World Affairs

The US and China on the Brink of Conflict, America’s Unpreparedness Exposed

china US war

Neither side will ever be fully prepared for war in a showdown between the world’s two largest powers. Fighting in a global conflict requires a significant amount of mobilization, and until the fight starts, it is difficult to predict the extent of the resources needed.

Relations between the two superpowers continue to deteriorate, even as the world hopes a full-scale conflict between the US and China is avoided. The question has now been raised by politicians, experts, and even military leaders: Just how prepared is the US if China’s threats become more serious?

Experts do not believe that war in the Western Pacific is imminent, however it is a possibility. Should the US find itself on the brink of conflict with China, that could be due to Chinese aggression against Taiwan – a self-governed democracy Beijing believes is coming under its authority. President Biden has stated that if attacked, the US would defend Taiwan, a break from the previous administrations’ policy of ambivalence. Although US and China are substantial rivals, war between them may be sparked by other reasons such as Chinese forces developing in the South China Sea where American and Chinese defence vessels often cross paths.

US intelligence asserts that China is the greatest danger to US national security. Experts have warned that a battle with our eastern neighbor could lead to an array of military challenges, the consequences of which could prove catastrophic for both sides and inflict grave damage to the world economy. In any conflict, America must be prepared to engage in air, sea, cyber, and financial warfare. Despite its advantages, the nation’s readiness is limited due to decades of neglect and apathy. Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agrees it is time for us to become better prepared for any eventuality.

During a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in spring, the general said, “There is nothing more expensive than fighting a war. Preparing for war will deter war.”

There is no way to predict the outcome of a war between the US and China, but experts warn that America is unprepared in case it occurs.

It’s time for America to rebuild-US china war

US industrial power was particularly evident during World War II when it came to warships and aircraft. The Navy, for example, could construct specific vessels in weeks, while often performing miraculous repairs on ships that had been devastated — such as the USS Nebraska that had nearly sunk during Pearl Harbor only to fight again four years later at Normandy. This capacity enabled the US Navy’s fleet to swell from 700 to an incredible 6,000 vessels by the end of the war.

As a result of the Cold War, the US has weakened its manufacturing capabilities. Nowadays, it might take years to build a US Navy ship. The reasons for this are complex — shifted priorities, increased technology on board, overseas labor costs — but the effect is clear: In a high-intensity conflict, the US would have a difficult time repairing damaged ships as well as producing new vessels.

As Dan Blumenthal, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former senior director of the US Department of Defense for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia, told us, US defense production tends to be overbudget and behind schedule. In order for the US to be prepared for a full-scale conflict, he said, some of these trends must be reversed.

Blumenthal said we must prepare to face an onslaught of the kind we haven’t seen in decades against a strategic competitor with power across many domains of military power.

Ammunition, for example, has been sent in huge quantities to Ukraine in an effort to fend off the invading Russians. Currently, the military produces about 30,000 artillery shells each month, but it wishes to increase this figure to 70,000. A 500% increase in 155 mm artillery shell production is also planned by the US, which will help rebuild munitions stocks. There has been a difference in production levels across the board in defense production, however.

It is evident that the US is far behind China’s massive industrial sector. Any war with China would require control of the Pacific, and Beijing boasts the largest navy in the world. Approximately 340 ships and submarines are owned by China, according to a Pentagon report from 2022. US warships, on the other hand, number fewer than 300.

China has a great number of ships and constructs them rapidly. During the 2010s, China and the US unveiled similarly styled destroyers – the Nanchang and USS Zumwalt respectively. It took five to six years for both to be completed; however, as soon as it was commissioned, the Nanchang was promptly sent to China’s navy. In comparison, the US Navy had to wait four more years after commissioning the Zumwalt before they received it. This could be attributed to a few problems with the more technologically advanced vessel.

The US is dedicated to boosting its fleet, with plans outlined in a 2022 Navy Navigation Plan of reaching 350 ships by the 2040s. The country does, however, have the disadvantage of fewer shipyards and a lack of skilled labor. Nevertheless, the technology featured in the American armada surpasses that of China’s—the Ford-class aircraft carriers and even the decades-old Nimitz-class being more advanced than their Chinese counterparts—with submarines being particularly hard to detect according to Blumenthal.

But if America doesn’t steel itself against the threats posed by China, which is rapidly mastering advanced military technologies through espionage and domestic ingenuity, these advantages may erode. US officials must get ready now in case they ever go to war with China so they aren’t caught flat-footed.

War over cash

Even if a military conflict were to break out between the US and China, they are already competing on the economic battlefield.

In reference to the Great Depression, he said that this could be bigger than 1929.

It’s become increasingly clear that the US needs to end its reliance on China for crucial inputs in sectors like pharmaceuticals, electric vehicles and toys. To do this, moves must be made to increase domestic munitions production as well as semiconductor chips — tiny pieces of tech vital for smartphones, cars and fridges. These chips are largely provided by Taiwan’s TSMC, which leaves the US open to potential control from China if it were to gain control of Taiwan. Legislation such as CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act have been passed offering significant incentives to bring chip manufacturing back home while export controls on Chinese semiconductors have also been implemented.

In fact, it’s not just semiconductors, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told us. It is also important for the US to determine how much domestic production of basic goods it will need to survive a battle with Beijing.

“Deciding that chips, batteries, critical minerals, and pharmaceuticals are important is easy. What about autos? Do we rely on the US being able to make enough cars to meet domestic demand? What about eyeglasses? Toasters? Where you draw the line matters.”

“We can’t meet all our domestic needs, Reinsch said, but we can partner with allies to “friendshore” manufacturing – that is, make sure crucial goods are always nearby.

You can only prepare so much before you have to deal with the consequences

Beyond hard goods, a conflict with China would necessitate action in financial markets as well. It is almost certain that the US and its allies will impose sanctions on Beijing – similar to those already enacted against Russia- predicted to cause disastrous damage to the Chinese economy. To best prepare for economic warfare, deciding which sanctions are most effective and gaining support from allies is not a simple task. Striking a delicate balance between inflicting some hurt on the Chinese economy and preserving weapons in reserve poses a difficult challenge. As early as April this year, two security experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Columbia University urged the US to form an Economic Contingency Planning Committee; their first priority being to lay out punitive measures that could be used should Beijing invade Taiwan.

You can only prepare so much before war you have to deal with the consequences

Beyond physical goods, a conflict with China would also be contested in economic circles. The US and its allies almost certainly would impose sanctions against Beijing — like they have versus Russia — and the Chinese economy would sustain massive harm as a result, according to Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. However, deciding which sanctions to use and when is another important element of preparing for economic warfare. Identifying the most effective measures and rallying allies together is not straightforward. There’s then the requirement to cause some degree of economic pain while leaving available some avenues of recourse. In April, two national security experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Columbia University advocated for the establishment of an Economic Contingency Planning Committee, whose main objective would be figuring out various sanctions that could be used if China invaded Taiwan.

It is easier to accomplish a task with many hands

There are more aspects of US readiness for a confrontation with China than just physical capability. As with the rusty manufacturing skills of America, our diplomatic abilities have also slipped. Wars aren’t won by one team alone — they require a strong set of allies who are aligned strategically and ideologically.

The US can demonstrate strength through greater hard power clout in the region. According to Blumenthal, too long have we let our presence slip in the Western Pacific, and these actions hinder competition with China. So this year Washington has taken steps like deploying US Marine units to Japan, allowing for increased US submarine visits at Aussie ports and eventual construction of submarine bases, and creating sites for US forces in the Philippines. Nonetheless, more measures must be taken including strengthening security at bases and ports of allies so they are not vulnerable to destruction from Chinese missiles.

Additionally, the US’s “soft power” abroad is being strengthened as well as its ties with allies, many of whom are economically tied to China. In fall, when the US introduced export controls that restricted the sale of semiconductors to China, Washington was able to get Japan and the Netherlands to implement similar measures — which ensured the bans packed a punch.

The worst-case scenario

For America to be ready for a potential conflict with China, it’s essential to redevelop its industrial capabilities and build close ties with other nations. This is no simple task, but experts agree the US has what is necessary — as long as it has the determination. Even if everythins goes according to plan, however, a war between these two countries would still carry a heavy price; both militaries and economies would suffer greatly.

“There is only so much you can prepare for, and then you have to deal with the consequences,” Kennedy said.

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Editorial Director
I'm Shruti Mishra, Editorial Director @Newsblare Media, growing up in the bustling city of New Delhi, I was always fascinated by the power of words. This love for words and storytelling led me to pursue a career in journalism. In this position, I oversee the editorial team and plan out content strategies for our digital news platform. I am constantly seeking new ways to engage readers with thought-provoking and impactful stories.

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