Warnings of an impending war between the U.S. and China have created a stir in Washington’s defense community, and members of Congress are questioning just how equipped the nation would be if a battle were to break out as early as 2025.
“We are way behind where we should be,” Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Newsweek. “It’s up to the Congress to lead the administration in that respect.”
In a memo sent to officers on Friday, four-star Air Force General Mike Minihan, who heads the Air Mobility Command, predicted that the U.S. could find itself at war with China over Taiwan within two years. President Joe Biden has committed U.S. forces to defending Taiwan in the event China decides to invade, and Minihan’s memo reignited concerns about America’s military readiness.
Wicker told Newsweek he’s more interested in returning the U.S. military to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine, the concept that strong military power deters the breakout of war, than in pinpointing a date for a potential conflict. Nonetheless, he said, “The effect of heeding the general’s words will be the same.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) has refuted Minihan’s timeline, saying in a statement that the possibility of a war in 2025 is “not representative of the department’s view on China.”
Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon‘s press secretary, added to this remark, saying, “China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Despite the DOD’s pushback on Minihan’s remarks, Republican Representative Don Bacon told Newsweek he approves of the general’s message.
“He’s got a major command,” Bacon, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “He runs all the airlift for the U.S. Air Force. His job is to make sure his airmen are ready to fight.”
A former Air Force brigadier general, Bacon said he knows Minihan from his time in the service. He told Newsweek Minihan’s “thinking is what commanders should be telling their troops” in order to ensure that service members are prepared for combat.
“What I think he’s telling his airmen is: Be ready, war could be imminent, I want you to train hard, train better, be prepared,” the Nebraska congressman said. “I liked what he had to say. I wish the guy on Pearl Harbor in 1941 would have said something like that.”
The rising concerns surrounding the U.S. military’s combat readiness stem in part from concerns about the level of aid that the United States is sending to Ukraine for its war against Russia.
Last month, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told Defense One that if weapon makers cannot boost production between June and December to confront a weapons shortage, the U.S. could find it “challenging” to arm both itself and Ukraine, which has received approximately $24.9 billion in military aid since Russia invaded the country last year.
“You are prioritizing arms to Ukraine over our vital security interests in Asia,” Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, wrote in a December letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “This is not a tenable position.”
Noting that deliveries to Taiwan and Ukraine would require different mechanisms, the senator argued, “Regardless of the weapons’ source, if both Taiwan and Ukraine need them, they should go to Taiwan first.” He contended that the United States cannot let Chinese President Xi Jinping seize Taiwan.
Xi hasn’t been shy in his desire to retake Taiwan for mainland China and in July 2021 declared that reunification with Taiwan is China’s “historic mission.” In the last six months, Beijing has increased preparations for military action against Taiwan, conducting several drills in the Taiwan Strait that have raised alarm among military leaders and U.S elected officials.
Bacon told Newsweek that even if China is exaggerating or bluffing about its plans to take back Taiwan, “You’ve got to take them at their word.”
“We’ve got to assume that China has belligerent intentions toward Taiwan,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we should initiate war, but we should be ready for it and be able to help Taiwan.”
Although there have been arguments contending that the U.S. military should preserve its arms should conflict escalate with China, Wicker said it remains important that the U.S. continue to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty in order to assert its position on the world stage.
“If you’re strong, if you can win a war, you’re much more likely to avoid one,” he told Newsweek. “If we are successful in Ukraine, if the West is successful in helping Ukraine have what it needs, then there’s less likelihood of war in the western Pacific.”
“The Chinese Communist Party is watching what the forces of freedom are standing for,” Wicker said.