The Institute of World Politics adjunct faculty member and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, Rebeccah Heinrichs, was the recent subject of an interview on the Chinese military threat to the United States. The interview was conducted by Mr. Jan Jekielek, for American Thought Leaders, and covered a range of topics, including the United States withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the recent Chinese militarization of islands in the South Pacific, as well as some issues not related to China, such as the signing of the Abraham Accords by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America.
Early in the interview, Prof. Heinrichs declared China and Russia to be the top national security threats to the United States. Prof. Heinrichs explained that “both the Chinese Communist Party and the Russian Federation have been focused on and investing in their nuclear weapons and emphasizing them in their strategies.” Prof. Heinrichs referred to nuclear weapons as the “bedrock of our defenses” and cited this as the reason behind the Trump Administration’s recapitalization of our nuclear capabilities.
Prof. Heinrichs characterized the Trump administration’s nuclear doctrine as being reflective of a realistic worldview, with a goal of deterrence through strength and adaptability. When questioned on the differences in nuclear policy between President Trump’s administration and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden’s proposed strategy, Prof. Heinrichs shed light on Mr. Biden’s suggested “No first-use” doctrine. According to Prof. Heinrichs, Mr. Biden has embraced a doctrine which pledges that under no circumstances would the United States of America deploy the use of nuclear weapons, unless first having sustained a nuclear attack ourselves. Prof. Heinrichs argued that this sort of doctrine takes away the nuclear deterrent that has been such a vital component to American strategy and foreign policy for the past seventy-five years.
Later in the interview, Mr. Jekielek questioned Prof. Heinrichs about the significance of the United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and what it means for Americans. The INF Treaty banned a specific type and range of ground-launch missiles in the 1980s, with Russia and the United States of America as the two parties to the treaty. Unfortunately, according to Prof. Heinrichs, Russia has refused to comply with the INF Treaty for years. She explained that the Obama administration did its best to pressure the Russians to comply with the treaty but had no success. After the Trump administration experienced the same difficulty in its attempts to elicit Russian compliance, the decision was made to withdraw from INF altogether. In addition to the problem of Russian non-compliance with the terms of the treaty, the Chinese have never been a party to it at all. Not being a party to the INF Treaty has allowed the PRC to amass a missile force comprised primarily of weapons that are restricted by INF. Prof. Heinrichs summed it up by stating that, “In other words, that treaty was restricting the United States and only the United States, relative to the rest of the planet… Now that the United States is out of the INF Treaty, we no longer have our hands tied behind our back.”
When queried about the seriousness of a Chinese threat to the United States, Prof. Heinrichs was quite direct in her response: “We are very concerned about the direction they are going with their nuclear weapons,” she said. Prof. Heinrichs explained that since the 1990s, China has been strategically investing in weapons systems to target American weaknesses. The United States currently has no way of defending against hypersonic missiles. Prof. Heinrichs made clear that China has been investing heavily in hypersonic missiles, specifically to exploit this American vulnerability and push us out of the region.
Prof. Heinrichs described the American need to raise the cost of Chinese military misbehavior. “We want the Chinese to think, again, that it would be a mistake to try to do something aggressively in the region.” If the United States fails to achieve this, and we allow the Chinese to push us out of the region, Prof. Heinrichs warned that China will have “effectively taken that global leadership mantel from us.” Prof. Heinrichs offered a very clear picture of how the United States can reassert itself through technological investment, a modernization of our nuclear forces, and following through with our newly-established Space Force. “We are going to have to front-load this and do it quickly,” she explained. This assertive stance will not come cheap and requires an increase in military spending. According to Prof. Heinrichs, these costs are necessary to make up for lost time. “We don’t want the Chinese to try to take advantage of the opportunity that we are just now getting started in earnest on this.” It was only this past May 2020 that the United States began to refuse student visas to Chinese students with direct ties to the People’s Liberation Army.
It was Prof. Heinrichs’ assertion that, by underestimating the stubborn willfulness of the Communist Party of China, our current precarious situation was brought upon ourselves. “It was a bipartisan national security consensus, and business consensus, that China would rise peacefully, and as they would become rich economically, they would liberalize politically. That has not happened. So, we have essentially helped, and enabled, and enriched, the Chinese Communist Party.” There is hope, however. Prof. Heinrichs detailed the importance of American business owners cooperating in the fight for American superiority. She argued that it was our American economy, and an American system of government, that enriched these companies in the first place, and therefore they owe it to the American people to make some very necessary changes in the way they conduct business. “This is going to be a decades-long fight for American pre-eminence, and for the American way of life.”
Towards the conclusion of the interview, Mr. Jekielek shifted his focus to the Middle East and asked about the recently-signed Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords represent the first normalization of relations between Israel and an Arab country in over a quarter of a century, and, according to Prof. Heinrichs, provide Israel with much-needed diplomatic cover in the most tumultuous region on the planet. Of this agreement, Prof. Heinrichs commented: “The U.S. is going to unabashedly take the side of one of our greatest allies, Israel. We are going to defend Israel.” Prof. Heinrichs further stated that the Trump administration plans to continue to “take on the primary source of malign activity and turmoil in the region, which is Iran” and that the Administration is hopeful for a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia in the future.
Rebeccah Heinrichs served as a national security and foreign policy advisor to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and helped launch the bi-partisan Missile Defense Caucus. Prof. Heinrichs has briefed organizations including the Aerospace Industries Association, the Reserve Officers Association, the National Defense Industrial Association, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. At IWP, she teaches a course on Nuclear Deterrence and Arms Control.