US officials who are ready to fight China over Taiwan don't understand how much is at stake
Many of America's leading military and political figures have, in recent days, issued increasingly alarmist warnings about the potential for conflict with China, especially related to issues surrounding Taiwan.
But before we get into a crisis where we are either at the threshold of war - or find that we've stumbled into one - US policymakers and military leaders need to address some hard, cold realities.
There is almost no scenario in which the United States can successfully intervene in a war between China and Taiwan that will not leave our country in far worse shape than it is right now; in a worst-case scenario, American territory could be struck by nuclear missiles.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific, warned that Chinese military developments looked to him like a nation planning for a war.
Davidson added that he believed China would attempt to forcibly reunify Taiwan "in the next six years." To guard against this possibility, Davidson asked Congress to provide a whopping $27 billion in additional funding over the current defense budget.
One of the featured programs for this increase is the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). Last year, Congress allocated $2.1 billion for the initiative. This year Davidson is asking for more than double that amount, to $4.6 billion.
The PDI's main objectives will be to increase the number of ground-based cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and hypersonic missiles in areas closer to Chinese territory. That effort is already well underway.
Last October the US Marines completed construction on its first new permanent base in the Indo-Pacific area since 1952. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have additional plans to establish new bases or expand existing ones at Tinian Island, Palau, Guam, Hawaii, and Australia - all along the so-called "first island chain" near China's coastline.
The expansion is designed to enhance US ability to conduct "island hopping" operations and create the ability to rapidly create military airfields in austere environments.
The reason for this forward expansion, explained Davidson, was to reduce or eliminate the time necessary for American military forces to engage Chinese targets.
© US Air Force F-15Es and a B-2 bomber over Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. US Air Force
At present, the admiral said it would take US forces on the US West Coast more than three weeks to get within range of China and troops from Alaska 17 days. But the "perfect speed," Davidson concluded, was "being there."
Almost entirely absent from the hearing, however, was any explanation of what compelling imperative drives the United States to elevate the risk of war by speeding an increase in the number of troops near the Chinese coast.
As a freedom-loving democracy, the United States is a strong advocate for the independence and freedom of any people, including Taiwan. But to that laudable belief must be added a willingness to assess the world in a realistic way.
Right now, both the United States and China are in a spiral in which one side expands its capabilities for war, citing rising threats from the other - which are then offered as justification for yet more military spending and preparation for war by each.
China is building infrastructure to project power westward to the first island chain at the same time US forces are moving infrastructure eastward toward the first island chain and Chinese coast. Every day increases the chance of an accident or miscalculation leading to war.
Both the United States and China say they don't want war, yet both sides are accelerating and expanding their preparation for war against each other.
If the United States were to one day fight China for anything other than an unprovoked attack, we would be choosing a course which would - in the best-case scenario - cause extraordinary harm to our military and markedly degrade our national security; in the worst-case, we could lose a war, putting at risk our very freedom.
It is crucial to understand that for China, the Taiwan issue is not merely a core interest, but an emotionally charged one. They are far more willing to pay extraordinary costs, sacrifice many men, and may risk it all to eventually compel unification with Taiwan. The issue does not directly affect our national security unless we get involved.
If we eventually choose war with China over Taiwan, we will at best suffer egregious losses in ships, aircraft, and troops; in a worst-case, the war could deteriorate into a nuclear exchange in which American cities are turned into nuclear wastelands, killing millions.
America should never take such risks unless our security and freedom are directly threatened. Fighting China for
any reason short of that would be a foolish gamble of the highest order.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of "The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America." Follow him @DanielLDavis1.