The myth of China’s military might

The myth of China’s military might. By Edward Luttwak.

The declared total of China’s newly increased defence budget at 1.56 trillion yuan amounts to $230 billion, according to the current exchange rate.  …

In China’s case, a manpower shortage undercuts military spending in the PLA’s ground forces and naval forces, and soon it will affect manned air units as well. The PLA ground forces now stand at some 975,000, a very small number for a country that has 13,743 miles of borders with 14 countries …

The PLA’s Achilles’ heel [is that] bright young Chinese are possibly the planet’s most civilian-minded population, least inclined to serve under the command of a military hierarchy. More money would only help to induce them to volunteer if there were a concurrent economic downturn. There is one right now, as it happens, with very high youth unemployment numbers declared to be around 20%. But that is hardly a stable remedy for a demographic and cultural reality with deep roots in Chinese history; it’s a key reason for the long sequence of foreign conquest dynasties that ruled China until 1912. They could do so because their Turkic, Manchurian and Mongol populations preferred to serve as soldiers rather than farmers, while with the Han Chinese it was the other way round.

As for the United States, what diminishes the value of $797 billion [the defense budget] is much more obvious: decades of “research and development” without war against peer antagonists has generated a culture of baroque, even rococo, weapon designs, offering wonderful capability enhancements in exchange for costs only sustainable if there is no war.

For example, an F-35 fighter is so extraordinarily and unrealistically complex that, since production started in 2006, a measly 890 have been delivered (as of February this year) for the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps and all foreign allies. This year, a grand total of 156 F-35s are to be produced in all versions for all countries. In other words, the F-35 is not actually a practical weapon of war because, stealth or no stealth, 100 aircraft could be lost in a single day of combat. Much the same is true of tanks, as was revealed when Canada was bountifully praised for finding four Leopards to donate to Ukraine — even though an army can lose 40 tanks before breakfast on a bad day.

In other words, because of the accumulated drift from reality, caused by decades without large wars with peer antagonists (already in 1914 it was discovered that colonial wars taught nothing of value when it came to fighting Germans), military equipment and military organisations cannot benefit proportionally from budget increases.

Victor Davis Hanson, writing from the US:

Millions of young men are detached and ensconced in solitude, their indebted 20s too often consumed with video-gaming, internet surfing, or consumption of porn. Many suffer from prolonged adolescence. Many assume that they are immune from criticism, given that the alternative of getting married, having children, finding a full-time job, and buying a house is society’s new abnormal. …

Our army is short of its annual recruitment by 25 percent. We all suspect but do not say out loud the cause. The stereotyping of poor and middle-class white males as both raging and biased, and yet expected yet to fight and die in misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, has finally convinced the parents of these 18-year-olds to say, “no more.”

Too much talk of war around. Perhaps Putin’s adventure in Ukraine has the world on edge. A big fish trying to swallow a smaller fish makes all the other small fish nervous.