03 November 2021

Worth Waiting For—But No Time to Waste! My Take on the Pentagon’s 2021 China Military Power Report

Despite coming out late in the year, the Pentagon’s 2021 China Military Power Report (CMPR) was worth the wait!

Since the first edition in 2000, the annual CMPR issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) has offered government-verified data on China’s meteoric military rise simply unfindable or unconfirmable anywhere else.

Among today’s top takeaways: in a shocking increase from its own recent estimates, DoD forecasts that China may have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027.

These weapons are part of a comprehensive pattern: we can see Beijing preparing to attempt to deter or defeat American defense of Taiwan in coming years by claiming a potent weapons-based capability for every possible scenario contingency and escalation.

The timing is part of a concerning convergence of PRC capabilities: outgoing U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Phil Davidson warned cogently in March that PLA capabilities and likely intentions to threaten Taiwan are surging towards an unprecedented, dangerous level by around that very same year—2027. Testimony from his successor, Admiral Aquilino; as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, suggest a similar timescale of converging cross-Strait threats.

As Gabriel Collins and I wrote in our recent Foreign Policy article on the peaking PRC threat to Taiwan, U.S. vital interests, and the rules-based international order: “U.S. military leaders’ assessments are informed by some of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated internal information. But what’s striking is open-source information available to everyone suggests similar things.” I discussed this issue further in a Midrats podcast last Sunday. Now, with its 173 pages of data and analysis free for the world to read, the CMPR brings it all together.

The future is now: the United States and its allies and partners must prepare immediately to Weather the Window of Vulnerability through this Decade of Danger that we have already clearly entered.

Both military and information preparations are needed urgently. As I told ANI News: “Only well-prepared and well-explained US government answers will stem a riptide of stunned defeatism and prevent Xi from ‘winning without fighting.’ ‘Holding the line’ is likely to require frequent and sustained proactive enforcement actions to disincentivize full-frontal PRC assaults on the rules-based order in Asia-Pacific. PRC probing behavior and provocations must be met with a range of symmetric and asymmetric responses that impose real costs.”

The Pentagon’s Report must inform key decision-makers as well as the general public to marshal the necessary efforts to safeguard peace and security amid Beijing’s mounting challenges to both. The bottom line: Washington and its allies and partners must Hold the Line through 2035.