Sat. May 18th, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum


[email protected]

March 6, 2023

The US challenges China because China is catching up fast. Currently, the official US strategy is “competition without confrontation.” But in reality, as China acknowledges, the US strategy is “containment and extended deterrence.” Either way, the US-China relation is tense and dangerous.

The main challenge to the US is that the US and China lack mutual trust. In fact, both the US and China have no functional policy on how to deal with each other. It is not necessarily any party’s fault because it is a new world order. So, there are many unknowns and uncertainties. Plus, both the US and China face domestic challenges never than before. Unfortunately, the world is also facing formidable challenges, the US and China need to work together.

The news report “The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready for the Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict” concluded that, from hard power point of view, the US is not ready to win a war against China yet. It will need major investments and time to acquire sufficient new military hardware. It is important to note that this US “defense strategy” is really an “offensive strategy” as the future battle ground will be near China, far away from the US homeland. The implication is that this strategy assumed that the US homeland will not face direct Chinese fire powers. This assumption faces a big “IF” because China has long range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads that can fully cover the US.

The Ukraine war serves a good lesson for both the US and China. So the suggestion should be taken very seriously: “If this era is to be negotiated safely and securely, a new set of intellectual tools and concepts must be created.” 

War is easy to start but very difficult to conclude.

The US needs strategic replacements for containment and extended deterrence


Make no mistake: The strategic environment that shaped the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union is long over. The United States and its allies must now confront the means to deal with China and Russia under profoundly changed conditions.

China is an economic and soon to be military superpower. Not only does it have modern conventional forces. It is moving away from its dependence on a “minimum nuclear deterrent.” But what that will be remains to be determined.

Russia is not the Soviet Union. While its conventional forces have proven to be a Potemkin Village in Ukraine, it is still a thermonuclear superpower. And President Vladimir Putin is cunning in seeking to outflank the U.S. and NATO economically by bypassing the sanctions and strategically by courting many countries that do not hold the West in high regard.

But from reading U.S. national security documents, one could conclude that the strategic foundations and building blocks are still firmly rooted in 20th century concepts and the bipolar rivalry with the USSR, extended to fit competition with China. Since the Obama administration, the aims of American national security strategy have been to contain, deter and, if war comes, defeat or prevail over a range of potential adversaries, topped by China and Russia.

Yet, the containment envisaged by the greatest student of Russia and the USSR, George Kennan, and embodied in his famous “Long Telegram” of 1946, no longer fits. And if extended deterrence ever worked, today deterrence seems applicable only to preventing a thermonuclear war that could prove existential to much of mankind. Neither China nor Russia has been contained or deterred from expanding its influence or, in Moscow’s case, physically controlling neighbors Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The simplistic analogy of two scorpions in a jar might have fit the Cold War nuclear standoff in that both the U.S. and USSR could sting the other to death. Suppose the scorpions were of different sexes. Would mutual suicide have been on their minds? Today, if the analogy can be stretched, three scorpions are now in that metaphorical nuclear jar, China being the addition. 

Arms control, which helped end the Cold War and led to important reductions and restrictions in nuclear and for a time conventional weapons, seems threatened in this three-way strategic relationship with the U.S., Russia and China. What would replace it? Or will this lead to the type of arms races seen in earlier centuries that had unhappy outcomes such as the naval rivalry before World War I. And this does not consider new and emerging technology, from quantum computing to derivative AI, that could be as revolutionary as thermonuclear weapons.

Consider artificial intelligence. The value proposition of AI is that it does not reason like or rely on human logic. It produces answers that are non-human or that humans would not consider.  

One example makes this point. In computer war games, AI pilots are proving invincible over humans. Why? AI pilots attack from directions that humans would consider too dangerous or impossible. Now overlay AI on a nuclear command and control targeting list. Does that make fighting and winning a nuclear war feasible or not? The answer best be no. But will it?

One conclusion is clear: It is imperative now to begin re-thinking the foundations for strategy. Containment, extended deterrence and traditional arms control no longer appear viable. This is not similar to the infamous “battleship” admirals overtaken by the newer aviation technology. It is potentially far more serious and profound in consequence.

A start has been made by Alexander (Sandy) Vershbow, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and South Korea, in a short paper written for the Atlantic Council calling for more muscular containment. (I commented on that paper here.) But a great deal more effort will be required whether we are just entering or are already in a different strategic era.

If this era is to be negotiated safely and securely, a new set of intellectual tools and concepts must be created. The question is, can we create them? To be blunt: The U.S. could not adeptly handle a balloon overflying the nation. How will we respond to far more difficult, perplexing and even potentially unsolvable problems?

The U.S. Is Not Yet Ready for the Era of ‘Great Power’ Conflict

Since 2018, the military has shifted to focus on China and Russia after decades fighting insurgencies, but it still faces challenges to produce weapons and come up with new ways of waging war

By Michael R. Gordon Updated March 6, 2023 11:54 am ET

“I think we’ve got a recipe for blunting” a Chinese attack, he said. “I just think you have to reinvent your force to do it.

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