Hard Power Matters – America’s Universities Must Protect It

by James C. Sherlock

This is a continuation of the discussion raised by my column on the folly of educating Chinese and Iranian visa holders in Virginia universities and colleges. Some in that discussion thought soft power would overcome what America loses in hard power.

Soft power is both crucially important and utterly insufficient to guarantee the future freedom and prosperity of the West and its allies around the world.

We need credible military capabilities — hard power — as well.

Hampton Roads is the largest concentration of military power in the United States, perhaps the world. The Pentagon is in Arlington. Northern Virginia is awash in government and contractor defense personnel. But this issue directly affects all of America. And Europe. And South America and Africa, which are seeing overt Chinese attempts to influence events on both continents. And our allies in the Pacific.

China is without question the biggest long term military threat to the United States and its allies. It combines technology, economic power, an enormous and talented population and ruthless leaders.

When military strategists look at China they remember why the first strategic lesson taught in any strategy school is never fight a land war in mainland Asia. The United States and other western powers have occasionally forgotten that axiom to their considerable regret.

So how do we and our allies ensure military peace with China?

We do that by maintaining a modernized nuclear offensive capability, missile defense, and credible qualitative edges in conventional and unconventional warfare.

America has gone all in on both strategic and tactical missile defense for ourselves and our allies. That capability will always be threatened. But it better work. We are in trouble if we don’t stay ahead of the Chinese attempts to neutralize it.

When some strategists point to mutually assured destruction as a shield, remember that did not save the Soviet Union.

The Soviet alliance had nuclear weapons but we and our allies had both economic and conventional military capabilities that they could not overcome short of a nuclear exchange. And that proved no shield because the Soviets understood what mutual meant.

Mutually assured destruction may not stop the Chinese from using conventional and unconventional military capability in Asia because they may not believe we will play the nuclear card. And they may be right.

Look at a map.

Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan are threatened by China’s conventional military power and its cyber capabilities close to their shores. Vietnam shares a land border.  Australia is farther away from China but much farther away from the U.S. and Europe.

And the Chinese may perceive a sufficient conventional and unconventional military edge close to home to decide to use it and accept the consequences.  The script is thus flipped from the Soviet cold war.

The Chinese hope that a credible threat alone may cause our allies in the region to shift defense policy. They haven’t yet. But China has tested and will continue to test their wills.

When China took over the South China Sea by creating artificial islands and militarizing them, they got away with it because we were not prepared to stop them.

The U.S. Navy now conducts freedom of navigation operations to keep the sea lanes open in now Chinese-claimed waters. That will work until the Chinese feel both strong enough and emboldened, which is different, to try to stop us.

If they invade Taiwan, America is pledged to try to stop them. But if the Chinese accept the very high costs of fighting the armed forces of Taiwan and its allies in a conventional war, they can probably win it. Distance matters. And America’s navy is not large enough and no longer has sufficient qualitative edge to dominate the seas and the air so close to China.

That is the direct result of the fact that Chinese scientists and engineers have for 40 years had the very best education and training America could provide and they have stolen what they did not develop.

So should we say game over, we are doomed to live without a military edge?

We will and do hear that theme from some influential and supposedly sophisticated Americans, mostly those with an internationalist view and big stakes in the Chinese economy.

But the rest of Americans really need to think long and hard if that is OK with us. No American has lived with military inferiority since before World War II.

We were isolationists before both world wars because enemy conventional forces could not reach us. That is still true, but key elements of our system of foreign alliances that buttresses our economy, tech industries and thus military capabilities is easily in China’s reach. And then there is cyber warfare. We have seen just his week that our cyber defense is not where it needs to be.

As long as the Chinese have the advantage of relatively unhindered access to both the West’s military applicable technology and their own, we are playing a losing hand. And that is what they get from unhindered access to American universities.

Unlike China, Iran is currently a wreck of a nation. But it is under the control of madmen that want nuclear armed missiles. The idiotic Iranian nuclear deal guaranteed they can have them. American trained Iranian scientists and engineers will help make it happen. Then so will the Saudis, who will find common cause with Israel. Both will depend on missile defense technology — ours and Israel’s.

The Soviets were not mad enough to use their nukes and I don’t think the Chinese are either. I don’t want to bet on the ayatollahs.

Based on my pre-Ayatollah exposure to Iranians, Iran’s people, freed of the tyranny under which they live, would form a nation that would be a stabilizing influence in that region.

We were not stupid enough to educate Warsaw Pact scientists and engineers. But we continue to make our universities available to the Chinese and Iranians. And, my God, do they take advantage.

Once the people of China and Iran throw off their threatening governments, we should educate them here. Until then, we should not.

Hard power matters. A lot. Always will.

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23 responses to “Hard Power Matters – America’s Universities Must Protect It”

  1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    “We need credible military capabilities – hard power – as well.”

    Is this a statement of current capability or an unfulfilled one? ‘Cause, what, 12 carriers, god knows how many Boomers, and 10s of 1000s of Standoff Attack weapons IN EXCESS OF THAT of our combined enemies kinda constitutes a massive capability.

    Remember Cap’n, the US has the 2nd largest Naval Force in the world! We call it the Coast Guard.

    China isn’t threatening military conflict on those continents, they’re buying economic partnerships and the idiot in the WH has paid for it!

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      Look at a map. Sailing distance from the United States to Taiwan is measured in weeks. From China in hours. Same issue with air power. Distance is a force multiplier in their back yard for the Chinese. Power projection hates distance.

      Boomers don’t count if we don’t plan to use nukes as a first strike weapon and the Chinese don’t use theirs.

      The Chinese are not only threatening military aggression in Asia, they have done it in the South China Sea. Successfully. I used to bomb one of the islands they built that now has a Chinese military airfield when it was a Philippine atoll designated a Navy bombing range.

      The point is we need to maintain a significant qualitative edge that has been greatly eroded by the open welcome our universities have given our most threatening adversaries. It needs to stop.

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        Our undersea warfare assets are not limited to torpedoes and nuke missiles, but I shouldn’t have to tell that to a retired Naval officer. A wide array of cruise missiles, for one. The Coast Guard? Well, if we had to land troops in Taiwan it might have a role. 🙂

        Question: Any American graduate students studying in China? Not Iran, I’m sure, but don’t we also send people to the PRC? And of course, being honorable folk, we never spy on them….

      2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        Weeks? The Blue Ribband was 4 days. Even doubling the distance is only 10 days with 2 refuelings. In Desert Storm, the Wisconsin left Norfolk and entered the Med at midnight on the fourth day. Of course, it took her escorts a few days to catch up.

        Waterline, Cap’n, waterline. Uh yep, waiting for the pickets will slow them, but given the attack class that are there 24-7 will have cleared the seas, they can sprint ahead. Riskier, but….

        Navy relief ships arrived in Thailand 9 days after the tsunami and it took that long only because Bush/Cheney dragged their heels for a few days. And they came fom Japan.

        Yeah, they’re closer, but on an average daily basis, what forces are in the area or based also within days? Attack class carry TLAM and they no llonger require 24-hour targeting. It’s feed the Brick, pull the trigger.

      3. sherlockj Avatar

        Thanks for the update on U.S. naval power Nancy.

        You and Steve seem to presume the Navy’s full order of battle is fully provisioned, fully crewed with all of its aircraft ready to deploy and either on station or pierside ready to go on the West Coast or Japan with unlimited rules of engagement and no credible opposition.

        If all of those things were to be true, I would discuss it. Since none of them are true and never can be, I pass.

        The only thing you need to remember is that it is so damn far to China from the states – 7200 miles from the West Coast. It is not a straight line deployment when the enemy has submarines. The straights of Taiwan are 110 miles wide.

        Point is to keep the citizens of our biggest threat nations out of our colleges and universities. Period.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Russia has a much larger nuclear force than China.

    1. Mr. Galuszka,

      Perhaps you missed this from the article:

      “China is without question the biggest long term military threat to the United States and its allies.”

      China may not currently be the biggest threat in terms of nuclear capability, but it’s on the ascendency in all areas.

      That’s not to say that the dangers of Russia should be ignored.

      “Russia has built up its military forces along border with Eastern Europe”

      “Russian forces in the Western Military District have never been more capable, analyst says.”


      The Trump administration has been aggressively encouraging NATO members to fulfil their responsibilities and has been confronting both China and Russia. I frankly don’t understand how anyone who understands the threats we face from our enemies can support going back to the anything akin to what happened during the Obama administration.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I think I get the point. You are supporting me. I am not saying that China is not a rising threat — especially in the South China Sea, probably the most important route in the maritime world. But
    China ain’t Russia when it comes to nukes.

    1. sherlockj Avatar

      Russia is maxed out in its military capability. As for military potential, there is no comparison. China is just getting started.

      1. Here’s are vivid examples from FBI Director Christopher Wray.

        “To achieve its goals and surpass America, China recognizes it needs to make leaps in cutting-edge technologies. But the sad fact is that instead of engaging in the hard slog of innovation, China often steals American intellectual property and then uses it to compete against the very American companies it victimized—in effect, cheating twice over. They’re targeting research on everything from military equipment to wind turbines to rice and corn seeds.”

        “Through its talent recruitment programs, like the so-called Thousand Talents Program, the Chinese government tries to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating our export controls and conflict-of-interest rules.”

        “Take the case of scientist Hongjin Tan, for example, a Chinese national and American lawful permanent resident. He applied to China’s Thousand Talents Program and stole more than $1 billion—that’s with a “b”—worth of trade secrets from his former employer, an Oklahoma-based petroleum company, and got caught. A few months ago, he was convicted and sent to prison.”

        “Or there’s the case of Shan Shi, a Texas-based scientist, also sentenced to prison earlier this year. Shi stole trade secrets regarding syntactic foam, an important naval technology used in submarines. Shi, too, had applied to China’s Thousand Talents Program, and specifically pledged to “digest” and “absorb” the relevant technology in the United States. He did this on behalf of Chinese state-owned enterprises, which ultimately planned to put the American company out of business and take over the market.”

        “In one of the more galling and egregious aspects of the scheme, the conspirators actually patented in China the very manufacturing process they’d stolen, and then offered their victim American company a joint venture using its own stolen technology. We’re talking about an American company that spent years and millions of dollars developing that technology, and China couldn’t replicate it—so, instead, it paid to have it stolen.”

        “And just two weeks ago, Hao Zhang was convicted of economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and conspiracy for stealing proprietary information about wireless devices from two U.S. companies. One of those companies had spent over 20 years developing the technology Zhang stole.”

        “These cases were among more than a thousand investigations the FBI has into China’s actual and attempted theft of American technology—which is to say nothing of over a thousand more ongoing counterintelligence investigations of other kinds related to China. We’re conducting these kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices. And over the past decade, we’ve seen economic espionage cases with a link to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent.”

        “The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American businesses and the economy as a whole almost defies calculation.”


      2. China has also been influencing our “policy makers” but I guess we aren’t supposed to talk about that since Demorcrats prefer to pretend that’s all just Russian disinformation.

        From the same speech at the link above.

        “To continue with the illustration of the American official with travel plans that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like, China will work relentlessly to identify the people closest to that official—the people that official trusts most. China will then work to influence those people to act on China’s behalf as middlemen to influence the official. The co-opted middlemen may then whisper in the official’s ear and try to sway the official’s travel plans or public positions on Chinese policy. These intermediaries, of course, aren’t telling the American official that they’re Chinese Communist Party pawns—and worse still, some of these intermediaries may not even realize they’re being used as pawns, because they, too, have been deceived.”

        “China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach—and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response.”

        1. So will Joe Biden be a policy maker after January 20? It sure looks that way. Might China try to cultivate relationships with those close to him, say relatives?

          “Hunter Biden in 2017 sent ‘best wishes’ from ‘entire Biden family’ to China firm chairman, requested $10M wire”


  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am not sure that students from Russia and other Soviet bloc countries did not study in the U.S. universities because we were not stupid and therefore kept them out. It may have been because the Soviets would not let their students study in the West because they were afraid they would not come back.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    In the 1930s, a Soviet aircraft engine factory sent maybe a dozen of its engineers to the US to work with Pratt & Whitney. They went home and shared their knowledge. Then Stalin had them shot. Exchange students!

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      That was just in case the picked up democracy disease too. But, here as of late, we’ve discovered that the GOP has a natural immunity.

  6. My thought is liberals are OK with China ascendency, because liberals envision America should have no industry whereas industry is tantamount to mass murder. According to Michael Moore, solar panels are made cheaply in China with – god forbid – coal of all things, and probably not a whole lot of pollution controls. US liberals have a NIMBY view that they want to mandate, and an out-of-sight-out-of -mind view of the world.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Love that space western series Firefly, where everybody spoke a bit of Chinese since it became the dominant Earth power in that alternate universe. I’m not sure cutting off access to MIT will make much difference. Now, corrupting them with our self-absorbed and hedonistic culture, that is making inroads!

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    China is still the “Greece of the Far East”. Truman ignored what was happening. Nixon gambled and lost. The incoming thief in chief will simply return to the globalist form of appeasement.

  8. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Historically speaking, when was the last time a war was fought between trade partners?

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Probably Germany/Japan late 1930s to 1941.

    2. sherlockj Avatar

      Any European war

  9. Iraq Kuwait invasion

  10. Just came across this. It’s wise, comprehensive, informed, even more relevant now.

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