For the fourth time in less than 10 days, U.S. fighters have shot down a balloon, at least one of which was a Chinese spy balloon. One traversed the entire country before being shot down. Another entered Alaskan air space undetected and was downed and the third was detected and then shot down over Canada. The fourth was shot down over Lake Huron.
The State Department — apparently shocked by China’s conduct — says that Chinese balloons have been used to spy on 40 countries on five continents.
On Sunday, U.S. officials acknowledged that the first three “objects” were balloons but still didn’t say whether the Alaska balloon and the one shot down over Canada were Chinese.
We know that the Biden White House learned of the first Chinese balloon days before it admitted that the device was cruising across the country. It was allowed to do so, transmitting back to China whatever it learned from the U.S. Air Force “global strike” bases it leisurely drifted over — intercepting communications, spying on whatever it could — until it was shot down after passing over South Carolina’s Atlantic coast.
President Joe Biden’s Pentagon crew reportedly told him that it was too dangerous to people on the ground to shoot it down sooner. That idea was abandoned when another spy balloon (whether from China or not, we don’t know, but the Pentagon and National Security Agency undoubtedly do) was shot down over Alaska last weekend.
Biden’s crew first said that Chinese balloons had, at least three times, passed over the U.S. during Trump’s presidency and were not shot down. That was quickly debunked by Trump’s former defense secretary Mark Esper and his former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe, both of whom said they had no knowledge of any such Chinese spy balloons.
So what’s the big deal?
First, China’s balloon flight was a direct challenge to American sovereignty. There is no treaty with China that allows it to fly over our territory without permission. The Chinese balloon flight(s) were an act of aggression that should surprise no one. China conducts cyber espionage operations against U.S. intelligence, military, and commercial computer networks hundreds or thousands of times every day.
Biden could have — and obviously should have — ordered the Chinese Communist Party’s balloon (the “Party balloon,” as the Washington Times’s Charlie Hurt called it) shot down long before he did without danger to people or buildings on the ground.
Some NORAD generals should be answering pointed questions about how the balloon entered U.S. airspace without being detected. The damned thing, at least the first one, was at least 100 feet tall and probably had a radar signature equal to a Boeing 747.
Second, the Party balloon not only gave China a bouquet of intelligence information, but also gave it the opportunity to practice navigating balloons over the U.S. that could have deadly intent.
On Sept. 21, 2018, China practiced dropping from a balloon what appear to be test versions of hypersonic weapons. (You can watch the YouTube video here.)
Any attack by hypersonic missiles dropped from a balloon over — or even near — the U.S. coastline would give us virtually no time to defend ourselves from the attack.
People are speculating about whether China could use a balloon to detonate a nuclear weapon over the U.S., causing an electromagnetic pulse that would wipe out large parts of our electric grid. An EMP weapon — an ordinary nuclear warhead — detonated from a balloon that was from about 20 to 50 miles up could devastate our electric grid, including all of our computers, other electronic equipment, and cars that operate by computer chips.
Such an attack could leave a large part of the country in the dark, without the ability to recover for months, perhaps years. The Chinese are deterred from such an attack by the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines, which would survive such an attack and respond to it, presumably with overwhelming force.
When China attacks Taiwan, such EMP attacks could also devastate Japan and Taiwan itself.
A few years ago, I wrote a book unfortunately titled Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States. It should have been titled, “Why China Needs War With the United States.”
China needs to defeat us in a war — over Taiwan or something else — in order to achieve its ideological and imperialistic goals in the Pacific. Chief among those goals is to unify Taiwan with China by force. As Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in November 2022, our deterrent of China in the Pacific is a “slowly sinking ship.”
According to an Associated Press report, hours after the Party balloon was shot down near South Carolina, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tried to call his Chinese counterpart, and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe refused to take the call. According to that report, “China’s Defense Ministry says it refused the call from Austin after the balloon was shot down because the U.S. had ‘not created the proper atmosphere’ for dialogue and exchange. The U.S. action had ‘seriously violated international norms and set a pernicious precedent.’”
So much for diplomacy as a substitute for deterrence. Chinese incursions into Taiwanese airspace and the Strait of Taiwan (the de facto border between the two nations) have grown in size and frequency since Dec. 1.
A recent Rasmussen poll found that nearly half of Americans believe we will be at war with China and an equal number grade Biden’s handling of China as “poor.” Voters agree with the few military leaders we have who insist that threats to the nation are more important than pronouns.
As I’ve written elsewhere, three important U.S. generals and admirals — all of whom have real warfighting responsibilities — have predicted war with China, with the latest being Gen. Michael Minihan, who commands U.S. Air Mobility Command. In a memo to his subordinate commanders dated Feb. 1 (but released on Jan. 27), Minihan wrote:
I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping} secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.
Minihan’s memo predicts war sooner than both Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Both — Davidson in 2021 and Richard in 2022 — predicted war with China within six years.
Biden is, as usual, asleep at the switch. We can, and must, do more to deter China.
First, Japan should be formally added to the “AUKUS” — Australia, United Kingdom, and U.S. — alliance. We have defense treaties with Japan and the U.K. and a lesser defense agreement with Australia. Such an alliance — JAUKUS? — could be the beginning of a Pacific version of NATO.
Japan, recognizing the Chinese threat, is trying to rearm. While it is doing that, Biden has pulled dozens of F-15 fighters out of Japan. With Biden in the White House, our deterrence of China will sink — as Adm. Richard implied — faster than we can afford it to.
Second, our navy — which is smaller than China’s by a significant number of combat ships — can’t build more ships quickly enough to match China’s fleet. But we can reorganize our shipyard contracts to put more ships at sea than we can now.
Third, as I have written here and elsewhere, we need to undertake a crash program to protect our military satellites from China’s anti-satellite weapons. If China manages to cripple or kill several of those satellites, our military capabilities will revert to what they were in the 1960s.
Fourth, we should urgently revise our “two Chinas” policy to make it clear that we will defend Taiwan if China attacks it.
Biden will do none of those things. The longer Biden is in office, the more dangerous China, Russia, and the rest of the world will be. He’s fumbling and bumbling us into a very large war that we will probably lose. November 2024 can’t come soon enough.