Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Hypersonics Are Speeding up Great Power Competition | The National Interest

Posted by M. C. on March 8, 2019

Hypersonics, Chinese “Carrier Killer” cruise missiles.

US response: Build more carriers. No doubt the pentagram will be shocked when one or two of these go to the bottom. But hey, you have to break a few eggs to build an empire.

by Lyle J. Goldstein

Almost every day now, the New York Times comes out with a new front page article about China. The Middle Kingdom is simultaneously plundering the developing world, oppressing internal minorities, and hacking American companies. The Chinese economy is said to be in dire straits due to vast mismanagement , and the country is generally portrayed as on the brink of total meltdown. The editorial staff is fascinated by China’s shortcomings and appears to be intent on stoking the “New Cold War” by painting Beijing as the capital of the new “Evil Empire.” Such a torrent of reproach may have the impact of making the American public burn red hot with Sino-phobic zeal or alternatively causing its readership to chortle derisively at China’s pathetic plight. Yet the paper “of record” is remarkably oblivious to the actual nature of the shifting military balance in the Asia-Pacific.

Is it not highly irresponsible of journalists to promote grave tensions between Washington and Beijing without any knowledge of the ghastly consequences that might well flow from those frictions? Any student of U.S. history knows that the scourge of “yellow journalism” played a major role in setting off the Spanish-American War just over a century ago (giving America possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii and Cuba in the rather unseemly process). The consequences of a war between China and America would, after all, look nothing like Washington’s long-forgotten adventure with Madrid, and might instead mark the end of life on Earth. Keeping that stark fact in mind, one wonders why the New York Times has never bothered to look into China’s rapid development of hypersonic weaponry.

At a minimum, there should be an acknowledgment in that paper and similarly influential media that China is deploying or on the cusp of deploying a hypersonic weapon ( DF-17), joining Russia in possessing that novel capability. It is worth emphasizing that, despite ample research in this area, the United States is yet to field any equivalent military capability. It may be true that “Hypersonic threats do not require hypersonic responses,” but the argument that these weapons are not significant is not persuasive. This article seeks to make a small contribution against this evident paucity of focus in China defense coverage by summarizing a couple of recent pieces from the Chinese defense press. It is no exaggeration to say that the Chinese-language defense press publishes hundreds of articles (and likely more) per year on the subject of hypersonic weapons development, so there is really no excuse for ignorance on this matter…

Unfortunately, there is the troubling side branch of nuclear strategy that dwells on the so-called “ stability instability paradox .” In a word, that means that nuclear powers might still fight nasty conventional wars that come just up to the line of nuclear conflict (even though nobody knows where that line actually is). Such circumstances raise the troubling possibility that China and Russia are exploring capabilities that go well beyond the much-discussed “gray zone,” but rather seek to dominate in the potentially decisive middle rungs of military conflict.

Such steps will keep U.S. strategists plenty busy in the coming decades, but also suggest the need for new paradigms in arms control to reign in this high-tech military competition that is gaining momentum each day in the “New Cold War.” Journalists, including especially colleagues at the New York Times, should reflect on their own responsibility for raising great power tensions to exceedingly high levels without reporting the other side of the story in a balanced way. Most importantly, Washington decision-makers need to exercise studied restraint in a variety of tense situations, for example with respect to both Ukraine and also Taiwan. Both scenarios could quite easily detonate a third world war in the anxious era of hypersonic weaponry.

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