Paper Tiger or Superpower: How Big Is The Threat of China's Navy?

May 22, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: ChinaNavyMilitaryTechnologyWorldU.S.U.S. NavyWar

Paper Tiger or Superpower: How Big Is The Threat of China's Navy?

China doesn’t need to command sea or sky, either partially or wholly, to prevail in a trial of arms—let alone to deter in peacetime. It only needs to convince Washington, DC the price of, say, defending the Senkaku Islands is too steep considering the meager value Americans attach to the archipelago.

Which brings us to a basic point: “good enough” constitutes the standard of excellence for military hardware. If China’s navy can execute its strategy with an armada of Model Ts while the U.S. Navy bankrupts itself struggling to procure enough Corvettes, then who gets the last laugh? The answer is far from obvious. Practitioners of competitive strategies—the art of competing at low cost to oneself and high cost to rivals—would applaud the miser while fretting over the spendthrift’s prospects.

American seafarers, accordingly, had better heed Fanell’s critique. We should respect a potential foe able to make do with Model Ts, not scoff at it. That’s an adversary well equipped to compete over the long haul. Heck, if it’s smart, then the U.S. Navy might afford China the sincerest form of flattery—and kick the tires on some Model Ts itself.

James Holmes is professor of strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.