The Last Time China Fought a Major War Was the Year I was Born: 1979
The best way to get good at anything is too actually go out and do it— and do it a lot. The challenge for China is that you can wargame all you want but unless you have experienced actual combat there will always be a learning curve. And the curve for China is steep: Beijing has not not fought a major war since its roughly one month skirmish with Vietnam in 1979.
Now, while knowledge from a conflict thirty-five years ago might not translate into success against America in a war, having little to no combat experience could pose some challenges for China. Washington going into any conflict with Beijing would certainly have a decisive advantage when it comes to war fighting. While the conflicts America has fought over the last twenty-five years were not A2/AD battle royals, the last few decades has offered the U.S. military the capability to test out new systems and tactics, fix things that aren’t working when it comes to combat operations, and make important adjustments for future scenarios. For example, the U.S. did not need to send F-22s into Syria, however, the opportunity to learn on the battlefield and gain experience is of vital importance and likely the main reason for doing so. And it is one area that would have to be considered a major advantage in a battle against China.
Parting Thoughts: Does America Have the Edge?
Sometimes the best way to approach a problem is too look at it from multiple angles; not just from your typical scenario of move, countermove. What are the actual weaknesses of the different players when it comes to effectively waging war against a modern and determined foe on a practical level?
The above demonstrates not only some of the basic challenges China would have over the short and long term in a fight with America but also clearly illustrates a much greater dilemma— creating a military that (at least on paper) can take on America. That isn’t to say China couldn’t do it, for I am on record that Beijing could do incredible damage to American and allied forces in a fight, and maybe even win depending on the situation. What I am saying: America has one heck of a head start in such a contest.
Harry J. Kazianis serves Director of Defense Studies at The Center for the National Interest and is Executive Editor of the National Interest.
This first appeared in 2015 and is being reposted due to reader interest.