Michael Padgett


A guest commentary appeared in the Jan. 28 edition of The Sylva Herald by two assistant professors from two colleges. The general conclusion of the article was the criticality of the delicate, interwoven complexities of future U.S./China (the latter will be referred to as the PRC) relations.

There was much in the column that leads the reader on the correct path as to the way forward, although the conclusions and recommendations were too general in nature.

To say that the way forward is complex and requires great care is not unique when one looks to history of great powers. The Cold War was beyond imagination complex, and laced with huge consequences if handled poorly.

The threat of nuclear war and total destruction of the world appeared to be the general climate for the world through the 1950s until the end of the Cold War in 1989. Those demanding elimination of nuclear weapons, later warheads to be delivered by cruise missiles, raged throughout the Cold War era. Had we listened to these “voices of reason,” the world would likely be dominated by a Soviet communist dictatorship today.

Somehow, through almost 50 years of both Republican and Democratic presidents and administrations, we maintained a firm, and to most within the peace movements, harsh approach toward the Soviets. Only in the early 1970s, as a result of the U.S. public’s revulsion to the Vietnam War, did we unilaterally allow ourselves to be even more vulnerable militarily. And when we did, the Soviets responded by increasing their expenditures on their massive nuclear and conventional forces to the level that the U.S. no longer could have been likely to prevent the Soviet hordes from domination of the world had they chosen to do so. The only savior from the late 1960s to until the early 1980s? The U.S. declaration of first strike nuclear intent had the Soviets crossed certain lines.

Regarding the PRC, we are facing a growing similar conventional threat as we did with the Soviets. Add in economic capability and power of the PRC and we have another huge challenge, as the authors of the Jan. 28 article suggested.

But a lesson we should have learned from our 50 years of experience with the Soviets, and so many other examples of great power conflict throughout history, is that to not counter the PRC with a strong, overwhelming defense posture, willing to enter into conflict if provoked by the PRC direct action against us or our allies would be a huge mistake.

Even further, we must have a decisive debate about U.S./Taiwan (Republic of China) relationships and defense agreements, even if doing so greatly angers the PRC.

The prevention of the PRC from bullying weaker nations, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, is also going to send clear signals as to American intent to defend the weak against the growing power of the PRC. If the PRC takes actions against these weaker nations, the U.S. must respond in their defense.

What history has repeatedly taught us is that we must not be too concerned with “good” relationships with the PRC. What is needed is a clear balance of power between competing great powers.

We must maintain freedom of navigation in the East and South China seas. U.S. defense of weaker nations within the Asian theater and their recognized rights by world forums must remain a clear U.S. signal to the PRC, through action, even if the action angers the PRC.

We must defend the nations with whom we share mutual defense treaties, including South Korea and Japan, to the point of potential conflict. Continued strong investment in U.S. defense is essential.

Last, we must increase and strengthen to the greatest extreme possible our ties with the largest democracy in the world: India.

We share a huge common bond with India, which is strong recognition of the necessity to balance through a strong defense and foreign policy an increasingly clear strategy by the PRC of Asian and eventual world domination.

Following the blueprint described here has resulted in the end of the Cold War without direct warfare between the U.S. and the Soviets as well as the formula for success in healthy great power competition historically.

The Trump administration clearly understood these priorities, even if one cites termination of some multinational relationships within Asia as counterproductive.

If the Biden administration reverses the excellent course set for American strategy in Asia, history will record the Biden administration with the pivotal point in encouraging stronger PRC desire for world domination in all elements of power: military, economic, diplomatic, propaganda and technological.

Michael Padgett, Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Army, lives in Sylva.