War with China is not inevitable, but it will take an all-of-government approach to deter it, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said Tuesday.

The Marine Corps is currently going through a massive period of experimentation and reorganization with a focus on keeping up with the “pacing threat” China poses and ultimately winning a war if one comes.

The commandant said he has spent the past decade studying China as it was adopting increasingly aggressive foreign policy goals.

“You can look at a map from 10 years ago and a map from today you can see what they are trying to do,” Berger said at an online event about the future of Marine Corps warfare held by the Brookings Institution in Washington. “We need to be in a position to hold the freedom both the seas and the airs and really all the domains.”

Using Marines as a stand-in force near China’s geographical interest points may slow down China’s willingness to push its territorial boundaries and bully its neighbors, Berger said.

“You need a very forward expeditionary, fairly light, fairly mobile force, all the time in the right areas, if you’re the United States,” Berger said.

The watchful eyes of the Marines in that “very forward” expeditionary force will likely deter China from being as regionally aggressive as it might be without the eyes of the American military on it, Berger said.

Additionally, the stand-in force would be prepared to fight immediately if deterrence were to fail and war with China kicked off too fast for the rest of the joint force to mobilize.

To fully accomplish the mission of either deterring China or ultimately beating it if war were to break out, the U.S. must build on its relationships with regional allies ― a role the Marine Corps is well suited for, Berger said.

“We are not going to be successful on our own, we have to acknowledge the value of our allies and partners,” Berger said.

Ultimately, though, Berger does not see war with China as inevitable, but it is clear to him that the U.S. will be competing with China for the foreseeable future.

“They clearly have a strategy, they have a plan and they are resourcing that plan,” Berger said.

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