Congress must stop the march toward war with China

This piece was originally published in The Hill.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks left no room for misinterpretation about why President Biden’s proposed defense budget increases former President Trump’s already egregious Pentagon topline by more than $12 billion. “The department in this budget takes a clear-eyed approach to Beijing and provides the investments to prioritize China as our pacing challenge,” she said.

Indeed, it seems the Biden administration has done little more than copy and paste Trump’s defense budget, emphasizing China as a core military threat.

Congress appears to be taking a similar approach. Recently, a host of China-focused language was put into the Endless Frontier Act. Among the provisions were limitations on research collaboration between Americans and foreigners and offers of security assistance to global partners willing to counter China. While China’s rise is a significant geopolitical challenge, Congress should dial back the march toward a new Cold War, swapping military dominance for diplomacy and cooperation to address the varied threats China poses.

In an era of globalization and increased economic interdependence, approaching China as a military threat misunderstands China’s grand strategy. This approach is already leading us toward billions of dollars of wasted defense funding. As House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith noted at a Ronald Reagan Institute event in April, the Biden administration’s defense strategy is “too big, too ambitious, and too unachievable,” in regards to countering China.

A 2020 RAND Corporation report also concluded that our current competitive posture toward China — a continuation of Trump-era distrust — is most likely to lead to military confrontation and conflict. Unless Democrats put forward a different strategy, this trajectory could lead us to another unwinnable war.

The Biden defense budget calls for an increase in funds for investing in new military technologies and for “nuclear modernization.” Proponents argue that China is increasing their nuclear arsenal, and that in order to counter this threat, we must invest in the best, most destructive technology available. The problem is that the most urgent challenges China poses to global security are largely not m