On April 26th, Taiwanese media reported that significant military movement had been detected on mainland China which indicated the likely preparation for large-scale military maneuvers. The next day, the Associated Press reported that two Chinese F-8 fighters were scrambled to shadow an US spy plane flying in international airspace over the South China Sea.
On Sunday April 30th, the US Department of Defense ordered the USS Kitty Hawk to steam for Taiwanese waters on the same day the Taipei Times carried an opinion article which said, "So long as Taiwan refuses to forfeit its sovereignty, a Chinese invasion of the island is virtually unavoidable. Taiwanese President-elect Chen Shui-bian's (
Is war possible between Taiwan and the Peoples Republic of China? If so, would this war involve the US? If it did, could the US military handle that mission?
On the first question, the answer is an unequivocal yes; war is a distinct possibility between Taiwan and China. The second question is a little more murky -- by design -- but the answer is very probably; if China made an unprovoked attack against Taiwan, the US would almost certainly come to their defense. But the answer to the third question is the most crucial of all for Americans, and its answer is not likely.
Military and foreign affairs pundits the world over have explored, analyzed, and dissected the question of whether the Chinese military even has the ability to conduct cross-strait operations. What goes accepted as fact and virtually without discussion is that they are no match for the military prowess of the US, and could never win a face-to-face confrontation. But is that assumption valid?
I believe it is not.
Since the Persian Gulf War, the US military has undergone several crucial changes that on the surface and, viewed individually, seem to be of little consequence; but in toto have severely degraded our ability to conduct sustained military operations against a legitimate foe.
Some of the more serious of these issues are: the change in focus from engaging in combat operations to an emphasis on peacekeeping operations; the de-masculinization of the armed forces through the lessening of rigorous standards; and the failure to reorganize outdated military structures in light of the obvious revolution in military affairs. Added to this is the reality of a strong domestic economy in the US, and the sagging appeal of the armed forces and the spartan conditions and pay to mainstream American men.
The result of the malaise is that the fighting strength of the US military is now but a shell of its 1991 strength. In the three to five years prior to the Persian Gulf war, the US military in general and the army in particular, had trained to impressive levels. Still patrolling the East-West border between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, training and preparation for a possible large-scale war was an ever-present reality. That prevailing condition provided unambiguous focus. Consequently, when that trained and ready military force was brought to bear against Saddam Hussein, it crushed him with impunity.
That force no longer exists.
Though the highest ranking, politicized generals of todays US Armed Forces would argue vigorously to the contrary, and no doubt feign insult that their ability to engage in significant combat operations was questioned, the reality is evident for anyone to see who is willing to look: Years of retraining our combat forces for peacekeeping duty and the endless string of overseas deployment has considerably dulled Americas fighting edge; the reduction in the manpower levels of over 250,000 in the army alone; the significantly reduced level of field training for the land forces that remain; and retention and recruiting levels at post-World War II lows.
The solution to this crisis of readiness is not in simply pouring more money into the defense budget; that would actually serve to exacerbate the problem. The answer lies in meaningful reform and reorganization. Texas Governor George W. Bush openly proclaims on his Web site that if elected to the presidency he will rebuild the military. We must certainly hope so. For simply trying to graft add-on improvements to the current faulty system will ultimately lead to failure and failure on the battlefield is defined in terms of lost vital national interests -- and in the spilled blood of America's finest.
Daniel L. Davis is a former military and foreign affairs aide to US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and is currently a Captain in the US Army Reserve.
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