In June 2005, I published a cover story in the Atlantic, “How We Would Fight China.” I wrote that, “The American military contest with China … will define the twenty-first century. And China will be a more formidable adversary than Russia ever was.” I went on to explain that the wars of the future would be naval, with all of their abstract battle systems, even though dirty counterinsurgency fights were all the rage 14 years ago.
That future has arrived, and it is nothing less than a new cold war: The constant, interminable Chinese computer hacks of American warships’ maintenance records, Pentagon personnel records, and so forth constitute war by other means. This situation will last decades and will only get worse, whatever this or that trade deal is struck between smiling Chinese and American presidents in a photo-op that sends financial markets momentarily skyward.
The new cold war is permanent because of a host of factors that generals and strategists understand but that many, especially those in the business and financial community who populate Davos, still prefer to deny. And because the U.S.-China relationship is the world’s most crucial—with many second- and third-order effects—a cold war between the two is becoming the negative organizing principle of geopolitics that markets will just have to price in.