By John Erath
News feeds this week have featured a number of stories about the Commander of the Air Mobility Command, General Michael Minihan and his impression that there will be a U.S.-China war over Taiwan by 2025. While sensational, this view was quickly discounted by the Air Force and the Pentagon, although echoed by some members of Congress. How should it be viewed?
First, one must keep in mind that Minihan is a general. It is actually his job to prepare to fight a war and ensure that his command is at all times ready for the worst possible eventuality. It is good to know that should a war begin, the Air Mobility Command should be at a high level of readiness. At the same time, it is important to note that the Air Mobility Command is a military outfit. Its purpose is to use military means to solve military problems. It is but one of the tools available to the U.S. government to address global challenges. Minihan was right from his limited point of view; the Air Force and the military as a whole should be prepared for conflict, but this does not mean war is inevitable or that non-military considerations do not exist.
The most obvious of these is that a war is not in the interest of anyone. The disruption in trade alone would lead to a global depression. China’s economy is built on exports and the Chinese Communist Party has remained in power largely by delivering economic growth. All parties, including Taiwan, benefit from the current arrangement.
There are causes for tension, though, including Taiwanese independence movements, human rights violations, and intellectual property protection. None of these requires a military solution. The U.S. and China maintain substantial diplomatic and trade bureaucracies whose job it is to manage such issues, so that there are other avenues than force to mitigate tension. This is why every U.S. Secretary of Defense in the last two decades has called for an increased budget for the State Department. The leadership understands better than an Air Force general that there need to be other tools in the toolbox, including diplomacy. A diplomat, looking at the U.S.-China situation, might foresee enhanced diplomatic engagement, not war in 2025, but this is far less sensational and would invoke few headlines.
So, what is the headline? Is it that a general is preparing for a war he may not have to fight? Or that diplomats are making efforts to avoid a conflict? These would not seem to be news, but rather people doing their jobs. It may not be sensational, but the point to be taken from the hype over General Minihan’s memo should be that if everyone does their job, a war is less likely. Hopefully, this is understood not just at the top levels of the Pentagon, but in Congress, as it considers how to provide the means for the other tools to complement those of the military.