Days after U.S. warships made a provocative passage through the Taiwan Strait on Monday, further making already strained tensions between the Washington and Beijing — currently in the midst of a trade war — even hotter, the former top commander of the US Army in Europe has predicted the United States and China will likely be at war in 15 years.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges made the bombshell and alarming comments at a Warsaw security forum on Wednesday where he urged European allies to do more in preparing their own defenses against Russia while Americans focus more on the Pacific.
I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable, but it is a very strong likelihood — that we will be at war with China. The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat.
This statement is hugely remarkable in that it signifies the thesis has just left the domain of academic international relations theoreticians and has now become a guiding assumption of military commanders with years of experience on the ground.
Hodges served as US Army commander in Europe during 2014-17, which makes his warning especially noteworthy, and he’s now an analyst with the Center for European Policy Analysis. He addressed an ongoing policy debate among policy and defense official circles over whether it’s a mistake for Washington to focus its defense efforts on “threats” like Russian and Iran.
Meanwhile international relations theorist John Mearsheimer, recently drew controversy by expressing publicly at a policy conference that the United States should cool its rhetoric on Russian and Iran — and even work with the two countries — in order to focus on curtailing the true long-term threat of China.
At CSIS, Mearsheimer emphasizes that the US is pursuing counterproductive strategic objectives. He argues the US should embrace #Iran & #Russia to balance the long-term threat of #China‘s influence in Eurasia & the Gulf. But instead, the US is confronting all 3 simultaneously. pic.twitter.com/MHpATTTXQQ
And interestingly, Steve LeVine writing at Axios early this week posed the question long on the Western public’s mind: what are the chances of a US-China war?
While both Gen. Hodges and John Mearsheimer shocked audiences by saying war is almost inevitable on the current trajectory of soaring US-China tensions, Harvard professor and author agrees with them, and further explains just how this scenarios would come about.
He said, if history holds, the U.S. and China appeared headed toward war.
Over the weekend, I asked him for an update — specifically whether the danger of the two going to war seems to have risen.
“Yes,” he responded. The chance of war is still less than 50%, but “is real — and much more likely than is generally recognized.”
LeVine comments of Graham Allison’s central thesis, “Glued to a 2,400-year-old script, the U.S. and China seem to be on the same war-bound path that great powers have taken since Sparta fought upstart Athens.”
LeVine summarizes, based on Allison’s latest comments, that now more than ever the two great powers are inching toward that trap in their brinkmanship based on an “inexorable, invisible force prodding them to almost inevitable war”. Per the Axios report:
The U.S. has slapped increasing tariffs on Beijing, cordoned off U.S. tech, and jailed a Chinese spy, while Beijing has continued to build its military footprint in the disputed South China Sea, demanded tech secrets from Western companies, and more.
But would the current trade war alone or even wide scale tech theft and a few encounters on the open seas be enough to trigger escalation and actual war?
Likely not, says Allison, but instead a WWI type scenario of an unintended domino effect of one-upmanship in which, for example, the simple assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered massive escalation leading to world war. By a similar scenario, writes LeVine of Allison’s comments, “the two countries will be pulled into conflict by miscalculation involving a third party, such as Taiwan.”
“What happens is that a third-party provocation, an accident, becomes a trigger to which one of the two feels obliged to respond. and they find themselves in a war that neither wanted.”
We saw precisely this almost happen between the US and Russia over Syria on multiple occasions over the past two years — especially with the September accidental downing of the Russian IL-20 surveillance plane with 15 crew members on board after US ally Israel launched a wide scale missile assault on Syrian government facilities.
But with the former commander of US Army forces in Europe now saying “in 15 years we will be at war with China” the thesis has just left the domain of academic international relations theoreticians and has now become a guiding assumption of top military commanders.