The Epoch Times sits down with Elbridge A. Colby, author of the new book “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict,” to discuss America’s strategy for defeating China in a war over Taiwan.
China aims to replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia, and it is rapidly acquiring the means to achieve this goal. As a result, Beijing will soon be able to make a bid for regional military dominance, starting with an invasion of Taiwan. Absent an effective American response, Beijing could certainly achieve its aims.
This is the premise of a watershed new book, “The Strategy of Denial: America’s Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict,” by Elbridge A. Colby, the top Pentagon official who authored America’s 2018 National Security Strategy (NSS).
The 2018 NSS explicitly moved America away from terrorism and towards China and great power competition, a complex shift in mindset for many in the U.S. defence establishment.
“I absolutely experienced a lot of institutional pushbacks on it,” Colby told The Epoch Times in an interview. “And we’re still not there, there has been an enormous amount of foot-dragging, but there’s been a lot of progress too.”
Colby noted that it was not widely appreciated that China posed the greatest threat to U.S. security interests.
“That is one of the reasons I wrote this book, not just as a statement, but to lay out in a pretty clear and rigorous way why China is the primary threat and how do we deal with it in a military context,” he said.
The stakes could not be higher. Asia comprises 40 percent of global GDP and around two-thirds of global growth. Chinese dominance over Asia would, Colby observes in his book, give Beijing the power “to exclude the United States from reasonably free trade and access to these wealthy regions.”
Not only would China be a true peer competitor of the United States, but its advantageous position would also gravely weaken America. Eventually, China could consolidate to “project violent force elsewhere, including into North America.”
Colby clearly has no time in his book to discuss America’s destiny as the most powerful nation. While others continue to speak of the U.S. strategic objectives, Colby cuts to the chase stating clearly: “Denying China hegemony over Asia is the cardinal objective of U.S. grand strategy.”
Colby is also candid in his writing that America’s unipolar moment has passed.
The United States does not have the power to do everything everywhere and must make hard choices about aligning means to the ends. The sacrifices America must make in other parts of the world are real, and Colby does not shy away from these, calling them out by name.
Colby notes that the United States has made far-reaching pledges in Europe and the Middle East without appreciating China’s rise as a potential great power. Many fear that failing to follow through on these commitments will fatally weaken Washington’s credibility with allies in Asia.
Yet Colby presents a compelling counter-argument—that means and actions speak far louder than stated intentions. If the United States doubles down on rhetoric without responding to changing realities, then this undermines rather than supports America’s credibility.
This “differentiated credibility,” as Colby persuasively puts it, means jettisoning pledges that are of lesser importance, so that America may focus on its core interest in Asia. He argues it is this willingness to focus effort that will really determine whether Asian partners have confidence in their American ally.
Colby analysis of America’s comparative strengths and weaknesses, the optimal pathways available to each actor, combined with his ruthless honesty, is what makes this book a must-read for anyone with an interest in strategy or the post-pandemic world.
It’s also what gives his framework for U.S. success its own “credibility”—that to prevent Beijing’s dominance in Asia, an anti-hegemonic coalition must be able and willing to defeat China in a war over Taiwan. By carefully walking the reader through all the alternatives, the consequences for failure, and the means required for success, Colby demonstrates the inescapable truth through rationalised reason.
Colby observes that ordinary Americans seem to have a far greater appreciation for the true threat China poses than the political and foreign policy elite in Washington.
Asked by The Epoch Times why he thinks that is, he explains that the speed of China’s rise has escaped an enormous number of people, especially outside the economic sphere.
“In the military sphere, there hasn’t obviously been a major war so it hasn’t been put to the test, so lagging like this is not uncommon,” he said. “It doesn’t make it excusable or good, but it isn’t uncommon.”
Colby notes that those in the Midwest understand the China challenge in a more visceral and real way than others.
“I think we still are failing to appreciate the magnitude the China challenge,” he said
The framework Colby lays down for defeating China is one he knows, from first-hand experience in the Pentagon, will help policy-makers make sensible resource decisions.
“If you are to make intelligent decisions, you have to have a framework, and that framework should allow your military, your defence establishment, to understand what’s most important, how you deal with it and in what way,” he said. “My aspiration is to make it clear on what basis we need to focus our effort and what kind of military strategy we need…How many F35s do we have, how many ships we have in the navy, what kinds of things we do with different allies etcetera.”
Defeating China in a war over Taiwan requires robust preparation, and not only by the United States.
“Japan and Taiwan both need to dramatically increase defence spending,” says Colby, pointing to the fact Japan only spends 1 percent of GDP on defence.
“Japan needs to at least double its defence spending at a minimum. Taiwan needs to invest in the right kind of stuff to resist an invasion and be resilient to a blockade.”
Many American foreign policy experts speak in overtly ideological or universalist language, and the contrast with Colby’s realist tone is striking, yet he considers this a matter of approach.
“I am motivated by American values and my motivation is to preserve and promote them,” Colby tells The Epoch Times. “I think the way to do that is in a realistic fashion.”
Recently the world commemorated 20 years since 9/11. Reading through the book one cannot escape the sense that this level of analysis–rigorous, methodical, and serious-minded–has been sorely missing from American strategic policy during these past two decades.
Asked to rate American performance since 2001 Colby is scornful: “Quite poorly, honestly. Very poorly, especially until about 5 years ago.”
“We allowed China to more than steal a march. I mean, we allowed China to grow without being challenged, and not just grow but get closer to a position where it could bid for regional dominance, so we really need to do better,” Colby said.
While America experienced political paralysis over the so-called Russian influence at home, those in Asia have witnessed China’s expansionist ambition with increasing unease. Beijing is exerting dominance over the South China Sea, cracking down in Hong Kong, and deploying ever more numerous and advanced capabilities for seizing Taiwan.
Missing has been any plan from America to thwart Beijing’s goal of dominance.
Colby’s book arrests this danger in a direct way, laying down a believable framework for victory that will galvanise support, concentrate action and help decision-makers make correct choices in a hegemonic rivalry that will play out for decades to come.
Elbridge A. Colby’s “The Strategy for Denial: America’s Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict” is a must-read for every person who is concerned about China’s growing threat and how the world—and more importantly, America—should counter it.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.