May 10, 2021 | Reading Notes: "The Kill Chain" by Christian Brose

Most Americans are confident the US military could come out on top of a conflict with China, but is this realistic?

In his April 2020 book “The Kill Chain: Defending America In The Future,” Christian Brose outlines his core reasons why the United States is very likely to lose a hot war with China over Taiwan.

Over the past decade, in US war games against China, the United States has a nearly perfect record: we have lost almost every single time. The American people do not know this. Most members of Congress do not know this—even though they should. But in the Department of Defense, this is a well-known fact.

Brose’s conclusion may be surprising to some: the United States likely stands little chance of coming on on top in a conflict with China over Taiwan. This has little to do with US capabilities and raw firepower. Rather this assessment hinges on a strategic concept known as the kill chain.

What is the kill chain?

“The kill chain is a process that occurs on the battlefield or wherever militaries compete. It involves three steps: The First is gaining an understanding about what is happening. The second is making a decision about what to do. And the third is taking action that creates an effect to achieve an objective.” (Brose, p. xviii)

Although the United States defense budget is roughly $1 trillion, that spending goes towards updating legacy platforms that were most effective during a period of history where the United States had no peer competitors.

Brose argues military platforms are only as strong as their ability to “close the kill chains.” In other words, modern warfighting is far more dependent on seamless and efficient integration of platforms rather than on the raw strength of the platforms themselves. Or as Brose puts it:

“…true military innovation is less about technology than about operational and organiational transformation.”

I highly recommend reading the introduction of Brose’s book for a realistic account of how a US-China military conflict over Taiwan would play out. The summary is that China would likely overpower US forces quickly, not because it has a superior fighting force, but because China's forces are far more cohesive and tailored specifically to leverage US forces’ own lack of cohesion.

Many of these arguments are worth considering if you’re like me and held the belief that the United States held an insurmountable military advantage over China.

“it is the inability or unwillingness of a critical mass of our leaders in Washington to appreciate this in a real and visceral way that represents our deeper failure of imagination. If Americans still cannot imagine something worse than change, then talk of change will abound, but actual change will continue to elude us.”

Current Events and Additional Reading


The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare

For generations of Americans, our country has been the world's dominant military power. How the US military fights, and the systems and weapons that it fights with, have been uncontested. That old reality, however, is rapidly deteriorating. America's traditional sources of power are eroding amid the emergence of new technologies and the growing military threat posed by rivals such as China. America is at grave risk of losing a future war.

What the United States Wants From Japan in Taiwan (Foreign Policy)

When Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga became the first foreign leader to visit U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House last month, their joint statement garnered a lot of attention. For the first time since 1969, the leaders referenced their shared interest in the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and “the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” Although a similar (albeit shorter) reference was made in a joint statement between their foreign and defense ministers a month earlier, the statement was nevertheless welcomed by Taipei and downplayed in China, with embassy officials in Washington saying they were “resolutely opposed” to the statement.

US supporting Taiwan to join WHA is pure political manipulation, contradicts own recognition of island's epidemic control: FM (Global Times)

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday again expressed strong opposition to the US' support for allowing the island of Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly (WHA), as it violates the one-China principle and provisions of the Three China-US Joint Communiqués, and constitutes blatant interference in China's internal affairs. 

The most dangerous place on Earth

The test of a first-rate intelligence, wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. For decades just such an exercise of high-calibre ambiguity has kept the peace between America and China over Taiwan, an island of 24m people, 100 miles (160km) off China’s coast. Leaders in Beijing say there is only one China, which they run, and that Taiwan is a rebellious part of it. America nods to the one China idea, but has spent 70 years ensuring there are two.

US-China Relations

‘Strategic Competition Act’ takes aim at collaborative exchanges with China

The recent trend in both the legislative and executive branches in framing educational exchanges, international research collaboration, and technology development as part of a zero-sum competition with China is alarming, unnecessary, and may well hurt America’s own interests.

To begin with, the Strategic Competition Act currently under consideration on  Capitol Hill could be detrimental to educational exchanges and research collaboration between the United States and other countries. Section 138 of the bill would require that if a U.S. institution of higher education receives any gift that equals or exceeds $1,000,000 from a foreign person or enters into a contract that equals or exceeds $1,000,000 with a foreign person, the institution would be obligated to disclose the gift or contract, which would be subject to a review by federal agencies, including the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States. 

Washington is playing a losing game with China

The United States should work with China to ease the inevitable transition from dollar hegemony to a multilateral monetary order in ways that preserve American influence; leverage not boycott China’s Belt and Road Initiative to benefit from its opportunities and connectivities; promote cross-Strait negotiations and mutual accommodation rather than China–Taiwan confrontation; and expand consular relations, restore exchanges, and promote Chinese studies to enhance understanding of China.

China Tech

China’s tech hub Shenzhen to invest US$108 billion in R&D over 5 years

Shenzhen is set to invest more than 700 billion yuan (US$108 billion) in hi-tech research and development over the next five years as it seeks to reinforce its position as China’s innovation powerhouse.

Speaking at the city’s annual party congress at the end of last month, Shenzhen’s Communist Party chief Wang Weizhong said that over the 2021-25 plan period, 5 per cent of GDP would be allocated to investment in R&D to support innovation and breakthroughs in core technologies.

The city reported a gross domestic product of 2.8 trillion yuan in 2020, but the government has set a target to increase that to 4 trillion yuan by 2025.

China’s Alipay allows users to test digital yuan as Ant-backed MYBank takes part in pilot

Alipay, China’s biggest third-party mobile payment platform operated by Alibaba's fintech affiliate Ant Group, has become the first private financial services provider to be included in the country’s pilot for its sovereign digital currency.

China could soon have stronger privacy laws than the U.S. (Protocol)

International observers often think of China as a place where privacy protections are thin or nonexistent. But a forthcoming law could arm Chinese consumers with offensive and defensive tools that web users in places like the United States could only dream of.

In late April, China unveiled the second draft of the country's privacy law, the Personal Information Protection Law, for public comment. The law is expected to pass by the end of the year, and would shield Chinese internet users from excessive data collection and misuse of personal data by tech companies — and even, to some extent, by the government.

Fosun Pharma unit, BioNTech to form joint venture to make up to 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine in China

A unit of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical has agreed to form a US$200 million joint venture with German partner BioNTech to build a plant in China capable of supplying up to 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine a year.

Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Industry Development will contribute up to US$100 million of assets including cash and a manufacturing facility, while BioNTech will chip in the licence and know-how to produce the vaccine of the same value. Each party will own half of the venture.


Chinese official finance and political participation in Africa

Media outlets globally have been reporting about civil protests against Chinese investments in Africa. We provide new evidence on this controversial topic and investigate the influence of Chinese official projects on political participation in 54 African countries between 2000 and 2014. Using 50 × 50 km cells as the unit of analysis, we match data on the occurrence of protests and other forms of political participation to georeferenced data on projects financed by the Chinese government. We find that cells which receive a larger number of projects are more likely to experience protests. Further, our analysis suggests that citizens’ heightened perception of China's rising influence on the domestic economy and lowered trust in the local government are two channels through which projects might motivate local protests.