Once a whale is on a beach, it cannot get back into the ocean easily. Beached whales often die due to dehydration, collapsing under their own weight, or drowning when high tide covers the blowhole. Unfortunately, the United States is fast approaching the “beached whale” status in its relationship with China.
Here are five possibilities that can put us on the beach without China firing a shot:
1. Accepting China‘s argument that it had nothing to do with the current pandemic and the Covid-19 virus transitioned directly from animals to humans, probably at the live animal food markets in Wuhan, China. This argument is unconvincing to many scientists in the field. Those suspicions have increased with the reluctance of China to release lab information to the WHO and investigators from the U.S and other countries. The recent pandemic, whatever the source, was devastating to the entire world. The effects of a biological weapon deliberately placed by a pre-vaccinated enemy would be far more devastating.
2. Failing to deal with the militarization of cyberspace. No issue has emerged so rapidly as cyberspace’s militarization, yet no issue is more poorly understood as cyber-security. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to cyber-security. Cyber issues affect everyone literally: the military protecting the nation, business executives defending firms from once unimaginable threats, and politicians wrestling with everything from voter fraud, cybercrime, and online freedom. Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are rapidly improving already formidable proficiencies in making attacks for which neither our military, our government agencies, or our civilian organizations and corporations have developed adequate defenses: cyber warfare.
In recent years, the role of cyber warfare in the United States and other westernized democracies expanded from simply protecting military networks to defending our entire economic system from cyber attacks. While tightly integrated civil-security forces relations have emerged, more efforts are crucial for the survival of democratic societies in an increasingly cyber-enabled authoritarian world. What’s been accomplished so far is not nearly enough.
3. Accepting a proposed Pentagon Budget that will shrink the Navy. After plans to increase the size of the Navy to 350 ships, the new proposed Pentagon budget shrinks the Fleet to under 290 with the early decommissioning of 12 ships. Proposed in the new budget are just eight battle force ships, including five destroyers, a frigate, and two Virginia-class submarines. It would result in a fleet of 240 ships, and it comes as China, our most dangerous adversary, continues to build the world’s largest Navy. One positive of the proposed budget is the preservation of construction plans for the Virginia class submarines, with their Tomahawk missiles launched from the ocean’s depths replacing the firepower formerly relied upon from carrier air wings. There are 19 Virginia class submarines now commissioned, gradually replacing the older Los Angeles class, of which 32 are still active. The Ohio class “boomers,” the ballistic missile submarines armed with 70 percent of our ICBMs, are slated to be replaced by the Columbia class now under development. The Columbia class is slated to join the Fleet beginning in 2031 at the rate of one per year until the projected number of 12 replaces the entire Ohio class. The greatest danger lies between now and 2031, when the Columbia will be deployed.
4. Failure to protect our national grid system. In February 2021, Texas suffered a major power crisis due to three severe winter storms sweeping across the United States. It resulted in shortages of water, food, and heat. More than 4.5 million homes and businesses were left without power, some for several days. At least 151 people were killed directly or indirectly. What happened in Texas should serve as a wake-up call to the dangers of an enemy attack on our national grid system. A single attack on our national grid system could bring our nation to its knees. Such an attack would fry the Pentagon’s electronics, leaving the U.S. military unable to retaliate. Imagine a city, county, or state without power. There would be no communication of any kind – not a landline, mobile device, or Internet. Hospitals would have no power – main or emergency. The safety of the water supply would deteriorate rapidly. There would be little to no access to money. ATMs wouldn’t function, and banks would close out of security concerns. Food shortages would develop, followed by rioting and civil unrest. Experts predict that ninety percent of all Americans would die a year after an EMP event.
There is no reason why America cannot take steps now to protect the American grid. While some progress has been made in hardening potential U.S. targets against an EMP attack, the vast majority of electrical systems are unshielded and unprotected. We must gain knowledge of the capabilities of EMP and understand the amount of money, time, and effort that will be required for meaningful prevention.
5. Continuing to finance China‘s bad actors.
China has over 700 companies in our stock and bond markets or capital markets. It has about 86 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, about 62 in the NASDAQ, and over 500 in the murky, poorly regulated over-the-counter market. Among these companies are some egregious bad actors. Hikvision, for example, is responsible for facial recognition technology that identifies and monitors the movement of ethnic Uyghurs, persecuted Muslims living in China‘s northwest.
When it comes to screening Chinese investments in U.S. companies, we have the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which was recently strengthened with the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018. Our capital markets are completely unprotected. There are serial violators of U.S. sanctions in our markets today.
• J. William Middendorf, former Secretary of the Navy, is the author of “The Great Nightfall: How We Win the New Cold War.”