A game designer's look at the relative strength of America, China, and Russia
Interesting analysis. It seems that the only way the US does well are if extremely generous assumptions are made about US combat effectiveness.
I wrote this up a few months ago:
Looking at the same question from a variety of angles. My evaluation is that the US is in an extremely weak position, due to the combination of low industrial capacity, demoralization, poor leadership, low physical quality of the recruiting pool, and a foreign policy that has left the US with allies only amongst militarily insignificant countries.
A truly terrifying analysis!
I recommend that we all stop referring to Communist China, and start referring to National Socialist China, because that's closer to what they are.
I want loopholes! And so I will try some nitpicks, not out of any sense of personal competence in this area, but just looking for less woe.
The business of switching from manufacturing consumer and commercial goods to making war machines has changed dramatically from the Roosevelt days. Military contractors tend to be more dedicated to doing just military stuff than in days past. In the US the mindset for military contracting is completely alien to the market world because the federal government is both purchaser and investor. (I have seen this personally, as I used to be in that world.)
The US of the 1930s was super peacetime. Recall the Kellogg Briand pact, and how pacifist the American Right was. On the other hand, we had mothballed a lot of industrial capacity due to the Great Depression. Today, military equipment is what supports the US dollar as you have pointed out in past posts. This might be an anti loophole!
On the gripping hand, we have some capabilities mothballed from the Cold War days. And we have a vast reservoir of potential factory labor and cannon fodder in the form of able bodied welfare recipients and tough guys twiddling their thumbs in jail. There are also many mothballed factories on the civilian side from our policy of Subsidized Outsourcing.
Finally, America has grown mighty soft. But if war becomes existential, we could harden up substantially. If we accept that casualties are going to happen, we could take a more Total Quantity Management approach to fighter planes, for example. We could offer military service as an alternative to prison for street toughs, like we did in the old days. We could give drill sergeants real power to punish for such recruits. We also have a vast reservoir of illegal immigrants. A policy of Go Fight or Go Home would give us a foreign legion real quick.
But could we transition fast enough? Or could we recruit real allies in time, say a remilitarization of Japan or an official alliance with Vietnam?
Yes, I am grasping at straws.
An excellent and much needed analysis. I was oddly gratified to see that your experience at West Point mirrored my experience in ROTC - hence no military career for me either. It chafed at the time but I still managed to work for the Pentagon and can truly appreciate not having to take orders the same way as my uniformed friends must.
As other's have said, I fear that the combat effectiveness of the US military is grossly exaggerated, though I understand the reasons you mentioned in comments for doing so. Without going into discussion of equipment, which is laughably obsolete in most cases, the two most important aspects in a war, especially a long one, are morale and logistics.
Simply put, the logistics tail to maintain a US fleet or division is so long, complex and contains so many points of critical failure, that I don't see these units maintaining cohesion in the face of opposition. We can barely manage in peacetime, when we aren't shipping vast quantities of inventory to Ukraine. Speaking of San Antonio-class, an entire embarked MEU was stuck at sea last spring with nothing but MREs for two weeks because of a supply breakdown.
Which feeds into morale. The US military is almost delusionally hyper-convinced of it's own superiority in battle. This is a vicious pendulum on the field - when you enter the field of battle thinking you CANNOT lose, and then CANNOT win, or are totally outclassed, it creates panic in the short term and combat hesitancy in the long term. Americas will be thunderstruck when the first two or three carriers go down to kinetic kill vehicles, hypersonic missiles or good old fashioned SS torpedoes. The danger of nuclear escalation by a totally impotent US military structure is very high in all these scenarios.
I'll add my area of expertise to another commenters thoughts about East Asia. Vietnam will never join the US against China. They are pragmatists to the n-th degree, focused solely on survival. The Japanese are much more likely to join Russia than to remilitarize and join the US against China and Russia. They are already deeply wary of the US's commitment and capabilities - it's an open secret in Japanese military circles. No one knows better how feeble the US 7th Fleet is than Japan. They MAY remilitarize. If they do it will not be for the benefit of the US. Their long-term strategic interests lie with Russia, which can provide energy as no one else on earth can, and also provide a counterbalance to China, which Russia would need to have. This was part of Abe's life's work - a life that was suddenly and violently ended, I might add.
If it comes to an international WWIII, as opposed to a domestic Civil War II going international only as other players support sides locally, the United States has a weak hand. No doubt about it. The citizen peoples of the various states within the US, however, could well have a stronger hand vis-a-vis those peoples whose castes within the US have crafted and maintaned the petrodollar system, the hyper-financialization that began even before that, the social disintegration, etc.
Personally, I view more proxy fighting ending in a North American nuclear-armed domestic conflict more as likely than a maximum-effort foreign conflagration. Having been in the financial side of US defense aviation parts manufacturing (as a small cog with avid curiosity) during the beginning and heights of COVID, the degradation in materiel available for actual warfighting (including quality) is, I believe, going to shock people. And since the petrodollar system has not absolutely imploded quite yet, there are yet still some in military leadership who want to hide the capability degradation to prevent the whole US institutional/legal infrastructure from collapsing.
You are 100% correct about the industrial capacity, in a long war we loose.. My take is thet the naval war is a make or break event. If the US can successfully blockade China and use unrestricted submarine warfare. We can strangle thier greater production and starve them. You cannot make more steel if you cannot get iron ore. Regardless of what people believe, China is a maritime nation more than 90% of thier trade comes from the sea. This is why they are building coal and nuclear power plants because they know the oil supply is at risk. The aircraft carriers are huge targets for the CCP and we need to stop building them, ramp up SSN construction and consider building of AIP Diesel boats. The destruction of even one super carrier would be a massive propaganda victory. Based on the operation history of the USN ans idiotic social policies, I fear we may take substantial losses early on. On the plus side the CCP has now significant naval warfare history, but they are close to thier bases and the US is not.
I have a few quibbles:
- Where and how is China getting its resources for this war? Thinking iron ore, hydrocarbons and a growing amount of imported food. It already imports huge quantities of raw materials, and I'm assuming its hunger for them would only increase in a total war? If its plan is to grab them quickly at the very start....well we've been here before. We know how that story ends.
- America is not alone. In fact far from it. It is an alliance structure, and some of the members of that alliance structure are significant nodes in the global industrial and economic system. Japan, the UK and other Five Eyes, the European Core, even as it it currently stands India as part of the Quad.
- China is old, as is Russia. They both have collapsing birth rates. Seems to me they better act soon or its pretty much too late.
- How are they both financing this war? Are they paying for it with US dollars?
Interesting as usual.
One major difference between the present brewing conflict and past conflicts however, that few people seem to really be accounting for, is that native populations of these powers are shrinking, not growing. China especially has an inverted population pyramid, but so does Russia and the U.S. Each successive year of the war will see fewer new bodies coming of age to replace losses and maintain economies.
I also haven't seen much analysis on the issue of India. What is the likelihood they get involved, and for which side? Thats a LOT of potential bodies, and a growing population, with an ok industrial sector.
A bit of information: At this point you would think that someone would start to be worried about the Chinese and Russians potentially eating our lunch in a hot or at least "warm" conflict. Though organizations such as the US Navy are starting to mouth some platitudes at the uppermost levels, all of the counterproductive programs of a stupid, fat, lazy nation are still in place. Personnel are told to be innovative but to still follow all the rules that squash innovation and productivity.
William S Lind would probably disagree re the USA having better-trained soldiers, given his schtick about the US military largely being a 2nd generation war military. I don't know about the Chinese military, but if they can control the Indian Ocean with their allies, they can just wait until their industrial advantage is overwhelming.
The other thing of course is the issue of diversity - China is much more homogeneous than the USA, and so is Russia. How many of the Hispanics coming over the southern border will want to take up arms and go off to fight China...?
I have had this video book marked for all most 20 years. Siener was a South African prophet during the Boar war.
Siener Van Rensburg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2lSgXMgRU0
It eventually comes down to Morale.
Troops that are disillusioned tend to go AWOL or just avoid the fight as much as they can.
Imagine the women, soyboys, trannies and dykes reaction to real combat. Russia and China don't have that problem which is a massive multiplier.
No one fears the US anymore, and for good reason. They all know we can be beaten quickly, they have all been preparing for this for decades and the time is right.
They have only a few more keystrokes to wipe the US dollar off the face of the planet and then it's over. (Or maybe the beginning? I'm trying to be optimistic!)
Given the 'world island' concept earlier, and the role Russia is likely to play here, i think a plausible american strategy might be: "try and hold china away from taiwan, and take our russia early, then negotiate a peace with china."
Maybe you keep up a constant barrage on the straight between taiwan and china, while allowing ships to come in from the southwest side of the island; make it impossible for Chinese land troops to cross. without trying to go at china directly.
I would think american would also have help from countries near china that actively don't want china to be the global superpower - but this could be wrong
Fascinating piece. I agree with your conclusion that a manufacturing economy beats a service economy when mobilizing for war. Factories beat out burger flippers and retail space. Someone should inform the neocons in Washington. This is the first analysis I’ve seen that takes into account the kind of GDP as opposed to the level of GDP. I also think your analysis of the relative effectiveness of military spending is interesting. The difference in cost between a Chinese aircraft carrier and a US one is startling. It also seems that some of our high-level military people are very focused on issues not related to preparing to fight. It’s my understanding that other militaries concern themselves with being able to achieve military objectives.
A few questions:
• Much of your examples involve older conflicts or conflicts between non-nuclear powers. Doesn’t the possibility of a war going nuclear change the strategic calculations?
• I’m also curious about your thoughts on the location and aims of a conflict on your projected outcome.
o A US invasion of China might be impossible. Besides a huge geography and huge population, my understanding is they have hypersonic projectiles that can sink an aircraft carrier. No idea how we’d land.
o I can’t see how invading Russia would work due to the size of the place, the weather, and their nuclear stockpile. How do we maintain supply lines?
o I also don’t see how China or Russia could invade the US and occupy it. Even putting aside our nuclear arsenal, the country is 3,000 miles wide by 1,000 miles long with varied terrain and half a billion guns. The only way that works is if the communists in our government succeed in disarming the population prior to an invasion. FWIW, a former Presidential National Security Advisor I know thinks a substantial portion of US corporations, the media, and many of our government officials are already on the Chinese payroll.
• If we’re not contemplating an invasion of the homeland, then where’s the conflict geographically?
o The US can tie Russia up in Ukraine for a while. Both countries got caught in Afghanistan forever and know how to fund an insurgency against the other side. This assumes Europe can go without Russian gas and the world can go without Ukrainian wheat.
o I spoke with a former high level military officer and Presidential military advisor who thinks the US can defend Taiwan. I’m skeptical we can/would bring enough firepower to China’s border on what they consider to be an existential issue. Plus, what happens to Taiwan Semiconductor and a tech-enabled world that can no longer get the best computer chips in the world.
o China is busy getting much of South America on its side, but they seem more interested in colonizing Africa than invading S. America.
• I’m also curious about your thoughts on non-military warfare
o The Chinese already own our media and all mass communication is filtered to fit their preferred narrative.
o My understanding is the US can pull chip designs that TSMC needs and stop high-level manufacturing. But if anyone destroys those plants or stops them, I think our military might be in trouble. Not sure how much we get from TSMC and how much from Samsung, but those are the best chip-makers in the world.
o I also think most of our military equipment relies on foreign semiconductors including all missile guidance systems. As much as I’m a free market guy, I’d pay TSMC to build plants here and hand out green cards to everyone who works there from the engineers to the janitors.
o China makes 90% of our pharmaceuticals. We used to make them in PR, but someone in Congress thought they could get more taxes from the pharma Cos. and they all moved production to China. The Chinese can turn off the spigot and kill grandma (along with everyone with a heart or cholesterol problem). How much of our population is currently on anti-depressants? That level of withdrawal all at once would be startling - not to mention people who have other urgent medical conditions.
o The Russians have shown an ability to hack our electrical grid and could possibly take it down. My understanding is that we could harden the entire system for a few billion dollars which is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but no one has shown an interest in doing so probably for the Thomas Sowell reason – politicians get no credit for spending money to prevent the thing that didn’t happen.
o No idea what US capability is for non-military warfare, but the US and Russia probably have the best hackers in the world. Strange to think the whole thing could come down to a newly found backdoor in someone’s military access. Kind of the 2022 version of the enigma machine.
Just my thoughts for the day. Again, thanks for the great article.
Some very good points and overall well done but I have two major quibbles.
1.) WWII experience shows that industrialization can be unbelievably fast. Kaiser built 5000 cargo ships in a few years from yards that largely DIDN'T EXIST on Pearl Harbor Day. The US went from building one B24 every 60 hours to one EVERY HOUR in just 2 years using factories BUILT FOR THE PURPOSE.
HOWEVER, I still agree with your basic premise BUT
2.) The idea that we would get into a land war in Asia or allow the US homeland to be invaded without using nuclear weapons is unrealistic. Leaving aside for a moment the questions of WHY WOULD WE FIGHT China & Russia, leaving aside EUR's (admittedly small) contribution (might cancel out Russia though), we simply have no hope of defeating China in a war of attrition due to population disparity ALONE. IF we had a reason to go to war with them, it goes nuclear before we lose the homeland at a minimum. Maybe even before we lose Japan. That was as true in the 50's as it is now.
According to the prophecy I just read, America prevails, but is left very weak. Germany again becomes a powerhouse, and Britain is utterly destroyed. Have faith!