In a Fight Over Taiwan, China Is No ‘Near Peer’ Adversary

In a Fight Over Taiwan, China Is No ‘Near Peer’ Adversary

Beyond the apparent mischaracterization of the relative local balance of power between China and the United States in and around Taiwan, the term is emblematic of the institutional hubris that characterizes how the DoD approaches adversaries and problems.


All recent wargames have indicated the U.S. military would catastrophically fail in a battle with the PLA for control of Taiwan. This includes a wargame held in October of 2020 that led then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Hyten “to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.”

Overconfidence Always Kills


Operational hubris is not new to the U.S. military. From a belief that there was no way a war-decimated PRC would engage seemingly superior forces in Korea to the view that by pouring an endless number of troops into and expanding the conflict beyond Vietnam could force Hanoi to its knees, the Pentagon’s institutional overconfidence has led to catastrophic failure independent of the ostensible relative military balance of power.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in early December, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin articulated his department’s position on the threat China poses: “So yes, we’re facing a formidable challenge. But America isn’t a country that fears competition. And we’re going to meet this one with confidence and resolve—not panic and pessimism.” Austin’s bluntness in defining the PLA challenge is refreshing. These words must be followed by action that puts the DoD back on the path to incontrovertible overmatch in the most likely future conflict. Austin should elucidate to his department that if the PLA made its move on Taiwan tomorrow, the U.S. military would fail devastatingly to repel the invasion if ordered to intervene. After admitting contemporary defeat, the DoD can begin to take the painful but necessary steps to man, train, and equip the joint force to irrefutably defeat the PLA in and around Taiwan.

Nicholas Hanson is a Mission Strategy Lead at Vannevar Labs. He is a class of 2024 joint degree MPP and MBA candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School. He previously served as an intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Image: Reuters.