China is Not Our Enemy

The Navy's director of warfare integration says China is a "smart and learning enemy."

In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rear Admiral David L. Philman, the Navy’s director of warfare integration, said that China is what keeps him up at night, declaring, “The China scenario is first and foremost, I believe, because they seem to be more advanced and they have the capability out there right now, and their ships at sea and their other anti-access capabilities.”

That’s fair enough, in that China is the country most likely to become something like a peer competitor and the only major power that we could plausibly engage militarily–far fetched as either actually are.

But he went further: “[T]hey will catch up. They understand. They’re a smart and learning enemy, and if we don’t keep our edge, then we will be behind, or at least lose our advantage.”

As Gulliver notes, this was an extremely poor choice of words.

RADM Philman: any chance you could avoid describing the world’s most populous country as an ENEMY? Considering the way that, you know, we’re not actually at war with them or anything like that, and how in fact we actually have a gradually growing mil-to-mil relationship with them? I know it’s just fighter-pilot lingo, and I know you’re talking about the PLA more specifically, not the entire country, and I know we’re talking about hypothetical future threats to U.S. air dominance and that in that context, it’s reasonable to talk about us and “the enemy,” even if only as a matter of the way forces are arrayed (as in friendly aircraft vs. enemy aircraft, etc.). But dude, come on.

Indeed, even in the days when Ronald Reagan was referring to the Soviets as an “Evil Empire,” the military simply referred to them generically as “the threat.” China is much less than that. Then-candidate for president George W. Bush got it exactly right in 2000 when he termed them a “strategic competitor.” They’ve got zero interest in blowing us up or invading Europe; they simply want to expand their regional influence and become a major global economic power. They’re well on their way to both.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Military Affairs, World Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. A dumb choice of words, obviously, but it seems reflective of a view that many Americans seem to have that a more prosperous, more influential China is inherently a threat to the United States. This seems to be a foolish point of view because there are far more things that China and the U.S. can seemingly agree on than on which we might have potentially conflicting interests (obvious points of contention being things like Taiwan and the Koreas).

    Why these people can’t see that a prosperous China that is more open to the world is a good thing in the long run I don’t understand. I also wonder exactly how they think we could stop a nation of 1,000,000,000 people that is moving quickly through its Industrial Age and into a New Economy Age from becoming a voice of influence in the world.

  2. ponce says:

    If China isn’t out enemy then we can slash our defense budget in half today and not suffer any reduction in our security because there is no threat to America serious enough to justify all that money:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

  3. I have seen this attitude amongst a lot of my students in the military (mostly officers). They see China in terms of a growing threat and, indeed, as an enemy/potential enemy.

    I don’t think this is simply a case of one high level officer misspeaking.

    This is not a good thing, either. For some reason there seems to be an increasing desire to find adversaries.

  4. DC Loser says:

    Looking from inside the military, I have to constantly fight this battle with some of my colleagues. This kind of talk could lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. I remember the increasing rhetoric about China when GWB came into office pre-9/11 and all the talk about China being the next enemy and then the EP-3 incident. We’re not even done with the two current wars and we have this urge to go toe to toe against China.

  5. steve says:

    It is good to be prepared for future conflict with China. It is not good for people involved in strategy or grand strategy to think this way. China’s military is no real threat yet. They have shown little interest in projecting power. What they have been good at is projecting economic power. While we have been tied up in two eternal land wars in Asia, China has been developing trade partners.

    Steve

  6. ponce says:

    I don’t think this is simply a case of one high level officer misspeaking.

    Let’s face it, if China isn’t a threat then a career in the military wil lsoon be about as realistic as a career as a beeper salesman.

    And it’s expected that academics who teach military officers to defend military officers who know this and are actively trying to turn China into an enemy, but it is rather treasonous behavior.

  7. And it’s expected that academics who teach military officers to defend military officers who know this and are actively trying to turn China into an enemy, but it is rather treasonous behavior.

    I think you lost me here (and this isn’t a dig–I am curious as to what you meant).

  8. Jay Tea says:

    As others have noted, China just gave about 50 fighters to Pakistan.

    They are a leader in arms exports, and selling/giving away more each year.

    We might not end up fighting China, but we are very likely to end up fighting Chinese hardware. And, probably, fighting people using Chinese doctrine that goes along with the training for and optimal use of said hardware.

    For example, we never fought the Soviet Union. But we did go up against their equipment in Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Libya…

    J.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    Jay,

    We sell six times the weaponry that China does. Russia and even Germany outsell the Chinese, but I don’t think that means we need to label those countries as enemies.

  10. john personna says:

    He just wanted “potential enemy”

  11. Jay Tea says:

    Ben, interesting point. But irrelevant. We, presumably, already know how to fight our own hardware. It’s the Chinese stuff — along with the Russian and the French, just to name two others fairly undiscriminating with arms sales — that we need to be ready to face, along with the training and doctrines that go with that hardware.

    I’m trying to see the issue here. I kinda LIKE our military leaders to talk like military types, and not diplomats.

    J.

  12. But, if Wal-mart’s the enemy of progressive American values, doesn’t it stand to reason that China must be too?

  13. Sam Penrose says:

    Yglesias rattles on about this; see http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2008/10/the_wrong_china_hedge/ and several others.

    Personally I think what we’re seeing here — and I know I sound like a wingnut; give me a chance — is the inherent problem with having a significant standing military. Per “Jay Tea”, a good soldier is a soldier, not a diplomat. However morally evolved, mindful of the teachings of the Prince of Peace, etc., he is, fundamentally he needs to be if not spoiling for a fight always on the lookout for one and not afraid to walk right at it. I really don’t think 90% of good soldiers are capable of accepting that our huge military might not have an enemy and therefore should shrink, so they choose the least-ridiculous candidate, in this case China. The problem is that having sworn in millions of them, we’ve now created a permanent, passionate constituency for perpetual war. The solution, which will never happen, is to drop the defense budget back to ~1992 levels (which would still dominate any conceivable opponent), and force civil society to confront the cost of starting a new mini-war every 5 years. The result would be a civil society that chose not to start those wars and we’d all be better off.

    A good example of this mindset is John McCain. He talks constantly about he hates war, but he’s proposed launching like 12 major military campaigns in the last 20 years. He’s genuinely convinced that he prefers peace, but ask him about any concrete situation and the answer is always “they are incredibly evil; bombs away.”

  14. ponce says:

    I think you lost me here (and this isn’t a dig–I am curious as to what you meant).

    I think military officers who are trying to push America into an adversarial relationship with China are committing treason.

    And it’s indefensible.

  15. Wayne says:

    It cracks me up how often those who advocate downsizing the military are usually the ones who complain “the military is stretch to thin” or “we don’t have enough soldiers” when we need them.

    As for the word “enemy”, yes a better word should have been chosen. However, it is often use as a synonym for “opponent” or an impediment. Coaches, politicians and others have use enemy as a reference to their opponents. It has been used to refer to the weather, taxes, import restrictions, etc. It doesn’t have to mean in open arm conflict.

    China is not an ally. When was the last time Britain knocked one of our jets out of the air then held them hostage for a period? China is not looking out for the U.S. interest unless it benefits them. If they can decrease the U.S. interest or influence in the world they will.

    One of the jobs of the military is to prepare for future conflict. China is and probably will be increasing as one of the biggest threats as in capability. The likelihood “right now” is low but anyone who can’t think of several scenarios where that could change isn’t thinking too clearly.

  16. george j says:

    Preparing to fight China is part of their job. Calling a neutral country the enemy isn’t – unless they’re hoping it will become one.

  17. anjin-san says:

    that we need to be ready to face, along with the training and doctrines that go with that hardware.

    We have been at war damn near constantly for 70 years now. I doubt Chinese training and doctrines present any challenge that our military can not manage handily.

    On the other hand, China will probably have un unpleasant surprise or two for us down the road in terms of technology.

    Regardless, they are not our enemy. The enemy the Admiral fears is defense budget cuts.

  18. mattb says:

    On enemy v. opponent, why they are synonymish, they really are two different words with important differences in meanings. Opponents one competes with (which if your going back to the latin root “competere” means “to strive together”). Opponent in this case is someone to overcome, perhaps even defeat, but not negate/eliminate.

    Enemy on the other hand suggests someone that needs to be at least subjugated if not eliminated.

  19. mattb says:

    “even in the days when Ronald Reagan was referring to the Soviets as an “Evil Empire,” the military simply referred to them generically as “the threat.””

    The thing is that on a cultural level, there was never any question about the status of the Russians on a cultural level. They were enemies.

    Everything in media and in discussions told us that they were “bad” and the thing to be defeated before they defeat us (think Rocky IV, Red Dawn, Chess (both the game and the Musical), and the countless TV shows that had a “Russian Episode.”).

    Of course this also meant that Russians also became hella sexy too – the enemy we wanted to sleep with.

    It seems like China will most likely fill the same role in the coming decade(s).

  20. Jay Tea says:

    anjin, that’s for some rather flexible definitions of “at war.” I’d argue it actually began slightly more than 70 years ago, with us unofficially joining the Battle of the Atlantic. And I’d point to the late 40’s, late 50’s, late 70’s, and most of the 80’s and 90’s as not being at war — unless you count the Cold War, which was called such because it wasn’t a traditional war.

    In counterpoint to your “the enemy is budget cuts” bit, I’d point out that “provide for the common defense” is part of the preamble to the Constitution, and the old truism that “the most expensive military is the second-best one.”

    Hey, how’d that Clinton peace dividend work out, anyway?

    J.

  21. anjin-san says:

    “provide for the common defense” is part of the preamble to the Constitution,

    “the most expensive military is the second-best one.”

    We spend more on “defense” than the rest of the world put together. Can’t see what you point is, beyond perhaps “I am a tool”.

    During the cold war, we were in a state of perpetual readiness. You kinda keep you edge that way. We have had that edge, and kept it sharp, for the better part of a century. Are you seriously putting forth “Chinese doctrine and training” as something we should fear?

    Hey, how’d that Clinton peace dividend work out anyway

    Well, the Clinton years were the last good ones this country had. Gosh, I guess you are right to sneer at him. And I mean “right” in the sense of political orientation. Who needs things like jobs and infrastructure spending when you have political dogma?

  22. Wayne says:

    @Mattb
    Yes they are two different words. However many used them interchangeably. As with many words enemy has many meanings and uses including “unfriendly opponent” or “hostile power”. Sounds like China to me.

    As typical many here is using the meaning that furthers their agenda or talking points instead of what the speaker probably actually meant.

  23. What’s missed in the whole “we spend more on defense than everyobdy else” canard are a few things. First, we have more military responsibilities worldwide than everyone else and we don’t shirk them, even if our friends won’t pony up for their own protection, and if you do cut way back, whose aircraft carriers are going to ride to the rescue the next time something like the Christmas Tsunami hits? Second, things just naturally cost more in the US because of our high standard of living. Is it really so hard to understand that the cost in dollars of putting a US soldier in the field is much greater than the cost in renminbi of putting a PRC soldier in the field? We always hear how the US spends more in healthcare than anyone else, but is that a reason to cut it? Third, the US rather intentionally spends a lot to provide our combatants with the tools to be the best and to protect themselves and others. Fourth, the US military underwrites a lot of things like GPS that everyone else gets for free, bu the US DoD paid to develop and field. Who’s going to do it if the US doesn’t?

  24. anjin-san says:

    Who’s going to do it if the US doesn’t?

    This is coming from the guy who produces daily rants about how we are all doomed, sooner, not later if we do not cut spending radically this instant?

    The bottom line remains – we spend more on “defense” than the rest of the world put together. You can rationalize it till the cows come home, but the bottom line does not change.

    What exactly drove the more that 100% increase in defense spending in the last decade – we needed to spend that much to respond to a handful of guys armed with box cutters? President Eishenhower warned us about this what, 50 years ago?

    We don’t face a significant military challenge anywhere in the world. We can kill people and drop bombs in Afghanistan for another decade, and it will still be Afghanistan. It won’t be what we want it to be.

    Why not go back to 1992 spending levels? This is before Clinton allegedly “gutted” the military, and it is post Reagan buildup. And we were tough enough to handily defeat any enemy.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    This is coming from the guy who produces daily rants about how we are all doomed, sooner, not later if we do not cut spending radically this instant?

    Don’t you get it? We cut the Social Security checks, not defense spending…

  26. anjin-san says:

    Don’t you get it? We cut the Social Security checks

    Don’t I know it. I am one of the greedy bastards who thinks he should actually get something back from SS after paying in for 37 years.

  27. That’s it? Nothing but snark? No substantive replies to the points raised? Got it.

  28. As for SS, I’ve only been paying into it for 34 years, but have come to expect nothing from it when the time comes.

  29. mannning says:

    Just where might we become involved in a war?

    1. Defending Israel from the Arabs, after the Arabs have built up their military further.
    2. Defending South Korea from NK aggression yet again.
    3. Intervening in Pakistan to neutralize their nukes, if not also to protect our logistics trails.
    4. In the short term, carrying out the plans and operations for Iraq and Afghanistan.
    5. Defending Europe once again in five or six+ years from now?

    If we experience force reductions, say to a 500,000 man army, a 6 carrier navy, and a 40 wing air force, or roughly a 50% reduction from current levels, it would tax that remaining force massively to take on any one of these conflicts and hope for success, while maintaining other military commitments within the US and worldwide. If, any other of these possible conflicts were to pop up at the same time, we would be obliged to ramp up massively once again and call up the reserves, or else let fate take its course, which would be not only more expensive than keeping a sufficient force at the ready, but it also allows a large time penalty in favor of any aggressor before we can show up in force.

    So what exactly is the right capability level for our forces? A 25% reduction? A 33% reduction al la Clinton and his peace dividend that was spent before it was actually realized, and cost us when we had to ramp up again a bit later more than was actually saved? What should we allow for RDT&E of new weapons, and what should we allow for stockpiling of weapons and ammunition? What should be allowed for initial or continued production of new combat and transport aircraft, ships, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles (large and small), and other military goods. What should we allow for continued intelligence gathering by all of the current organizatrions involved? And, not to forget, what is to be allowed for continued training of the standing force, and continued maintenance as things break?

    Obviously, given that it can be found in the military and its procurement channels, waste, fraud and abuse of funds should be eliminated, as should weakly justified or totally unjustified studies and procurements. One estimate I saw reckoned that perhaps a billion dollars a year could be saved by tightening up on the oversight of expenditures.

    In my opinion, rather than engaging in sweeping and generalized statements about reducing the military forces, we should delve into the realities of our needs, element by element., situation by situation, and forecast by forecast and plan by plan of our future military needs worldwide, and then rack up the score and the bill. This is what Bill Gates is doing right now, and he should be heard out fully.

  30. anjin-san says:

    No substantive replies to the points raised?

    Guess you missed it:

    The bottom line remains – we spend more on “defense” than the rest of the world put together. You can rationalize it till the cows come home, but the bottom line does not change.

    Interesting how you go on almost daily at great length about government spending and the certain doom it is leading us to, but defense spending is a sacred cow.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    Snark seems like the most appropriate reply to these reasons why we simply can’t cut the defense budget…no valid reason has been given why we need so many troops in so many places…who exactly are we protecting the Europeans and the Japanese from? If we bring all those troops home, are Russia, China, and North Korea going to go on the attack? People who moan and groan about our fiscal mess but refuse to put defense cuts and tax increases on the table along with cuts in domestic spending and reform of entitlement programs really can’t be taken all that seriously…

  32. anjin-san says:

    1. Defending Israel from the Arabs, after the Arabs have built up their military further.
    2. Defending South Korea from NK aggression yet again.

    Almost 40 years since the Arab state attacked Israel. More than half a century since NK attacked SK. But sure, lets continue to pour our limited national treasure into carrying the defense burden of foreign countries.

    5. Defending Europe once again in five or six+ years from now?

    WTF??

    when we had to ramp up again

    We “had” to ramp up? Really? Well, defense contractors are certainly happy that a successful terrorist attack by a handful of men with box cutters caused us to more than double our already vast defense budget over the last decade. The military we had in 2002 seemed well able to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Things were in hand there, but we decided to turn the bin laden hunt in Tora Bora over to others, which was a huge mistake. Then Bush took his eye off the ball entirely to focus on Iraq, which was entirely elective.

    we should delve into the realities of our needs

  33. anjin-san says:

    we should delve into the realities of our needs

    Is the “reality” of America’s needs that we need to pour our national treasure, in perpetuity, into carrying the defense burdens of wealthy, advanced nations? You seem to think so. We face no existential threat to our security. No on is talking about gutting our military, that is a complete and total straw man.

    By all means, let’s look at the realities of OUR needs. And be mindful of what President Eishenhower warned us of half a century ago.

  34. mannning says:

    Typical, disgusting and deliberate misinterpretations of what I wrote. The end point was that this crowd should STFU about military reductions and listen to those who have a real understanding, detailed intelligence reporting, sufficient information about our needs, and the ability to actually do something about it. Gates, for instance.

    All that seems to be the commentary here is politicizing the issue from a leftwing point of view, and using hindsight to criticize what past administrations have done, together with the Congress. I am dead certain that Gates will not read such as this, nor will anyone else in effective positions to make the call as to our REAL needs, which no one here has.

  35. mannning says:

    AS to the timing of past versus current possibilities, from 1918, till 1941, or 23 years after the Great War came WWII. Then came the Cold War. It was only 9 years till the Korean conflict after the end of WWII, and just about 12 or 13 years later till Vietnam. Then came the two Gulf Wars and Afghanistan.

    So who is betting that we simply won’t have yet another conflict within the next 20 or 30 years? And, then, who is betting that we will have a sufficient armed forces to handle it then? We have just about always listened to the siren calls of force reduction, and have had to scramble madly to put something of an army back together to face the enemy. This has cost us dearly in three ways: financially, casualties and loss of territories.

    How long did it take Germany to tool up for WWII with superior weaponry? Perhaps 8 to 10 years. How long did it take Russia to create an overwhelming force in WWII? Perhaps 3 or 4 years in the middle of the war, but much after they had suffered enormous casualties and loss of territory. How long will it take China to equal or surpass us in military power and be able to threaten those nations with which we have mutual defense treaties?

    Just a few considerations to ponder.

  36. anjin-san says:

    Gates, for instance.

    I am a big fan of Gates. Your comments on the other hand, are quite unimpressive.

    We have just about always listened to the siren calls of force reduction, and have had to scramble madly to put something of an army back together to face the enemy

    When? Leading up to Korea over 50 years ago? Vietnam was unnecessary, an elective war against an enemy that did not threaten us. Gulf 1 was, I feel, a necessary war. And we did quiet well with the force we had at hand. Ditto Afghanistan. Iraq was elective. Period.

    How long will it take China to equal or surpass us in military power

    China has very little history of being aggressive in modern times beyond acquiring some buffer territory and saber rattling with Taiwan. When they tangled with North Vietnam in ’79 they got smacked around pretty good. They had an inconclusive border war with the Soviet Union in the late 60s. If you are talking about historical patterns here, where is the pattern that leads us to China becoming an active aggressor or a direct threat to US global dominance?

    China would rather do it the Sun Tzu way, by winning without fighting. They are laying a pretty good groundwork for that right now, by employing good old market competition. Is there any evidence that China is pursuing military ambitions beyond wishing to be the dominant power in their region and wanting to have sharp enough claws that we would think twice before conducting operations in what they see as their sphere of operations?

    Nature, and the defense industry both abhor a vacuum. Bin laden is dead, so we need a new enemy.

    The end point was that this crowd should STFU about military reductions

    You might want to take your own advice. As I said earlier, your comments do not impress. To repeat, no one is talking about gutting the military. That is simply a right wing fantasy. You have presented nothing that even resembles a case for the huge increases in defense spending in the 21st century, nor made a compelling argument as to why returning to 1992 defense spending levels, adjusted for inflation, are not sufficient to meet our needs.

  37. mannning says:

    There you go again! Equating your flawed logic with that of your superiors in positions of power, and ignoring the realities of the past and the real possibilities of the future. China is building a first class armed forces, and for what reason?

  38. anjin-san says:

    Manning – Sorry. You simply come across as a stuffed shirt with an inflated opinion of himself. In an earlier time, you probably would have made a fine low-level member of the British foreign service. If you want to sneer at others, it would be a good idea to present a compelling case first.

  39. mannning says:

    @as

    “China would rather do it the Sun Tzu way, by winning without fighting. They are laying a pretty good groundwork for that right now, by employing good old market competition. Is there any evidence that China is pursuing military ambitions beyond wishing to be the dominant power in their region and wanting to have sharp enough claws that we would think twice before conducting operations in what they see as their sphere of operations? ”

    There is an explicit example of a sweeping opinion that plays well in pacifist circles. What if their little buildup keeps on going and introducing better and better weapons? I defy anyone to know accurately what the Chinese are planning militarily over the next 10 years or more. They have the habit of holding their plans close and of thinking very long term.

    One little example is their current development of a super fighter designed to counter the F-22, as well as other types of planes.(the Russians are doing the same) Another is their development of anti-satellite capabilities, a third is their development of cyberwarfare, and a fourth is their rapid development of a blue water navy and a significant submarine force. Then, of course, there is the nuclear program the Chinese have pursued for many years, and the long-range (intercontinental) missile program to deliver the nukes. Not exactly a military program designed merely to dominate their current sphere of interest now is it?

    ” You have presented nothing that even resembles a case for the huge increases in defense spending in the 21st century, nor made a compelling argument as to why returning to 1992 defense spending levels, adjusted for inflation, are not sufficient to meet our needs.”

    Most certainly not my point at all! Never intended to present a case for a specific level of forces, and I am surprised that anyone here would even try to do so, given their evident limited access to intel reporting and knowledge of the foreign scene, and perhaps military developments as well.
    In fact, it is interesting that someone would attempt to accuse me of it, when I have clearly tried to advocate something quite different–a more in-depth, and more well-founded discussion based on substantial facts, not the sweeping opinions of unqualified persons seen so far.

    But I do intend to state more directly again that the sweeping opinions being bandied about here such as, for just one example, the Chinese are no threat to usdo not take all into account that should be when selecting a US force level good for the next decade or more. There is a fine ignorance of the matter being shown, and a clear refusal to get down far enough into the subject to support a meaningful position. So far, it is mere speculation on rather limited information and grand expectations, I believe, perhaps driven as Clinton was by the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow called the peace dividend. Or, as I said before, perhaps a Neville Chamberlin sort of head-in-sand mindset.

    You are right, I do like well-starched shirts! They look so very elegant.

  40. anjin-san says:

    Neville Chamberlin

    All that typing and two little words expose you as a hack. And who said the Chinese are “no threat to us”?

    BTW, a “stuffed shirt” is not the same thing as a starched shirt.

  41. mannning says:

    Why, dear lower case sir, hacks quite often reiterate the truth, expose the biases of posters, and slam THE IGNORANT, All very important functions indeed. But, then, hackneyed phrases do carry a very large truth element that mere stupid accusations of being hackneyed don’t dispel. The more the posters, such as you, protest, the more they show themselves for what they are and passing from ignorant to stupid.