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Aircraft Carrier

Praktike rightly flags the apparent -- and strange -- belief of at least some inside the Chinese defense establishment that sinking an American aircraft carrier would induce the American people to back down in a military conflict. A disturbingly high number of foreigners appear not to have learned the appropriate lessons from Vietnam, namely that even under the best (worst?) case scenario where an apparently hopeless situation involving a vague-to-nonexistent security threat eventually provokes sufficient war-weariness to lead to American withdrawal, the conflict still goes on for a very long time and involves us wreaking massive death and destruction on your population. Since the Chinese government seems to have a perennial bug up its ass regarding Japanese history textbooks, they might want to peruse some of the literature dealing with the Imperial military's thinking about the likely consequences of Pearl Harbor which seemed to involve a similar miscalculation.

Note that exempting things that are largely outside of human control (asteroid strike, virus mutations) war between the United States and China is very close to being the worst possible thing that might realistically happen in the foreseeable future. Everyone would do well think a bit harder about this subject.

May 16, 2005 | Permalink


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» Matthew Yglesias: Aircraft Carrier from Word Up
Link: Matthew Yglesias: Aircraft Carrier. [Read More]

Tracked on May 16, 2005 5:22:45 PM

» Perhaps sinking a carrier would cause us to back down from ThoughtsOnline
Actually, me thinks Matthew misses the point, the Chinese did pay attention to Vietnam. America was able to dabble for far too long before the North Vietnamese and the VietCong made us pay a price we were no longer willing to incur. [Read More]

Tracked on May 16, 2005 6:10:57 PM

» THE WRONG LESSONS from JunkYardBlog
Matt Yglesias and Praktike both draw exactly the wrong lessons from this CATO article on, oddly enough, TAP. Talk about dogs and cats sleeping together... It makes me wonder if TAP isn't running another of their "institute editions," where a... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 4:58:41 PM

» THE WRONG LESSONS from JunkYardBlog
Matt Yglesias and Praktike both draw exactly the wrong lessons from this CATO article on, oddly enough, TAP. Talk about dogs and cats sleeping together... It makes me wonder if TAP isn't running another of their "institute editions," where a... [Read More]

Tracked on May 17, 2005 5:02:22 PM


What a fucking premise whore.

If there is a war over Taiwanese independence, a Chinese man can be found to opine that America's taste for war over Taiwanese independence will be lessened by the loss of an aircraft carrier in that war.

Rather than tackle the crazy premise, well, make a clever point about the real issue being the Chinese mistake about American resolve. I guess the Chinese are full of it and the recruiting numbers of the last few months for Americans to have fun in Iraq are bogus. Move out of DC before you go fully insane.

Posted by: razor | May 16, 2005 1:57:33 PM

A disturbingly high number of foreigners appear not to have learned the appropriate lessons from Vietnam, namely that even under the best (worst?) case scenario where an apparently hopeless situation involving a vague-to-nonexistent security threat eventually provokes sufficient war-weariness to lead to American withdrawal, the conflict still goes on for a very long time and involves us wreaking massive death and destruction on your population.

Irony of ironies, nor do most Americans understand that this logic can be applied to the guerilla insurgents in Iraq.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | May 16, 2005 2:21:04 PM

That destroyer isn't going to get anywhere near an aircraft carrier. They would turn the carrier around before it even got in range if somehow it got even close to Sunburn range.

If they are going to get pissy it doesn't make sense to play around with Sunburns when they have thermonuclear nukes that could just wipe out the whole carrier group since you would wind up having to fight the whole group anyway to get close enough to the carrier.

Posted by: Ed Marshall | May 16, 2005 2:23:35 PM

I am also reminded of the Rand studies that gave birth to the shock and awe military doctrine which theorized that if America attacked the Soviet Union with a nuclear first strike to its crucial silos, the Soviets would get the lesson and refrain from responding.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | May 16, 2005 2:23:45 PM

No ironies or contradictions here. Even with minmal public stomach for the enterprise, we can do a lot of damage before giving up, but when the outcome matters far more to them than to us, we will give up before the pain becomes unbearable to them. Hence, STARTING a war with us is a bad idea. CONTINUING one we started is a much different matter.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | May 16, 2005 2:28:11 PM

Remember the Maine!

Posted by: Rebecca | May 16, 2005 2:39:41 PM

The Chinese would have to be pretty damned sure that we wouldn't retaliate to the sinking with nuclear weapons.

Pretty. Damned. Sure.

On a side note, why are CATO people publishing in TAP?

Posted by: Al | May 16, 2005 2:46:16 PM

Seriously, though...wouldn't the Spanish-American War be a better analogy for how this conflict might escalate than Vietnam?

Posted by: Rebecca | May 16, 2005 2:49:35 PM

There's no way we'd back down after the loss of a carrier; our wounded pride at minimum would demand a bloody response.

Posted by: Kimmitt | May 16, 2005 2:49:46 PM

Last week the military-worshiping faction of the Radical Right was going on about how the United States should have attacked the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Pretty sick, IMHO, but at least it was in the past and they couldn't actually do anything about it. Now they are getting revved up about war with China - and what terrifies me is that some of them might be in a position to make it happen.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 16, 2005 3:01:17 PM

To see how the evil empire works, and feeds the premise whores, see Thomas Barnett on Robert Kagan's article published in the Atlantic as the next installment in the delusional world game of the crowd that brought us Iraq.

But heh, don't worry the sanity of the premises as long as the insider power gossip is hot. Everything will work out anyway. We already got Buck Turgidson here wetting himself over brand named weapon fantasies. If only we had nuked the Chinese in Korea, ahhhh, those were the days. It's complicated now, what with us relying on China for control of North Korea and to keep the rates low enough to buy all those McMansions. But with a brand weapon and a missile shield, it will be Korea all over again with a different outcome.

Posted by: razor | May 16, 2005 3:11:45 PM

It is a lot harder to hit and sink a carrier then you would think, nor is it at all clear that you could take out a whole carrier group in one shot. When I was a missle tech back in 1977-1978 the typical destroyer ring was thirteen miles out from the carrier. Accordiding to this site a 25 megaton air blast has a blast radius of 6.5 miles, or about one fourth the area of a mid-seventies task force. And the effects of that blast on a totally sealed metal vessel is problematic. Blowing a thirteen mile circle out of a densely inhabited area is guaranteed to kill millions. Blowing a thirteen mile circle out of the ocean might yield a cruiser and a couple destroyers at best.

The whole job of a missile destroyer was to intercept airplanes and submarines before they got into firing range and to shoot down the missile or explode or if necessary intercept the torpedo physically before it has a chance to get to the carrier . And the carrrier has a whole ring of airplanes out beyond us with the same assignment. We were pretty confident in what we had back then when we were still coordinating radar coverage manually. Aegis was still under development then, today each and every radar is feeding its information into an integrated system, its going to be pretty difficult to get a plane or a ship close enough to launch a missile and pretty good odds that missile would be intercepted anyway.

As for submarines certainly I don't know anything about their current capacities, but I do suspect that the entire Chinese navy would simply cease to be a few minutes after that first missile or torpedo launch was detected. Our military is really good at doing what they are trained to do, which is to say blow people up before they get a chance to get a shot in at you. Put the Army out in the open field and taunts of "Bring em on" even make sense. The Taiwan Strait scales out at about 100 miles per my atlas, and even given installations on islands a Carrier Task group would have plenty of room to manuever.

Taking a shot at a Carrier would be the worst mistake the Chinese Navy ever made

Posted by: Bruce Webb | May 16, 2005 3:12:21 PM

Somehow I doubt that any half-respecting member of China's defense establishment in possession of two cerebral hemispheres would actually advocate the sinking of a US aircraft carrier as a way to intimidate the USA. Where, exactly, is Praktike getting this information? Sounds like argument-fodder, agent provocateur hearsay to me.

BTW Pearl Harbor doesn't really work as a node of comparison here-- apples and oranges and pineapples. Yamamoto and the other Japanese generals did not pretend that the US would just slink away and cry after the Pearl Harbor attack; rather, they planned on following up the assault with *Japanese* victories at Coral Sea and Midway, which would have broken the back of the US navy in the Pacific. (We only *barely* won at Coral Sea.) The Japanese felt they were being boxed in and needed access to oil resources and bases in the Pacific to advance their plans; no such dynamic remotely exists in the case of China. They have access to plenty of oil both in Xinjiang and via Central Asia, and to meet the needs of their growing population the only possible source would be the Middle East (or a technological breakthrough); in this sense, *any attack* on the US or another power would be inherently counterproductive.

I don't think that any country's leader assumes that they can attack an opponent and not expect a retaliation; generally, the assumption of retaliation is built in and can actually factor in the calculations. Remember, Osama bin Laden launched the 9/11 attack on the USA precisely because he knew we would have to retaliate, and he gambled that we would overretaliate by carrying our assault out not just against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but against a third country that was totally innocent and had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks, but whose oil and weak government would provide an irresistible temptation for action (i.e., Iraq). This, of course, would inspire a native insurgency, bleed our treasury dry, and propel the world to unite against us, which is exactly what's happened. We've fallen right into bin Laden's trap.

Posted by: Wes | May 16, 2005 3:16:11 PM

That is so bizarre. I would think the one thing shown by history is that if the US is attacked, Americans go completely crazy.

What's really strange about the general's theory is how it's the exact opposite of the truth. If China wanted to attack Taiwan, there's a chance the US would do nothing. China attacking a US aircraft carrier is the one thing that would guarantee US involvement.

Posted by: Walt Pohl | May 16, 2005 3:18:52 PM

It would also be a bad day for the Chinese fishing fleet. If you have ever sailed through Asian waters you will know what I mean: thousands of small boats everywhere day and night. In daylight most of them are clearly harmless, at night time they are just blips on radar that could be anything. A lot of simple fishermen will be regretting the day the Chinese Navy made that decision.

Posted by: Bruce Webb | May 16, 2005 3:22:59 PM

Even liberals can get fighting mad, boyo. Everybody better stay cooly cool. Don't get hot, China, 'cause man you've got some high times ahead. Take it slow and, hu jintao, you can live it up and die in bed.

Posted by: yesh | May 16, 2005 3:33:30 PM

"Where, exactly, is Praktike getting this information? Sounds like argument-fodder, agent provocateur hearsay to me."

Hey, Wes, always click the links. It's Justin Logan's article, not mine. But this might be his source:

The Chinese are, however, preparing as well for what they consider to be an "inevitable" conflict with the United States -- often referred to by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as "the main enemy" and the one country that could (and, according to President Bush, would) do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan. In a "China Brief" published on July 8 by the Jamestown Foundation, Dr. Richard Fisher, arguably the Nation's preeminent independent expert on the PRC's military capabilities and activities, writes that Beijing is determined to be able to sink any American aircraft carrier that might be sent (as was done in 1995) to aid the Chinese democracy on Taiwan. Dr. Fischer quotes in this context Major General Huang Bin, a professor at the PLA National Defense University, in Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao daily newspaper on May 13:

Missiles, aircraft, and submarines all are means that can be used to attack an aircraft carrier. We have the ability to deal with an aircraft carrier that dares to get into our range of fire. Once we decide to use force against Taiwan, we definitely will consider an intervention by the United States. The United States likes vain glory; if one of its aircraft carrier should be attacked and destroyed, people in the United States would begin to complain and quarrel loudly, and the U.S. president would find the going harder and harder.

The Defense Department report noted that China was working to improve its ability to threaten the United States mainland, as well. Toward that end, it has in train a two-hundred percent quantitative increase in the number of ballistic missiles pointed at this country and myriad qualitative improvements (for example, considerably longer-range, multiple warheads and decoys or other "penetration aids"). As PRC spokesmen have, from time to time in the past, warned of attacks on Los Angeles and other American cities in the event the United States came to Taiwan's aid during a conflict with the PRC, this growing menace cannot safely be ignored. The same applies, by the way, to threats arising from China's two other distinctions: its status as the most formidable cyber-warfare adversary we face and as the world's most assiduous proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and related technology.

Posted by: praktike | May 16, 2005 3:47:00 PM

I don't know what the Tokyo top brass were thinking in 1941, but my understanding of Pearl Harbor was that Yamamoto only thought Japan had a chance if it wiped out the entire Pacific fleet (or at least all the carriers) in one shot. (The US has a two-ocean navy, even today--you can't just move carriers through the Panama Canal, so a catastrophic loss in Pearl Harbor would have been crippling.)Thus he considered the war a hopeless effort from the beginning, as there were still plenty of American carriers left to fight. Yamamoto didn't miscalculate at all; he knew he was taking a huge risk and the dice just didn't come up in his favor.

Posted by: B | May 16, 2005 3:47:32 PM

This is utter garbage. These Cato Institute folks are complete fools. There will be no war with China.

Posted by: Harold | May 16, 2005 3:47:51 PM

I agree with Matt that people need to start contemplating the enormity of the prospect of a US-China war. But the problem is, in the long term it is almost unavoidable, because of the following:

1. The Chinese dictatorship has convinced itself and its population that the reconquest of Taiwan is inevitable and necessary for China to regain its historical status as a great power.

2. Taiwan is now a democratic country.

3. The United States would never, in a million years, allow a brutal dictatorship to swallow a democratic nation that it has agreed to protect.

The result is that unless China democratizes, war is probably inevitable in the long term. So maybe Chinese democracy-- something, amazingly, nobody in Washington seems to favor-- is something we ought to be pondering.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | May 16, 2005 3:49:38 PM

OK, here's the original.

Posted by: praktike | May 16, 2005 3:49:45 PM

Now American Prospect is catering to Cato jerks. It's not enough to have PBS and NPR pressured everyday by Administration appointees. American Prospect is showing how they too can cater to right wing jerks.

Posted by: Harold | May 16, 2005 3:52:17 PM

Matt, you are misreading the Cato folks' article. They are advocating that the US abandon Taiwan to mainland domination. Hey, if the PRC wants it so bad, let 'em have it! Here's what they say:

""The prospect of potentially serious naval losses should elicit an open discussion in the United States about Washington’s Taiwan policy. Americans should begin asking themselves how high a cost they are willing to pay in order to provide for Taiwan’s independence."

So stop thinking "remember the Maine" and start thinking Hungary 1956.

Posted by: JR | May 16, 2005 3:54:47 PM


Learn something about China before playing up this garbage.

Posted by: Harold | May 16, 2005 3:56:13 PM

I remember reading something in late 2001 that said the reason Bush and the Pentagon were still pushing so hard for missile defense when it seemed logical to divert that money towards anti-terrorism initiatives was because the Pentagon was anticipating a war with China sometime around 2010-2015.

Posted by: Rebecca | May 16, 2005 3:57:56 PM

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