My post title differs from the article I want to highlight primarily because I agree with the author's premise that the strategic culture of countries and of their military services shape how they think about competitions and therefore fundamentally inform the policies, concepts, tools, and physical preparations necessary to be prepared for conflict if and when it occurs. There's an old saying in the military: "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war," (ascribed to Patton, among others) meaning the more effort you put into preparing for a potential conflict, the more likely you are to prevail and at less cost in lives and treasure.
In his article "Preparing for War with China," James Holmes has this to say about service cultures and their influence on preparing for the next war:
"The hardware dimension of the U.S.-China strategic competition, however, is inextricable from the all-important human dimension. Weapons don’t fight wars, as strategic thinkers from U.S. Air Force colonel John Boyd to Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedongremind us; people who operate weapons do. Both individuals and the big institutions they serve have deep-seated worldviews and ideas about how to cope with the strategic surroundings. A culture that comports with strategic and operational circumstances represents an asset. A culture that flouts reality is a huge liability.
"So the struggle between AirSea Battle and anti-access is about more than developing gee-whiz technologies. A culture war is brewing between two great powers with very different conceptions of the relationship among land, air and sea power. And again, ideas matter. As naval historian Julian S. Corbett explains, armaments are “the expression in material of strategical and tactical ideas that prevail at any given time.” What hardware a nation’s armed forces acquire speaks volumes about how strategic leaders think about war—and how they may wage it."
Keeping in mind "a picture is worth a thousand words" two graphics help highlight the importance of devoting ample thought to U.S. interests in Asia and what it might take to protect those interests.
This graphic depicts the long-running and increasingly contentious dispute in the South China Sea among a number of countries with economic interests in the area. Ownership of islands, even little-bitty ones, translates to fishing and mineral rights extending from them. China claims everything. It's neighbors have their own ideas.
Pulling back a bit, this graphic shows China's view of its 'defensive perimeter' often referred to in military circles as China's first and second island chains.
You can see that if the U.S. felt compelled to respond to Chinese aggression in the region, whether to contest a grab for resources or come to the aid of an ally, it would have to penetrate and operate within an area well within China's ability to control.
Our Defense Department should rightfully consider the implications of U.S. interests with respect to the military's potential need to act in support of those interests. In similar fashion, The White House and its State Department should keep geographic and military-related realities in mind as they develop positions and policies reflecting U.S. interests.
Doing so in the midst of a crisis is too late. Far better to think about "what ifs" far in advance especially given the factors of organizational culture and bias raised by Holmes.