On Friday, the RAND Corporation, America’s single most influential military and defense strategy think tank issued a troubling new editorial in Newsweek magazine based on a July 28 report titled – War With China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable – in which the lead authors renewed the call for armed conflict with Beijing they made one month earlier.
Many Americans are familiar with the RAND Corporation as the stomping ground of Cold War hawks and as the strategic mastermind behind some of the most harrowing actions taken during the Vietnam War. "Thinking through the unthinkable" is actually a slogan of sorts for the RAND Corporation with all too many familiar with the think tank’s track record of turning the unthinkable into a reality.
The editorial "examines alternative paths that a war between the United States and China might take, losses and other effects on both sides, preparations that the United States should make and ways to balance US war aims against costs."
The group believes that a war against China would remain isolated with low probability of spillover effects throughout the region and the war while suggesting that while nuclear weapons may be used it is their opinion that such a scenario is "unlikely" because "neither side would regard its losses so serious, its prospects so dire, or the stakes so vital that it would run the risk of devastating nuclear retaliation."
Interestingly, the editorial conjures up the believe that "China would not attack the US homeland" even in the event of "an intensely violent conventional conflict" despite Beijing’s fielding of a fleet of fifth generation J-20 fighter jets and the development of two separate major naval carriers that expand China’s potential reach.
The group also says that China’s growing military capabilities including "sensors, weapon guidance, digital networking and other information technologies used to target opposing forces have advanced to the point where… the Chinese military forces seriously threaten" the United States.
In finding so, the group calls for a preemptive strike to be on the table in the US military policy vis-à-vis China, a scenario that many in the defense community likely find not only unthinkable but reckless. The editorial itself argues that a preemptive strike would result in a protracted conflict that would be ruinous both in terms of fatalities and economic costs, but proposes an unprovoked attack nonetheless.
"This creates the means as well as the incentive to strike enemy forces before they strike our own," said the editorial. "In turn, this creates a bias toward sharp, reciprocal strikes from the outset of a war, yet with neither side able to gain control and both having ample capacity to keep fighting, even as military losses and economic costs mount."
Evermore disconcerting, the article is slated to appear in the same Newsweek publication in which the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin graces its cover in a hoody with a laptop in front of him with a similarly hawkish article calling for preemptive cyberwarfare against Russia.