Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s forecast, offered Tuesday as he asked Congress for more money for the Pentagon, is for an era in which there is the possibility of full-scale war between major powers.
“We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable, and the potential for significant international conflict between great powers is increasing, not decreasing.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens “not only European peace and stability, but also the global peace and stability that my parents and a generation of Americans fought so hard to defend,” Milley said.
He’s not really asking for enough money for the Pentagon, according to many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, who pointed out that the Defense Department did not properly account for inflation when requesting $773 billion for the Fiscal Year 2023: A 4% increase that is lower than inflation, which is currently the highest in 40 years.
The threat that Russia poses to America’s NATO allies in Europe is clear from the invasion of Ukraine, but Milley referred to Russia at the same time as China.
The growth of China’s military, particularly its navy, has worried US defense officials and lawmakers in recent years.
A new arms race. Emblematic of concerns about US military dominance is the very specific focus in recent weeks on hypersonic missiles.
There is a growing narrative, not unlike the one pushed by President Joe Biden, that the US is falling behind China in its technological capabilities, that the US military is falling behind China.
“Unprecedented Chinese military modernization has allowed them to outperform us in key capabilities,” Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama said at Tuesday’s hearing. “The Chinese Communist Party now controls the largest army and navy in the world. It has more troops, more ships and more hypersonic missiles than the United States.”
For more information on what the US If you know China’s military capabilities and spending, I reached out to Matthew P. Funaiole, a China expert, data analyst, and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Six key points from our phone conversation, slightly edited for clarity and length, are below.
1. China has a long-term strategic objective involving the US.
FUNAIOLA: China wants to establish itself as the main power broker in the indus-Pacific, displacing the US in that sense, and you see their military as one of the main means of doing that… you see that play out in a number of different ways.
The one that draws a lot of attention is China, which is improving its navy and all the efforts it has put into building new surface combatants, improving submarines and developing an aircraft carrier program. That’s where we’re seeing a lot of progress happening pretty quickly.
2. The idea that China has ‘jumped’ the US needs context
In terms of technology, Funaiole argued that the US still has an R&D lead, but China has clearly worked to catch up in some specific areas.
3. China’s military, like Russia’s, lacks the human backbone that the US military has.
FUNAIOLA: The United States, for better or worse, has been involved in conflicts around the world fairly consistently since the end of World War II, while China’s military has been untested. So technology will be important and military spending is really important.
But the one place where China can’t really leap forward, because it’s just based on experience, is the personnel component. Whereas the US can tap into generations of ingrained experience… So the technology tells you one part, the spending tells you one part, but there’s also that personnel component where China doesn’t have that experience.
4. China and Russia are not exactly allies
FUNAIOLA: That framework of autocracies versus democracies, I think, is effective in understanding what is really at stake right now in the way we think about these international norms and ideals. But China and Russia work together as partners, they are closer on some things than others, but they are not allies in the same way that we traditionally think of allies in the American system.
The proof Funaiole offered is that the West, including the US and its allies, has effectively united against Russia in Ukraine, but China has kept its distance.
5. Keep an eye on the development of China’s navy
FUNAIOLA: When China launches its third aircraft carrier, which will be a flat-top carrier, it will use a… catapult system to launch aircraft, that’s new advanced technology… And in a couple of years, when it’s actually positioned on the Chinese navy, that will be something people will talk about. When China develops its first nuclear reactor to power aircraft carriers, that will be something people will start talking about…
We need to have a more complete understanding of where China is investing, where China is upgrading its military, and what that necessarily means, as far as US interests are concerned, on US capability. to develop or take advantage of existing countermeasures.
6. Putin’s difficulty in Ukraine sends a message to China
FUNAIOLA: If a month or six weeks ago, you thought you could try the system and you wouldn’t necessarily get a lot of pressure out of it, you might think differently about that now… We certainly are entering or have entered a more multi-polar era where the days pasts of US unipolarity have eroded, but we’re also seeing quite effective use of how the US can build coalitions with its allies and partners to help reinforce the principles, ideals, and institutions that they stand for.