The Corner

National Security & Defense

The Coming U.S.-Chinese Arms Race

Chinese President Xi Jinping with President Trump, November 9, 2017. (Reuters photo: Thomas Peter)

When it comes to the U.S.–China military balance, I take my cues from esteemed National Review contributor Jerry Hendrix, who has been a marvel of productivity these past few weeks. But I thought I’d weigh in on the most recent Military Balance report released by the Institute of Strategic Studies, which should make our defense planners very nervous. The pace of China’s military advancement is picking up, and it’s not clear the Trump administration and Congress are sufficiently alarmed.

As reported in a recent Economist article, over the last several years, China has made good use of its military budget, which has grown in step with GDP by 6 to 7 percent a year. For example, in no more than two years, China will have its own stealth combat aircraft, which will end the United States’ monopoly on the technology. It is also upgrading its air-to-air missiles, to the point where they will soon be comparable to the best missiles in the West. And finally, firms in China are working to develop quantum computing to better crunch big data and secure its communications. Such technologies may seem far off, but in fact, China already launched its first quantum satellite in 2016.

All this spells trouble for the U.S. and its allies. “Since the end of the Cold War, the air domain has been one of assured superiority for the United States and its allies,” the Military Balance report suggests. “This dominance, however, rests on weapons and technologies that China and Russia are increasingly attaining as part of a broader effort to counter U.S. capabilities, and to deny US and allied forces unimpeded control of the air.”

In turn, for the U.S.-led alliance to regain air dominance, it will have to commit funding on a level “not required since the end of the Cold War.” Even then, dominance will likely be fleeting without continued investment, as Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich argued in an authoritative 2016 International Security article. To make things more complicated, when Chinese Premier Xi Jinping asks the Chinese public and private sectors to work on advanced military projects, it’s an offer that can’t be refused. In the U.S., however, Silicon Valley can simply say no. The only want to ensure we can keep up is to spend and, if we can’t stomach rising deficits, tax.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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