China's hot desire for a tiny tiny fun, free choice little sister democrazy (that hasn't ever bothered anyone) speaks volumes about the idea of messing with defense budgets.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Courtney at GSGF links approvingly (it seems...?) to Tom Donnelly, Mackenzie Eaglen, and Jamie Fly's newest piece in The National Review, in which the authors unsurprisingly deride Secretary Gates' recent announcement of program cuts and future end-strength reductions. It's just like another spin of the ol' Best of Max Boot record: we don't have enough troops and weapons for everything, which is just the same as not having enough for anything! Jason's already gotten into the fundamental stupidity of this approach, but Courtney avoids Boot's worst pitfalls by positing a specific threat for which we ought to be prepared: aggressive Chinese revisionism vis-a-vis Taiwan. If you dare...
Presumably the argument here is that an American military with 47,000 fewer ground troops (and no EFVs or SLAMRAAMs) would be unable to defend Taiwan against Chinese invasion.
Well, I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, Courtney, but... If the Chinese want Taiwan back, they're going to take it. And there's really not a whole lot of anything we can or should do about this reality, whether the defense budget is $553 billion or $553 SQUILLION.
Here's a little taste of what a war with China would be like, courtesy of the research geeks at Popular Mechanics. (Focus particularly on the first 700 words.) It ain't pretty, and (contra Bill Gertz) that's not because we've got bad intel on China or because we aren't spending our money right. No, it's really a matter of geography: just the same as we wouldn't expect China to be able to stop an American invasion of Cuba, when we think about the whole thing as a practical matter, it's patently absurd to imagine that we could defend the island from the revanchist whim of its powerful neighbor. What's the capability gap that prevents us from mounting an effective defense? I'd start with an inability to instantly teleport air and missile defenses across thousands of miles of ocean and lack of forward-deployed coastal artillery that's roughly as capable as the laser cannons defending Hoth at the start of The Empire Strikes Back. Anybody know the life-cycle costs on that stuff?
Seriously though: we're not going to explicitly renounce our commitment to defending Taiwan, but it seems certain we'll never be able to execute anything but a minor delaying action against Chinese landing forces. And I know Courtney's answer will be different to my own on this question, but: why should we? Is it worth the death of perhaps tens of thousands of American sailors and airmen to make a hopeless if symbolic defense of one small bastion of democracy just a brief sail from the Chinese mainland? Wouldn't we all be better off doing exactly what we're doing, which is sustaining the One China policy, engaging with Beijing in ways that are meant to mitigate the rising power's more aggressive tendencies while supplying Taiwan with defensive weapon systems and insisting they take no overtly destabilizing actions (like declaring independence)? And if not, why not?
Of course we're not interested in inviting an invasion, and the limited support that we currently provide to Taipei ought to demonstrate our seriousness on that front. But as a force planning construct, it seems absolutely insane to countenance the loss of a carrier strike group or two to defend a geostrategically meaningless hunk of rock from the unwanted affections of our biggest creditor. There may be good reasons to go to war with China one day, but that day ain't now, and Taiwan ain't the good reason. If and when war does come, it seems unlikely to be contested by infantry BCTs and Marine Expeditionary Brigades -- rather it's far more likely to be a stand-off scuffle between F-22s and the much-talked-about new J-20, or some kind of as-yet-inconceivable showdown between swarming UAV fleets. So let's leave aside any nonsense about "China's hot desire for a tiny tiny fun, free-choice little sister democracy" mitigating in favor of larger, more expensive U.S. land forces. It's not serious.
Donnelly, Eaglen, and Fly conclude their National Review piece with what I imagine they intended as a punch-you-in-the-face moment of ground-truth profundity: "Cutting land forces now can only make the 'Long War' longer." No, I'll tell you what will "make the 'Long War' longer": getting into a whole bunch more manpower-intensive, strategically dubious wars of choice. And war with China over Taiwan satisfies at least one half of that equation.