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A number of media reports in early July carried the news that the United States would begin to redeploy some combat troops from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region. The reason for the buildup, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said, was that China has become “the most significant geopolitical challenge since the end of the Cold War.” Contrary to O’Brien’s fears, a clearheaded analysis of the economic, military, and diplomatic realities involved do not justify actions that risk sparking a military conflict between China and the United States.

Sometimes, pressuring an adversary makes sense. Flexing our considerable military muscles can be just the thing to convince an opponent they should reconsider their actions or face the fury of our power. But the circumstances must warrant such behavior, because the consequences of war are so great. A war with China today -- even one we eventually won -- could cripple our military and devastate our economy for years to come. It is therefore of paramount importance that we examine what is genuinely at stake in the Western Pacific for the United States and consider whether taking actions that could risk a war are warranted.

Spoiler alert: they aren’t.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t real challenges in our relations with China.

China has been unequivocal since its inception in 1949 that it is willing to use force to "reunify" Taiwan with the mainland -- but Taiwan never "broke away" from China. The losers of the 1949 Chinese Civil War escaped there and have been governing ever since. Taiwan is a de-facto independent nation. It has a pro-Western orientation and the world’s 22nd largest economy. Without question, the United States affirms the inherent right of the people of every land to self-determination. The crucial question we must answer, however, is how far should the United States go in the event Beijing chooses to make good on its threat against Taipei.

In early July Sen. Tom Cotton likened China’s efforts in the region to Hitler’s early conquests before World War II, and earlier warned ominously that the Trump administration “should consider all options at its disposal” in protest to Beijing’s oppressive actions towards Hong Kong.  What the Senator didn’t explain, however, is what direct threat China represents to the United States.

The plain fact is that matters occurring just off China’s borders will always be of far greater importance to them than to us.

We can and should advocate for freedom in Taiwan and Hong Kong. We should apply considerable diplomatic pressure to demand Beijing adhere to international law and reject the use of force to achieve their political preferences. But absent a direct threat to the United States, our military forces, or our treaty partners, we should not fight a war against China.

If China took Taiwan by force, it would be a dark and ominous development that would require a strong response from the international community, potentially led by the United States. But going to war with China over Taiwan would almost certainly result in losing U.S. ships to the bottom of the sea, having our fighters and bombers knocked out of the skies, and the loss of potentially thousands of our service members. None of this would guarantee we would prevent China from taking the island.

If the U.S. Navy’s capacity in the Pacific Ocean were severely degraded and the U.S. Air Force’s ability to rule the skies gouged, it would reduce our ability to defend the United States. Moreover, entering such a fight could put us in the no-win situation in which we have to choose between escalating into an all-out war with China that could turn nuclear, or conceding the fight to Beijing and withdrawing. Neither of these outcomes is in America’s interest, and both would result in a diminished America.

What we should do is ensure we are able to defend American interests and assure our security first and foremost. Our armed forces are powerful enough to deter China from ever attacking us directly, but China’s military is powerful enough to win a fight in its own region if we are foolish enough to choose one. We must avoid making a no-win choice in the future by having realistic objectives and strategies now.

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.