What Fiction Can Tell You About a Future War With China
Strategists Peter Singer and August Cole’s new novel offers a glimpse into startling real-life U.S. military vulnerabilities...
Every technology in the book, from rail guns to brain-based memory manipulation, is at least at the prototype stage of development in real life. “Ghost Fleet: A Novel Of the Next World War,” meticulously researched by its authors: Peter W. Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation [see here]; and August Cole, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council [see here], features some 20 manifestations of drone technology alone, as well as nearly 400 endnotes.
So what does the technology of today teach about the wars of the future? Defense One put the question to Singer. Below is an edited version of that exchange.
Defense One: War with China doesn’t seem to be something that many in Washington consider a strong probability right now, unless you’re having dinner with China hawk Michael Pillsbury. Yet it’s the very basis of your book. Is it something that you consider likely?
Peter Singer: The Chinese regime newspaper recently said, ‘War is inevitable,’ if the U.S. doesn’t change its policies in the Pacific. You can find any range of similar quotes in the Chinese press saying, ‘We need the plan for the Third World War.’
This is not just the military. A poll was taken in China and they found that 74 percent of Chinese think their military would win in a war against the United States. Those are some scary data points. Now, I don’t think that war is inevitable. That’s a strong term. But it’s very clear that there’ve been shifts in geopolitical trends...
When you cross both the U.S. and the Chinese plans, they both have this assumption that it would be a short, sharp war. We think they’re both wrong. We think that kind of attitude makes war more likely, perhaps by allowing some crisis to spiral out of control [emphasis added]…
There are two big assumptions that guide a lot of discussions about U.S. military technology. One is that the U.S. technology edge is somehow permanent, when in fact if you look at everything from stealth jet fighters to hypersonics to robotics to drones, China is not just developing gear that looks like the twin, but is also pushing forward in cutting-edge fields. China has performed more hypersonic vehicle tests than we have. And who has the world’s fastest supercomputer?
If there are parallels to the last Cold War, this is where it’s different. The Soviet Union was a military competitor. As the Cold War advanced, it wasn’t really an economic or science and technology peer. Its downfall was driven by the fact that it didn’t have global trade and it didn’t have any openness to ideas.
China is becoming an economic competitor in a way that the Soviet Union wasn’t [emphasis added], a political model competitor, and China has an openness to technology that’s frankly insatiable. That appetite has created huge problems. It’s literally stealing technology [e.g. “The Dragon’s Espionage Vacuum: China unInc. (with Canada)“].
The second assumption is that new technologies will somehow be perfect. In fact, many U.S. military systems run the risk of being Pontiac Aztecs...
China aims to challenge U.S. air dominance: Pentagon [Reuters]
Who Will Control The Western Pacific? [AW&ST]
So, what is one to make of this question at twitter?