Why China's Mighty and Growing Navy Is Not Something to Laugh About

James Holmes

Key point: Hubris harms America's ability to see its rivals clearly. Washington must take Beijing seriously and adapt its own military as necessary.

Admirals say the darnedest things. Over at the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, retired U.S. Pacific Command Intelligence Chief Capt. Jim Fanell takes PACOM kahunas, past and present, to task for disparaging China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Respect for prospective foes, proclaims Captain Fanell, constitutes the most prudent attitude.

Such counsel is evergreen.

Military folk must beware of hubris, the worst of all strategic habits. As ancient Greeks warned, hubris begets nemesis, meaning divine retribution. It’s insidious—especially for a force like the U.S. Navy. After all, it’s been twenty-six years since the Cold War. Few sailors or naval aviators now in uniform have known anything except American maritime supremacy. Such a historical interlude can give rise to triumphalism that taints assessments of rising challengers.

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