The Islamic State is on a tear, Russia has launched an invasion “incursion” into Eastern Ukraine, Syria is in crisis, a war in Gaza just ended in a bloody stalemate with tensions still running high, Ebola is on the loose, Libya is falling apart, and Afghanistan is still a complete mess. To put it bluntly, the challenges the United States faces seem to be multiplying like cockroaches. And yet, Washington will soon face an even bigger challenge: a rapidly evolving Chinese military that is focused on defeating Washington if war ever comes.
The challenge presented by China is formidable and is a present-day problem, not something Washington won’t have to worry about for another couple of decades. Soon, formal commitments to defend old partners such as Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines will become worthless — all thanks to twenty years of advances in Chinese military technology focusing on “counter-intervention operations” or anti-access/area-denial weapons (A2/AD). In fact, if trends continue, I would argue that by 2020 — some would say maybe even today — the United States will not be able to credibly deploy high-impact military assets like aircraft carriers in and around China’s coast all the way out to the first island chain in a time of crisis. (Well, it could, however, the risks would be so great, the possible losses so dire, that no commander-in-chief would want to take such a risk.) With over $5 trillion dollars of sea-borne trade transiting through just the South China Sea alone the cost of failing to deter Chinese actions and then not being able to quickly resolve and stabilize a crisis is just too high.