Beijing wants to match U.S. capabilities by 2035 and surpass them by midcentury, Gen. Milley says, echoing concerns in Pentagon report
By Nancy A. Youssef
Dec. 8, 2020 3:36 pm ET
China is seeking to invest its economic growth into equaling American military capabilities by 2035 and aims to be able to defeat the U.S. in an armed conflict by midcentury, the top U.S. military commander said.
“They are on a path to try to do that,” Army Gen. Mark Milley said of Beijing’s ambitions in an interview at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council summit on Tuesday. “It is certainly a significant security challenge for the United States now and in the years to come.”
To defend against a rising China, the U.S. must develop its own economic and military power as it relations between the two countries, Gen. Milley said. He warned, “We don’t want great-power competition to turn into great-power war. That would be a disaster.”
‘We don’t want great-power competition to turn into great-power war. That would be a disaster.’
— Gen. Mark Milley
Chinese officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment but have said previously that the country’s military is intended for peaceful purposes.
Gen. Milley said the U.S. military must be prepared to launch offensive and defensive moves both in space and cyber operations, particularly against rivals like China and Russia, both of which are developing their military capabilities in those domains.
The chairman’s comments echoed widely held views within the Trump administration, which has intensified its pressure campaign against Beijing through visa bans, sanctions and a continuing trade war. Militarily, the Trump administration has increased freedom of navigation operations as well as other naval maneuvers in an attempt to challenge China’s claims to parts of the Asia Pacific region.
John Ratcliffe, the current U.S. director of national intelligence, wrote in a Journal opinion article last week, “If I could communicate one thing to the American people from this unique vantage point, it is that the People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II.”
Gen. Milley’s concerns also mirrored those in an annual Pentagon report on the Chinese military. Among findings in the most recent report, in September, U.S. officials said Beijing could double its nuclear weapons arsenal over the next decade.
Gen. Milley also publicly addressed for the first time President-elect Joe Biden’s selection of retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary. Gen. Austin, who retired from the military in 2016, would require a congressional waiver to serve in the post, as he hasn’t been out of uniform for more than seven years, as federal law requires.
Should Congress issue that waiver, it would be the second such allowance in five years. Retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis received a waiver to serve as President Trump’s first defense secretary. Before Gen. Mattis, only one other recently retired military commander, Gen. George Marshall, had served as defense chief.
Gen. Milley said he had known Gen. Austin for more than two decades but added that a civilian-controlled military is a “bedrock principle” of the U.S.
“There is no question in any of our minds—any of us in uniform—about civilian control of the military,” he said. “We will follow the orders and instructions of the commander in chief.”
Write to Nancy A. Youssef at firstname.lastname@example.org