dispatching the Charles de Gaulle carrier group throughout the region. Britain, too, has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, and her majesty’s newest aircraft carrier is headed to the Pacific for its maiden deployment. NATO recently released a report that calls on the alliance to devote “more time, political resources and action to the security challenges posed by China,” which the document labels “a full-spectrum systemic rival.”

The more help, the more allies, the more ships, the better. To borrow an apt phrase from the maritime world, the China challenge is an all-hands-on-deck effort. Our allies and partners are force-multipliers—enhancing deterrence by providing both strategic depth and frontline support against China.

Photo: shutterstock/cnnmoney
A Chinese athlete has been both praised and condemned online for a decision to drop a national flag to win a race.