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It’s time to restock the “arsenal of democracy”

Hard at it: Chinese shipbuilders in Guangzhou. Qiu Xinsheng/VCG/Getty

Modern war is “prodigiously costly”, says Hal Brands in Bloomberg. It consumes “epic quantities” of bombs and wrecks kit like planes and tanks, which are punishingly expensive to replace. Washington was right to send Ukraine a mountain of Javelin antitank missiles in the first weeks of the Russian invasion – perhaps a third of the total US stockpile – but it now needs to get serious about rearming. If America ends up in a war with China over Taiwan, it would quickly burn through its weapons. One recent war game forecasts America losing 900 combat aircraft in such a scenario – nearly half its fleet – and that’s if “things go relatively well”.

The fact it still has a larger economy than China is no reason to relax. The US won World War Two thanks to its unrivalled industrial might – in 1944 it produced 2,247 naval vessels, more than every other country combined. But it’s China that now serves as “the workshop of the world”, with “a roughly three-to-one production advantage” in shipbuilding over its superpower rival. And war mobilisation takes time: America started ramping up defence spending in 1938, years before it joined World War Two. Yet Joe Biden “doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to increase the defence budget”. Beijing, meanwhile, is “spitting out warships and munitions at an astounding rate”. The “arsenal of autocracy” is gearing up for war. “Will the arsenal of democracy be up to the challenge?”