SMA hosted a speaker session presented by ADM James A. Winnefeld, Jr., USN (Ret) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series. ADM Winnefeld’s presentation focused on his Proceedings article, entitled “Winter Is Coming.” He first compared the foreboding feeling that accompanies an impending international crisis to the sentiment implied by the phrase “winter is coming” and claimed that if major players on the international stage are not vigilant, the current “longwave geopolitical cycle” will soon come to an end. ADM Winnefeld then argued that the next test of the current global order will involve China and that the US is unprepared for such a test. He stated that China will recognize the opportunity and political interest and will be propelled into action by one or more of Thucydides three main sources of conflict: fear, honor, and interest. ADM Winnefeld explained that the US has maintained its power over the years by maintaining equilibrium through ends, ways, means, and the security environment. He claimed that it is apparent that the security environment has been disrupted and cited the shift in global GDP over the last thirty years as evidence. He further stated that China has capitalized on US counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East to narrow the readiness gap in conventional warfighting capability and create asymmetric gaps in other areas. The advantage of military superiority that the US once had now no longer exists, according to ADM Winnefeld. Next, he emphasized the importance of creative and innovative thinking in preventing and/or winning a potential conflict with China. The US’s current strategy involving China has not evolved in decades, and China has been preparing its approach to circumvent the current US view of the situation for years, ADM Winnefeld stated. He predicted that China will capitalize on a time during which the US decision apparatus is compromised and carry out an information campaign that minimizes resistance and introduces confusion. He further stated that China will operate under two principles from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: 1) “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” and 2) “All warfare is based on deception.” ADM Winnefeld then argued that two of the present US military’s weaknesses are its unwillingness to think of new concepts and its tendency to demand “more and better” of the same. He elaborated by stating that thinking of new concepts is the hardest type of innovation, as it requires leadership that is courageous, is willing to take on the challenge, and has the depth of knowledge to consider innovative solutions. ADM Winnefeld then proposed several tactics that would effectively deter the Chinese via the three pillars of deterrence: entanglement, denying objectives, and imposing costs. One example he provided was expanding the US’s offensive and defensive mining capabilities. Though this would require sacrificing some of the aesthetic appeal that comes from other weapons, it has been a successful tactic in the past and would likely lead to effective deterrence. To conclude, ADM Winnefeld suggested that if the US determines what the Chinese fear the most, uses all instruments of power to work in concert, closely monitors escalation control, and cooperates with allies, it can effectively restore equilibrium.
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ADM Winnefeld’s Proceedings article by the same name as this brief can be found at https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2020/july/winter-coming.