In the online magazine The Diplomat, former U.S. Representative to the UN Robert O’Brien presents an excellent if disturbing overview of China’s alarming military buildup.
He notes that “China has big maritime ambitions, and they are backed up by a naval build-up unseen since Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to challenge British naval power with the building of the High Seas Fleet at the turn of the last century.”
That buildup is symbolized by the scheduled launch next month of China’s first aircraft carrier–a ship as symbolic of maritime power in our day as dreadnoughts were in the time of the kaisers.
At least Britain was able to match the German naval build-up at the turn of the 20th century with its own building program. It was not enough to deter German aggression but Britain did at least manage, when war came, to checkmate the High Seas Fleet. By contrast, even as China is building up its forces, we are reducing our own. There are now only 284 deployable ships in the U.S. Navy, the lowest total since 1930, at the height of our isolationist slumber, when the whole fleet was only 138 ships.
Granted, today’s vessels are much more capable than those of the 1930s; but then China also has quite a few tricks up its sleeve (such as carrier-busting ballistic missiles) that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan could not have dreamed of. At some point, quality cannot substitute for quantity, especially since the U.S. Navy must cover the entire globe while China can concentrate on dominating only its region.
We desperately need a ship-building and plane-building program to match China’s. Instead, savants in Washington are discussing further cutbacks. There has been talk, during current budget negotiations, of eliminating an aircraft carrier. No doubt China’s admirals are licking their chops as they read these reports.