ALERT MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
SUBJECT: Military Clash With China Over Pelosi Visit?
REFERENCE: VIPS Memo to You, May 1, 2022
We, the undersigned, collectively, have hundreds of years of service to the United States of America in intelligence and national security. We have drawn upon this accumulated experience to communicate to you (and to the three presidents before you) our concerns over controversial national security issues of high importance. On May 1, we wrote you an Alert Memo on Russia-Ukraine. Today, we offer an even more urgent warning of the risk of war – including nuclear war – this time with China.
That Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan is of grave concern to China is well known. Indeed, you just heard it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, China’s President Xi Jinping.
Presumably, your advisers have prepared assessments regarding the extent to which the expressed Chinese concerns articulate genuine existential concerns or are mere saber rattling and diplomatic posturing. We want you to know that it is our collective opinion that such a visit by Speaker Pelosi would be viewed in the most serious light by China; that China would react quite strongly, reflecting the reality that it would consider such a visit close to an existential threat warranting high risk of armed hostilities.
Perception creates its own reality. Regardless of how your advisers assess the effectiveness of your China policy, for us former "insiders" now looking in from the outside, recent events provide sufficient symptomatic evidence of a policy out of control. The most evident symptom is the current Asia trip by Speaker Pelosi, and the potential of her visiting Taiwan. China’s perception is what counts.
There is no evidence that Speaker Pelosi’s trip was coordinated in any meaningful fashion with the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon – as would normally be expected prior to a high-profile visit to a region fraught with the danger of military escalation.
Instead, the Speaker appears to be conducting unilateral diplomacy, the objectives of which are far from clear. If Speaker Pelosi goes through with her earlier stated plan to visit Taiwan, this would represent an uncoordinated foray into U.S. foreign policy and national security affairs, in which the executive branch is supposed to have the lead. And this will be widely seen as combustible disarray in Washington.
The potential for the Speaker’s visit to Taiwan generating a military-on-military clash between US and Chinese, and also between Chinese and Taiwanese, forces is high. While there might be some in your inner circle who believe that the Chinese are bluffing, and that there are no existential issues involved in Speaker Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan, we respectfully disagree. Similar miscalculations were made regarding Russia’s pre-war posture vis-à-vis Ukraine. Indeed, some of us were surprised when Russia actually invaded. But we try to learn from our mistakes.
The US military is in no position to engage in a large-scale military confrontation with China over Taiwan. The consequences of any miscalculation regarding Chinese intent when it comes to defending issues of an existential concern to China would be dire, in terms of the real possibility of a US military defeat, and also the economic harm any such conflict would cause to the United States and its allies. We are already struggling to deal effectively with the consequences of the global Covid pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine – not to mention the universal global threat of climate change. In this sense, the war in Ukraine has been dubbed The Mother of All Opportunity Costs. Must we add, now, hostilities with China?
By now it is clear that the expectations behind your administration’s sanctions-based policy regarding Russia have not yet been met; that the economic pain generated by these policies has impacted substantially on the American people and – even more – on our allies, while having a limited impact on the Russian economy thus far. Any armed conflict between the US and China would create massive disruption of an already weakened global economy that would resonate in disastrous fashion with the US economy and that of our allies.
Simply put, not only can we not prevail militarily over China in any conflict that might be precipitated a visit by Speaker Pelosi’s to Taiwan, but also the economic consequences would be devastating to the global economy, including that of the United States.
Attention must be paid to the possible consequences of the United States being dealt an embarrassing military setback at the hands of the Chinese, especially one occasioned by a Pelosi visit. While your administration has joined China, Russia, and the other major nuclear powers in declaring that a nuclear war can never be won, and thus should never be fought, the current US nuclear posture does, in fact, provide the president with a range of options when it comes to the employment of nuclear weapons. These options are not a secret; they include scenarios which allow for the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons to compel a potential adversary to cease and desist regarding actions deemed to represent an existential threat to the United States.
The USS Ronald Reagan carrier battlegroup is currently deployed in the vicinity of the South China Sea and any military-on-military conflict between the US and China would put the ships and crew of this battle group at risk from attack from Chinese forces. In a one-sentence announcement today, China said it was conducting live-fire military exercises off the coast opposite Taiwan. China’s Maritime Safety Administration warned ships to avoid the area. We do not know what to expect tomorrow.
One is loath to predict the outcome of what seems an inevitable clash if neither side blinks. But the fact is there is real potential for the loss of one or more US ships, together with crew. If such were to occur, current US nuclear posture strongly suggests that you would at that point be offered military options that include a nuclear retaliatory strike on China.
China’s Red Line
China’s public statements on the Pelosi issue suggest that Beijing has concluded that your administration has, in effect, turned over the trigger for potential nuclear conflict with China to the Speaker of the House. As the Chinese see it, you have given Nancy Pelosi a green light instead of a red one – thus stepping over China’s red line.
It is not our province as intelligence officers to plumb the reasons behind Speaker Pelosi’s wish to visit Taiwan. What we can say is that the strong Chinese reaction we would expect is likely to vitiate any hoped-for partisan political benefit. Worse still, it could bring us to the brink of major war. In our view, benighted hopes for political advantage pale in significance, weighed against the potential consequences of a House Speaker visit to Taiwan at this time. In short, by every indicator available, it would provoke a strong Chinese response inclusive of the potential for direct military-on-military engagement.
If it comes to that, whom will President XI Jinping call, after just talking to you for two hours: You? Gen. Milley? Defense Secretary Austin? Speaker Pelosi? We believe Chinese policymakers, admirals, and generals may, like their counterparts in Russia, be wondering who is in charge in Washington. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said publicly: US foreign policy is being run not by the president but by "the State Department together with one or two officials in the White House".
China-Russia; and Bluffing’’
You were so poorly advised before your June 16, 2021 face-to-face summit with President Putin that you apparently told him you understood that Russia was being "squeezed" (your word) by China. We can only hope that you and your advisers have since learned that the so-called "squeeze" is, rather, an unprecedentedly tight embrace between two countries, each of which now confront the US as threat #1. The balance of power has shifted; we wish we could be more confident that your political advisers have slowly become aware of that tectonic shift.
Your military advisers, at least, should have briefed you of the possibility of a two-front war with two nuclear-armed powers. Could a Pelosi visit to Taiwan provoke something like that. Surely, that game is not worth the candle.
As for China’s record for "bluffing", we call to mind that on Oct. 2, 1950, China’s Premier Zhou Enlai warned that China would intervene in Korea if American troops went north of the 38th parallel. We all know what happened when that warning went unheeded. We also know that top U.S. military advisers at that time had nuclear strikes on China high on their list of options. China knows that too.
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
- Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and Division Director, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
- Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security (ret.) (associate VIPs)
- Graham E. Fuller,Vice-Chair, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
- Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
- Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
- Larry Johnson, former CIA Intelligence Officer & former State Department Counter-Terrorism Official (ret.)
- Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF Intelligence Agency (ret.), former Master SERE Instructor
- John Kiriakou, former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
- Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst; CIA Presidential briefer (ret.)
- Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council & CIA political analyst (ret.)
- Pedro Israel Orta, former CIA and Intelligence Community (Inspector General) officer
- Todd Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
- Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
- Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
- Sarah G. Wilton, CDR, USNR, (Retired)/DIA, (Retired)
- Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned in opposition to the war on Iraq)
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPs) is made up of former intelligence officers, diplomats, military officers and congressional staffers. The organization, founded in 2002, was among the first critics of Washington’s justifications for launching a war against Iraq. VIPS advocates a US foreign and national security policy based on genuine national interests rather than contrived threats promoted for largely political reasons.