Hawley Delivers National Security Speech ‘China and Ukraine: A Time for Truth’

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Today U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) delivered remarks at the Heritage Foundation in a speech entitled, “China and Ukraine: A Time for Truth.” The discussion focused on developing a defense policy that prioritizes our biggest threat, China; challenges to the consensus on Ukraine; and safeguards for Americans at home.

Remarks as prepared can be found below.

China and Ukraine: A Time for Truth

Three years ago, in October of 2019, I went to visit Hong Kong. 

It wasn’t a standard, ceremonial sort of visit. In fact, the State Department wasn’t a big fan of my going there at all. 

I went there in the midst of major protests against the Chinese government. Beijing had originally promised the people of Hong Kong that, once the city passed into Chinese control, it would keep its unique freedoms. “One country, two systems.” Or so it went. 

But that was a lie. 

As soon as it could, the Chinese Communist Party cracked down on Hong Kong with a draconian “national security law” to crush any dissent. Xi Jinping’s way would be the only way. 

I wanted to see what was happening for myself. 

When I was there, I saw cars blazing in the streets, and protestors calling to “free Hong Kong.” I heard the explosions. I saw Chinese riot police, facing off with young men and women struggling for freedom. 

I made friends there. Many of them went to prison, like Joshua Wong and Jimmy Lai. 

I’ll never forget that trip. Because there I was able to see, firsthand, the nightmare that the Chinese Communist Party offers the world. 

In the Hong Kong crackdown, we saw the real face of Chinese tyranny. We all may see it again soon in Taiwan. 

And we may not be able to do anything about it. 

It’s not popular to say that openly. Dozens of lawmakers and experts and talking heads have claimed an invasion of Taiwan simply won’t happen—or if it does, that we can prevail. That China will be too afraid to challenge us or won’t. 

Instead they prefer to tell a familiar and comforting story, where winning the Cold War meant that we could—police the world for all time. 

They want us to believe that our military might is infinite, that American power faces no real constraints, and that we ought to use it to reshape the world. 

They want us to believe we can fight an endless proxy war in Ukraine. And somehow, this won’t impact our ability to deter China from invading Taiwan. 

Curiously enough, this story of American omnicompetence isn’t really partisan. It’s told both by neoconservatives on the right, and liberal globalists on the left. Together they make up the “Uniparty”—the D.C. establishment that transcends all changing administrations. 

It’s hard to challenge the Uniparty. They’ve gotten very good at telling their favorite story. That’s why anyone who questions them gets called “anti-American” or “Vladimir Putin’s puppet” from a hundred different quarters. 

But today, I want to tell you something else. I want to tell the truth. 

And the truth is that Americans have been sold a bill of goods. Our current foreign policy isn’t working. 

It is not working for the American people. It’s cost many of them their jobs, their towns, their communities—all thanks to the bad trade deals that we were promised would make us all richer. 

That didn’t work out so well for the people of my state. Or for anyone who witnessed their manufacturing job shipped overseas. 

But our current foreign policy isn’t even working according to its own standards. It’s falling apart at the seams, with the Uniparty doing its level best to patch it together by cutting blank checks to other countries. 

None of that is enough. Because we’re simply overcommitted, caught in the grip of an ideology of liberal empire. Our Uniparty ideology tells us we’re on the right side of history, and tough tradeoffs don’t exist. 

We have a lot of military power on our side. But it isn’t deployed where it should be, and the world is about to face the consequences. 

So let me share another truth: As things stand right now, if China invades Taiwan in the next few years, they will likely prevail. 

I will say it again. 

We stand at an inflection point today. And it is time for a real change. 

It is time to adopt a truly nationalist foreign policy.

*        *        *

We hear a lot these days about something called the, “rules-based international order.” Politicians, and so-called experts, invoke it whenever they want us to send another few billion dollars overseas. 

Now, the “rules-based international order” isn’t some kingdom of heaven. It is a kind of American liberal empire. It’s founded on the assumption that, if we set up the economic rules of the game just so, the people at the top get a lot richer, and maybe that’ll trickle down to everybody else. So it goes. 

And as an added bonus, we’ll eventually make the world over in the image of New York and Silicon Valley. Free minds and free markets, or something like that. 

Once upon a time, this sounded good. But it was a bad plan from the start. 

All the way back in December 2001, we admitted China into the World Trade Organization. The Uniparty wanted to believe that this would make us all richer, that we could offshore jobs and import cheap junk without undermining our own prosperity. 

They also wanted to believe that maybe we could democratize China. Maybe, if we brought China into the global economic order, horrors like Tiananmen Square could be a thing of the past.  

That was a catastrophic mistake. 

“One country, two systems” wasn’t China’s first broken promise. After joining the WTO, China cheated. The Chinese Communist Party took full advantage of its access to global markets to enrich itself, but simultaneously shielded its own economy from foreign competition. 

Americans paid the price. Good, blue-collar jobs—jobs that once provided American workers with a living wage—were siphoned off overseas. 

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party got rich as the Chinese economy boomed. They built their military on the backs of America’s middle class. Now, that military—not only massive but increasingly modernized—is poised for a cross-Strait invasion of Taiwan. 

What did our leadership do while all this was happening? Exactly the wrong things. 

While China was prospering and American towns were withering away, the Uniparty set its sights on the Middle East. We heard a lot about making the world safe for democracy, about how American blood and treasure could turn these nations into images of the West. 

That imperial project failed. It failed disastrously. We invested billions of dollars there and lost hundreds of American lives, all while China rose unimpeded. And the people responsible are all still members of the D.C. establishment in good standing. Nobody was ever held accountable. 

In the end, regime change didn’t work. 

But the Uniparty doesn’t learn. And now we’re hearing their same siren song again. This time it’s about Ukraine. If only we send a few more weapons, send a few more billion dollars …we’ll really have a rules-based international order. 

Maybe we should do some more nation-building. Maybe we can even force a regime change in Russia. All ideas the Uniparty is excited about. 

They’re nonsense. They’re the wrong ideas at the wrong time. 

The only problem is, we should have seen the threat of China coming years ago. But the Uniparty didn’t. And they still aren’t taking it seriously, even now. 

Right now, we have Uniparty leaders and former NATO brass telling us that defending Ukraine is basically the same thing as deterring China. That if one dictator is allowed to seize territory by force, it’ll embolden others, and so stopping Vladimir Putin is basically the same thing as stopping Xi Jinping. 

This is the Uniparty’s magical thinking at work. It’s rooted in the fanciful idea that if we want to stop tyrants, all we need to do is show them we’re not afraid. That if we stand up to one bully, all the others will just slink away. 

That’s Hollywood. That’s not reality. 

In the real world, we have limited military resources, and our adversaries know it. 

The Chinese Communist Party understands that if our resources are tied up in Ukraine, those are resources we can’t use to deter a Taiwan invasion. As Napoleon said, “If you want to take Vienna, take Vienna.” China wants control of the Indo-Pacific, and we must stop them there. 

And yet Congress has poured billions of dollars into Ukrainian defenses, at a time when the American people are still dealing with sky-high inflation. And there’s no end in sight. 

That’s not the core problem, though. The core problem is that our actions in Ukraine are directly affecting our ability to project force elsewhere. Specifically, to deter China in the Pacific. 

Let’s consider our position. 

For starters, the more U.S. resources we devote to Europe, the fewer we have available to strengthen deterrence in the Pacific. For some things, like heavy armor units, that may not matter much. But it matters a lot for the capabilities we need to deter China from invading Taiwan. 

Both Ukraine and Taiwan require many of the same weapons, including things like Javelin and Stinger missiles. 

And our industrial base is strapped for capacity. That’s because we need to draw on many of the same suppliers for the defense of both Ukraine and Taiwan. 

We’re doing our best to increase production, but that will take years. 

All of this means that when we pour our military power into Ukraine, that decision comes at a cost. 

As a result, we cannot meet Ukrainian, Taiwanese, and our own military requirements all at the same time, for the foreseeable future. 

In other words, we can’t do everything. 

And, frankly, we shouldn’t have to. Some of the world’s wealthiest nations are our allies in Europe. But right now, we’re the only ones doing the heavy lifting. 

In fact, we’ve sent more weapons to Ukraine than all of Europe has, combined. And those choices are weakening us in the one place—the Pacific—where we require strength. 

The Uniparty’s way is not sustainable. It is a path to failure. 

And this is why China is now positioned to strike with overwhelming force and seize Taiwan. 

Invading Taiwan has been Xi Jinping’s goal for years. He wants control of the Pacific. He is determined to cement his place in Chinese history. 

Less than six months ago, before the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress in Beijing, Xi declared that “the historical wheels of national reunification and national rejuvenation are rolling forward, and the complete reunification of the motherland must be achieved[.]” 

We know this. But we haven’t taken him seriously enough. 

And if we don’t stop him – if we can’t – nothing we do elsewhere will matter much.

*        *        *

So what happens, if we wake up tomorrow and an invasion has begun? What can America do about it? 

Once again, let’s assess our strategic position—this time in the Pacific. 

Well, we’ve got plenty of aircraft. But they’re concentrated at a small number of air bases, which makes them easy targets. And China has invested in weapons and sensors that we haven’t fielded, undercutting our air power advantage. 

We have carrier strike groups. But it’s not clear how they’ll help us defeat a Chinese invasion. China has built up defenses designed to neutralize them early in a fight, or keep them so far away they won’t be useful. 

We do have an undersea advantage. But we’ve only got so many submarines, we’ve only got so many torpedoes and other weapons to fire from them, and we’ve only got so many places to reload or refit them. Those are hard limits. 

We’re also at risk ourselves, especially our forces in Guam. Guam isn’t well defended against China’s missiles—to say nothing of Chinese special operations forces. 

And I haven’t even mentioned China’s nuclear arsenal, which of course is always looming in the background. Meanwhile, our own military space architecture is dangerously vulnerable, and our logistics forces are already overstretched. 

So let’s suppose the worst happens. Suppose China invades and seizes Taiwan. We try to stop it, but our forces are defeated and the island is lost. 

What would that mean? 

If China conquers Taiwan, Xi and the Chinese Communist Party will view it as a world-historical victory. They will see it as the dawn of a “Chinese century” that puts the lie to America’s promise of liberty. 

And Americans will confront a new, terrifying reality. 

Every American will feel it. The price hikes and disruptions we’ve seen in recent years will pale in comparison. 

Product shortages will be commonplace—shortages of everything from basic medicine to consumer electronics. According to some estimates, a war over Taiwan would send us into a deep recession with no clear way out, since huge swaths of our economy run on Taiwanese semiconductors. 

But the economic consequences are just the start.  

If China takes Taiwan, it will be able to station its own military forces there. It can then use its position as a springboard for further conquest and intimidation—against Japan, the Philippines, and other Pacific islands, like Guam and the Northern Marianas. 

Our grandparents fought and bled to liberate those islands during the Second World War. Now they’re under threat again, from a new imperially-minded power. 

As Asia’s new reigning power, China could restrict U.S. trade in the region—perhaps block it altogether. Maybe we’ll be allowed in, but only on terms favorable to China. 

China exploited the trade system once before. They can do it again. 

There’s more. We recently witnessed a Chinese spy balloon cruise across the American heartland.  But things can get much worse. 

Imagine a world where Chinese warships patrol Hawaiian waters, and Chinese submarines stalk the California coastline. A world where the People’s Liberation Army has military bases in Central and South America. A world where Chinese forces operate freely in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. 

This is a dark future. And it is an increasingly plausible future. 

But it is not an inevitable future. 

There may still be time to chart a different course—if our leaders have the resolve to do so.

*        *        * 

That different course is a nationalist foreign policy. A foreign policy in the spirit of Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt. 

A nationalist foreign policy places America’s interests first. And deterring China from seizing Taiwan should be America’s top priority. 

That means our defense spending should be concentrated on deterrence in the Pacific. No more “divest to invest” in the Indo-Pacific. No more unfunded priorities from INDOPACOM. Instead, we should be stockpiling weapons, dispersing our forces in the Indo-Pacific, and accelerating late-stage development of space, cyber, and other critical capabilities, like the B-21 strategic bomber. 

None of this is news, but we’re years behind schedule. 

Strengthening deterrence in the Indo-Pacific means scaling back our military commitments elsewhere. That brings us to Europe. 

What we need is a new burden-sharing arrangement within NATO. Our NATO allies should lead in arming Ukraine. And they should also take responsibility for defending Europe itself, relying on the U.S. only for extended nuclear deterrence and a few other capabilities. 

This will free up American resources for deterring China. It’ll also ensure that NATO allies can deter Russia or defend themselves with limited U.S. support if our forces are drawn to a crisis or conflict in the Pacific. 

This is vital because, as our own 2018 and 2022 National Defense Strategies made clear, we can’t fight and win major wars in Asia and Europe at the same time. 

What concrete steps can we take toward this new burden-sharing arrangement? 

First, we should cut off U.S. military aid to Ukraine, until our European allies step up. That won’t happen so long as we’re doing their job for them. 

Second, we should clarify the stakes for our European allies. They should know we won’t be able to fully defend them if a conflict with China breaks out. We must make clear that, given the Chinese threat and the need for deterrence, we will be forced to withhold forces from any direct conflict with Russia. So even if U.S. forces aren’t at war in the Pacific, Europe still can’t count on us like they used to. 

We should begin reducing U.S. force levels in Europe. And we should keep cutting, until we’re supporting NATO’s defenses with only those capabilities we don’t need to deter China, and with our nuclear arsenal. Our European allies can make up the difference. They must take the lead in Europe’s conventional defense. 

This is what a real burden-sharing arrangement looks like. This is how we safeguard our interests in Europe, while also deterring China in Asia. 

Finally, the United States should arm Taiwan. But U.S. aid should be conditioned on Taiwan increasing defense spending and embracing an asymmetric defense strategy. If Taiwan won’t defend itself, how can they expect Americans to fight and die on their behalf? Taiwan must step up too. 

*        *        *

The Uniparty isn’t going to like this message. They’ll probably call it “Russian propaganda,” or some other hogwash. 

But when I first came to the Senate, I took an oath. I swore to “well and faithfully discharge the duties” of my office. I take that oath very seriously. 

And to me, faithfully discharging the duties of my office means defending America. 

Not something called the “rules-based international order.” I mean America. 

It also means telling the American people the truth. Even the hard and painful truth. 

This is the heart of a nationalist foreign policy—clear-eyed realism, in the service of the American people. 

Changing our course will not be easy. It will take sacrifices. And it will require difficult choices. 

But America has risen to countless challenges before. And I believe we can do so again. 

Right now—today—we can start looking reality in the eye. We can stand up to the threat that we—and Taiwan—currently face. We can make those difficult choices. 

We can choose truth over comfort. 

And for the sake of the world our sons and daughters will live in, I pray we will.