China: What the Matchup Looks Like

Some pundits have noted that the U.S.-led effort against ISIS has not been effective, with ISIS being able to continue to take territory.  This has led to some angst about how effective our systems are against these fanatical irregular troops.  It turns out that they are not meant to be effective.  The New York Times has reported that U.S. aircraft are not striking well-identified ISIS command posts.  Fear of civilian casualties is the excuse, but the real reason may be that President Obama prefers hard-line Islamists over moderate ones – witness the U.S. reaction to the overthrow of President Morsi of Egypt. 

Whatever the reason, the conflict in the Middle East is just a lead-up to the main event, which is the civilizational clash with China.  Operation Inherent Resolve might be more of a training exercise than an attempt to change facts on the ground, but it is time to husband war stocks for the war in which winning is going to be very important.

China has now completed the 3,000-meter runway on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, and its forts are likely to be at the fitting out stage.  A couple of observers have now twigged to what the Chinese intent is with their nine-dash claim.  With respect to Vietnam, for instance, China intends to bottle up the Vietnamese Navy and fishing fleets to within 80 km of the Vietnamese coastline, which is 1,600 km long facing the South China Sea.  To paraphrase George Orwell, the future that China is working toward is one in which they have their boot stamping on the Vietnamese face – forever.  They are not just picking on the Vietnamese.  Everyone else will get the same treatment, and Asia will become a much darker place, with enormous resentment towards China.

To back off from this path would mean China losing face, and gaining face is the point of the exercise in the first place.  Thus, war is inevitable in order to avoid the dark future of Chinese domination of Asia on racial grounds.  It will be a race-based war in that China believes that it should dominate Asia because of the innate superiority of its people and culture.

No matter what particular incident will trigger the war when it comes, how will we all go in the matchup?

The man who predicted the modern age of industrial warfare was a Polish banker by the name of Jan Bloch in 1898.  His insights were that:

  • New arms technology rendered maneuver over open ground obsolete.
  • The resultant stalemate would develop an enormous battlefront.
  • War would become a duel of industrial might and economic attrition.

The continuing advances in weapons technology have reinforced all those factors, and that aids the defense.  Jan Bloch calculated that the defense would have a fourfold advantage over the offense.  For China to prevail, they would have to be four times larger than the effort deployed against them.  How the matchup looks is shown by this graph of the protagonists’ GDPs in 2014:

The countries east and south of China that will be the ones most affected by China’s irredentism have a combined GDP almost equal to that of China.  Australia and Japan together could hold off a Chinese attack and run a successful blockade, with or without U.S. involvement.  China might be able to sink vessels and shoot down aircraft within a few hundred kilometers of the Chinese coast, but by the same token, they won’t be able to go anywhere, either.  Chinese ships will be easily detected and sunk.  The one Chinese aircraft carrier will be sunk soon after it leaves port.  It might not have to leave port to be sunk. 

The South China Sea in particular will become a kill box for Chinese ships and aircraft, because their positions will be known constantly from hundreds of kilometers away.  Vietnamese radars on the western side will hand contacts over to U.S. radars on the eastern side with help from Australian AWACs.  With their positions known, it will just be a case of throwing enough ASCMs and BVR AAMs at them.  China is using a lot of reinforcing bar in their forts in the Spratly Islands, and it will need it.  The world will find that it can get by without Chinese goods, and the blockade will spur a manufacturing boom in Mexico and many other places.  The coming conflict is a test of Western civilization, and we must not resile from it.  Neither should we fear it, because the odds are in our favor. 

David Archibald, a visiting fellow at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., is the author of Twilight of Abundance (Regnery, 2014).