This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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China’s Dangerous Entanglement with Iran
One of the greatest mistakes in media-driven foreign policy in the United States is to operate from a static position. We perceive that every move another country makes is designed to affect the United States. While it can be stated that everything that happens at a global level does affect the United States, it is a fallacy to assert that every move made by another country is designed to that end. As a result, we find that United States foreign policy and the media that drives it are often chasing shadows while the actor that casts the shadow completes their goal. We are witnessing this problem play out in the latest round of Chinese interference in the global marketplace.
Before we begin, I just want to state that this is an analysis of actions that are publicly known. What is going on in the minds of the Chinese and Iranian leaders is beyond the scope of my knowledge. Many of the talking heads in the media have indicated that the unholy alliance between China and Iran is directed to circumvent U.S. sanctions against both countries while allowing Beijing an opportunity to send the United States a message about the South China sea.
However, the United States has naval superiority in the South China Sea and a few million gallons of Iranian Oil will not change that. While the infusion of Chinese money into Iranian coffers will help the struggling regime maintain power, their footprint (and likewise their threat) was severely hampered with the recent destruction of their nuclear research facility. Neither of these actions really make this alliance a major threat to the United States.
How Does an Iran/China Alliance Play Out Against the World?
Let us for a minute assume that China and Iran are planning to use this new found friendship to attack U.S. interests in their respective regions. First, let us establish that these analyses are based on the presumption of a conventional war: no nuclear attacks, EMPs or space missiles (that we do not know exist). This would be military vs. military with China and an augmented military vs. military war with Iran that uses extensive terrorist techniques.
If a war between the United States and China were to break out, China would be isolated with limited allies. While we cannot know for sure who would “join up”, we can assume the alliance would be China, Iran, North Korea (which really adds to the nuclear factor), some Pacific Islands, some of Southeast Asia, Venezuela, a couple of proxy states in the Middle East and Africa. The Russians would likely supply resources to China during the war but would be unlikely to join in the initial fighting.
The United States would call NATO into play, which would bring the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, and 24 other countries into the fray. Turkey, as always, would be more of a liability than an ally. We would also see countries such as Australia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Japan, South Korea and India join in on the Allied side.
This would allow for a massive technological and production advantage to the Allied (US) forces, leaving China and India with post-colonial allies and limited modern technology. The manpower would also be skewed in the direction of the US Alliance as China and India match up in population and the remainder of each force for the Axis would be marginal at best.
US/China: Side by Side Comparison
So how do China and the US match up militarily? China has approximately 2.6 million military personnel, the majority of whom are active. The United States is slightly behind with 2.2 million, also with a preponderance of active members. (All military statistics are from the above-cited link). This is where China’s advantage, limited as it is, ends.
When it comes to land forces, the United States tank corps outnumbers China 2 to 1. The United States also edges out the Chinese armored vehicles corps by nearly 6,000 (39,000 to 33,000). China has much more artillery, which will have limited use if the war is fought in their own country (3,800 to 1,500). The numbers are similar for towed artillery and rocket launchers. While these numbers look to be in the favor of China, artillery is a poor substitute for air superiority.
When it comes to the air, the United States owns the air. With 13,000+ planes, most of which are a generation above their Chinese counterparts, the air battle definitely favors the United States. Fighters and dedicated attack planes of the United States outnumber China 2 to 1. For troop transports, the U.S. outnumbers China 3 to 1. For helicopters and attack helicopters, the ratio is 5 to 1. For special mission planes, it is 7 to 1. Finally, for training planes (these planes are needed to get new pilots ready), the ratio is nearly 10 to 1.
On the water, the United States maintains the advantage. With 20 aircraft carriers, the United States has 10 times the presence on the Seas. It cannot be understated how important carrier battle groups are in global warfare. China does edge out the United States in the number of submarines: 74 to 66. However, the Chinese subs tend to be older ships and easier to detect. In each other major category, the United States has a distinct advantage with the exception of ships to place mines and frigates. Yes, China still uses frigates!
Even if we could consider the allies of China and the Allies of the United States to be a wash, the United States has massive military superiority in a direct, head to head conflict with China. War with the United States, at this point, would be a folly for China and Iran.
The Long Con
Now let us assume the propaganda is wrong and China’s generals are not absolute morons. Let us assume that Iran’s military is not a bunch of rowdy rebels and operates as an organized unit. What reason would they have to attack a country that they cannot beat in a war they cannot win? Their economic warfare is working. Why end it? It is our hubris rather than a careful analysis that makes us believe China will attack us. China is currently in a dicey situation with India. While India is not a direct threat to China, a war with India could be costly for the CCP. This could also force China to expose their Special Weapons division, letting the United States get a peek their playbook.
How would a war between China and India play out? China would pull in the same alliance as above: Iran, North Korea (which really adds to the nuclear factor), some Pacific Islands, some of Southeast Asia, and a couple of proxy states in the Middle East and Africa. We would also likely see Pakistan side with the Axis. While this particular Axis is not the Germany/Italy/Japan from the 1920s, it is a dangerous group.
India, however, is fairly isolated. Brazil may join in to protect its interests. But we have seen that India’s chief ally, the UK, has been hesitant to intervene with China. That would leave India fairly isolated. We would assume that Russia would stay out as to keep NATO out of the conflict. Iran’s involvement with Turkey and Pakistan would likely be enough to keep the United States diplomatically on the fence with our current treaty regime. Both Turkey and Pakistan are less valuable as allies to the United States than is India but our involvement with India has always been passing.
Without large Allied support, India would have a difficult time supporting its borders against the Axis powers. While India has more soldiers than China, it can hardly face a war where it is surrounded. While the nation’s airforces are similar, China does have a two to one advantage in fighters. While India does have more tanks than China, there is a major Chinese advantage in armored vehicles, artillery, and rocket launchers. Likewise, China holds a three to one advantage in naval power.
Strategy Dictates Success
A war between China’s Axis and India would be a short war. Much of the fighting would be done by proxy states and terrorists from the Middle East. With most of the army forced to stay on the Border with China, the Pakistan border would be weakened and Pakistan could move into Kashmir. Forces from Africa and the Middle East could attack the large southeast coast of India. In the event of a 3-front war, India would have a hard time staying out from under Communist or Islamic rule. Their allies may fare a little better.
It would be difficult for China to attack Brazil. The Ocean affords protection. The United States would not allow a Chinese foothold in our hemisphere and Brazil could then fend off attacks from Venezuela and Cuba fairly easily. At the end of the conflict, China would have de facto control of India and would have eliminated any major threat to its future interest in the region. China’s game has always been one of regional power, not global power. It makes more sense to assume they are looking to destabilize India rather than destabilize a US sanctioned regime.
If China could neutralize India’s power in the region, it would work toward securing its status as a parallel superpower. This would eliminate a potential base for operations for allied forces in future conflicts with China and provide China with access to India’s resources, which are fairly robust.
Short Term Slight Against the US; Long Term Power Grab in the Region
The United States needs to look at the long game in this conflict with China. We need to secure more trade relations and a firmer alliance with India. While we do not want to start a war with China, we do want to have relationships in the region that will prevent China from starting wars with nations like India. If we had to swap Turkey and Pakistan for India, we would come out on that deal.
If we start negotiations with India now during the crisis, we can have India as an ally and Turkey and Pakistan as whatever they are supposed to be. The United States needs to look past its hubris to understand that all of China’s moves are not directly related to us in the short term, thus allowing us to protect our interests in the long run.