When one thinks of predators in the ocean, it is hard not to think instantly of sharks, for they are near the top of the predator list in all of the oceans of the world. Sharks are to be feared!
But there is another kind of ocean predator that comes to mind when thinking about foreign policy, and that predator is to be feared as well. That predator is made of steel, and it is called a U.S. Navy attack submarine.
That predator is at the top of the food chain when it comes to military power and force projection. There are 50 of them. They are modern. They are mobile and survivable, and they run silently, they run deep, and they can attack at any time — day or night — at any point on the globe.
Submarines have been important instruments of war for more than a century, but they are vitally important in today’s world, where both Russia and China are a threat in terms of a military breakout. America’s submarines are the key to maintaining a peaceful and stable world in the 21st century.
At this critical time, when China is becoming more aggressive and President Xi Jinping has called Taiwan the red line that must not be crossed, our president has, at the same time, asserted with frequency in recent months that U.S. forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
Tensions are surely rising. Given recent events, it is probably good that President Biden chose not to make any bold public “in your face” assertions with respect to Taiwan when debriefing the press after his meeting with Mr. Xi. According to Reuters News Service, Mr. Biden and Mr. Xi did clash over Taiwan, but their meeting was “aimed at preventing strained U.S.-China ties from spilling into a new Cold War.”
Mr. Biden said publicly that he sought to assure Mr. Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed regarding the “One China” position. He also asserted, however. that the U.S. would continue to provide Taiwan’s military with sufficient capabilities to make sure that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait can be maintained.
Public diplomacy and private diplomacy, however, are two different things, and it can only be hoped that Mr. Biden had the courage to make clear in his private discussions that America’s military edge over China may be shrinking a bit, but that the crossover point hasn’t happened yet, and that America’s clear and enduring superiority in the underwater realm can and will be used to block any seaborne assault on Taiwan.
The fact that hypersonic missiles will soon enter America’s submarine weapons inventory only makes America’s deterrent that much stronger. Sending a sustained and unmistakable message to China is what is required in the months ahead, and it is a path that should become Biden administration policy if it isn’t already. It should be conveyed in private by the most senior levels of our government and backed up by unmistakable but subtle actions on the part of our military forces as well as by our diplomacy in the region.
Our nation’s submarine force is the key strategic asset that can and should be used to convince the Chinese president that any attempt to invade Taiwan can and will be thwarted. China’s senior leadership knows that the stealth, endurance, agility and enhanced firepower of America’s 50 attack submarines is unquestioned, and that America is capable of executing a silent, hidden, declared or undeclared blockade of China’s sea lanes of commerce.
It is a fact that if a Chinese amphibious assault force were to launch toward Taiwan and were mysteriously sunk in the Taiwan Strait while the United States declared an economic blockade on ships heading to or leaving from Chinese ports, China’s economy would grind to a halt within days.
According to a release from China’s Foreign Ministry. Mr. Xi’s opening statement at the meeting with Mr. Biden emphasized the need “to learn from history,” using it “as a mirror” to “guide the future.”
One can only hope that Mr. Biden or his secretary of state were willing to provide a quiet history lesson to Mr. Xi and his advisers on how Japan’s military in World War II was ultimately cut off from critical supplies of oil and other raw materials by U.S. submarines, which ultimately sank roughly 30% of the Japanese navy and more than half of Japanese shipping — ultimately bringing Japan to its knees militarily and economically.
America’s submarine forces are the Apex predator, and they can and should be feared by China’s military and its Communist Party leadership.
One can also hope Mr. Biden and his senior national security team will pursue an adroit foreign policy with respect to an aggressive China — one that harnesses the clear strategic advantage provided by our nation’s naval power with our submarine force as the leading edge of that power.
These are dangerous times, and it is now time for our president to make it clear that our Navy, and our submarine force in particular, is out there in the ocean and ready to deter war and win a war if that becomes necessary.
• Christopher M. Lehman served as a senior official in the State Department and then as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1985. He also served from 1976 to 1981 as an associate staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and helped draft the Taiwan Relations Act.