The Coming Naval War with China?

There’s a new article making the usual rounds, from the Q1 2010 issue of Orbis. James Kraska’s “How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015” [abstract only] is definitely an interesting read; it’s one of those future/alternate histories examining, essentially, how we might get there.

Kraska hypothesizes a Chinese missile attack on the USS George Washington while “conducting routine patrols” off of China’s coast. China immediately denies all responsibility and in fact aids in the rescue of several hundred sailors, out of the original complement of 4,000. In addition to the international perception of China as uninvolved (much less the aggressor), the United States is blamed for the ecological disaster caused by the George Washington‘s nuclear propulsion system.

China’s ability to conduct such an operation is chalked up to a combination of naval spending cuts, the reassignment of “an entire generation” of officers to COIN and conventional desert warfare in the Middle East and central Asia, and “the environmentalists in charge of strategic U.S. oceans policy.”

‘Ridiculous’ is certainly the first word that comes to mind, and commentators like Thomas Ricks certainly don’t disagree, but there’s a small point to extract from Kraska’s article. His assumption that the increasing budget and growing naval aviation programs of the PLAN will directly challenge the USN for control of East Asia is a little much. He’s right on the nose, however, with the specter of asymmetrical naval warfare.

Robert Kaplan wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly a few years back, “How We Would Fight China.” It covers a lot of this in great detail. The psychological impact of asymmetry at sea is particularly telling – Kaplan notes that “the effect of a single Chinese cruise missile hitting a U.S. carrier…would be politically and psychologically catastrophic, akin to al-Qaeda’s attacks on the twin towers.” It’s hard to talk about China without getting melodramatic, apparently.

Perhaps the greatest lesson to take away from all this would be: do we still need carriers at all?

5 thoughts on “The Coming Naval War with China?

  1. Kaplan’s article was silly, as is Kraska’s. Conventional war does not exist with China, it is an impossibility, and a nuclear exchange results in total annihilation for one party and a 5% chance of a loss of one city that will fall into the Pacific due to an earthquake at some point anyway for the other party. Not a fair trade.

    Furthermore, the Chinese military is the most overrated institution in the history of military thought. There was no greater proof of this than the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, where the military could not even mobilize proper manpower, tools, and transportation to make any real imprint on the rescue effort. It took them weeks.

    Thou shalt not sing the praises of a military power whose only track record is invading a country populated by non-violent buddhists and fruitlessly throwing things at the 38th parallel.

    States are boring anyway.


  2. Forgive the possibility of infamous last words, but the Chinese Military is practically the last thing within greater China that we have to fear. Their political status right now is what’s truly frightening. While Obama was in China this past month the Premier Wen Jiabao, affectionately known as grandpa to much of the populace, informed President Obama that China fundamentally disagreed to the idea of a ‘Group of 2.’

    He went on to say that China was still a ‘developing country’ and that they would stay away from anything resembling an alliance or an alliance bloc. Now I personally agree with Gordon Chang and others’ opinion that China is facing too many problems and that an imminent fall of some sort is in its future. That being said 2012 will be a momentous year, as China faces the coming of new leadership.

    And yes. States are boring.

  3. Oh yeah, that’s another thing Kraska gets wrong. Or at least, that he obfuscates. He posits a cut in naval spending requiring a drawdown from 15 to 10 carriers in the Navy, but this doesn’t at all include the helicopter and other light carriers at their disposal.

  4. This so called “War of 2015” is based on the assumption that China has the sort of naval power and influence it had during the Song Dynasty. Furthermore, the idea was to protect the local economy and shipping trades, not from a so called superpower like the United States of America, which, at that time, wasn’t even a gleam in Columbus’ eye. Unless we start an Opium war, this is impossible. China, I believe, may pose a threat in the future not militarily, but as already expected, technologically and will make our national tech companies looks like SLC academic computing. Over and out, chooper.

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