- US efforts to counter China militarily raise the risk of “stumbling into a cold war,” the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee says.
- “We need to embrace containment and deterrence,” Rep. Adam Smith said last week.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith warned Friday that any notion of building a military force to rival China’s should be replaced with a strategy based on deterrence and dialogue in order to avoid war.
“I’m worried as we look at our sort of war planning,” Smith during a Brookings Institution-sponsored virtual discussion. “It runs the distinct risk of creating conflict where it doesn’t need to be. … We need to be really careful about stumbling into a cold war with China.”
The Democrat from Washington state called for a deterrence approach that stresses alliances, partnerships, diplomacy, and direct dialogue with China to prevent an armed conflict that experts have warned about for decades despite nothing close to war ever materializing.
The perceived threat of war with China, however, helps the armed services secure billions annually from Congress – and US weapons manufacturers to rake in the profits from arms programs that typically run years behind schedule and well over initial price estimates.
Speaking to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Phil Davidson warned that in a decade, China can achieve overmatch capability and permanently reshape the region.
“Make no mistake about it, China seeks a new world,” Davidson said. “China has modernized its military more than any other nation on the planet through the course of this century.”
Of course, US flag officers and hawkish lawmakers and industry executives have been making such claims for some time – while also boasting that the US military is the best equipped and most lethal in world history.
Davidson’s remarks follow a $27 billion wish list submitted to Congress this week. Lawmakers already approved some $6.8 billion as part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a plan to modernize the capability of partners and allies in the region.
Smith agreed with the PDI’s goal of courting and making capable regional partners who could act to respond quickly to aggressive action by China.
“If we had quick-strike deterrent capability, that would impose a cost upon China and not drag us into a larger war,” he said. “That’s about alliances and partnerships.”
Smith said if partners and allies such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and India were ready to act in response to Chinese aggression, it would deter China from doing anything harmful in the first place.
Smith also called for dialogue, something former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper signaled when he announced his intent to travel to China to meet with his People’s Liberation Army counterpart.
The trip never happened after Esper was sacked following the November election.
When Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked at his only press conference (so far) if he saw any opening for cooperation with China, the new Pentagon leader acknowledged the possibility before taking a hard line.
“We are, in this department, are going to do everything possible to ensure that we have the right operational concepts, the right plans in place, and that we have resourced those plans with the right capabilities to present a credible deterrence to not only to China, or any other adversary, who would want to take us on,” he said.
Austin has signaled China will be the Defense Department’s pacing challenge, but he will wait up to four months before he decides how the Defense Department should change gears.
The former US Central Command leader, who spent much of his career focused on the Middle East, ordered a China Task Force to assess where the department currently stands before deciding his priorities.
In the meantime, Smith was happy to offer unsolicited advice.
“President Biden doesn’t have any illusions about how bad China is, but we have to work with them as a major factor in the world,” he said.
“We need to embrace containment and deterrence,” he added. “Be clear-eyed about China. Fine. All right. But understand that there are alternatives to dealing with that threat to all-out conflict.”