The key question here, of course, is whether the Pentagon is correct in assuming that China is a more serious threat to American interests than the kind of thing we all witnessed on 9/11, 7/7, etc. Given some of the thinking that has come out of the Pentagon in recent years, I think there is more than adequate reason to deconstruct their thought process in this regard.
For those who are not married to a particular viewpoint on this question, I'd suggest picking up "The Pentagon's New Map" by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett. Immensely readable, Barnett (a former wonk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and professor at the Naval War College) proposes a very different view of China and the threats the U.S. and the rest of the developed world face than what you hear espoused by the Pentagon brass.
He also lays out a strategic vision that would deal with the core causes of terrorism while shifting China from a potential threat to a strategic ally. Given that Barnett started at Harvard as a specialist on the USSR, he quotes chapter and verse as to why China is not The Soviet Threat, Mark II Mod 0.
People will take different sides, but I'm of the opinion that it's better to avoid Cold War II than worry so much about winning it that we make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. What a remarkable waste of lives and treasure that would be when we have a host of other, more pressing geopolitical hairballs staring us in the face.
Posted by David at June 1, 2006 06:41 PM
I agree, Barnett is interesting. A little lacking when it comes to specifics though- funny how when you think of his USSR background his economic determinism makes sense, but I digress. Just curious David, what other pressing geopolitical hairballs that are staring us in the face did you have in mind?
The interesting thing about this article to me is not just the 'they're doing this and that', but the downplay of current actions in the Middle East and such. The evolution of China's modern return to front seats along with the maturation of America as the world's dominant power will be a contentious issue in the years to come, even if we are able to avoid a Hot war. As things are at the moment, the only opponent of a real War of the future would be China; but if we do avoid that (as I hope all rational people do), how will we manage it from both sides and other countries in the world? Assuredly not an easy task. Can we avoid both a Hot war and a Cold war?
Thanks for the post!
Posted by Sunguh at June 1, 2006 10:55 PM
Reads like a Clancy novel
Posted by GZ Expat at June 2, 2006 02:03 PM
Maybe it's me, but I think Barnett gets as specific as he needs to be. On the other hand, I'm a businessman, not an economist or a political scientist, so I'm holding him to a different standard than others might.
I'll try to be a bit more specific vis-a-vis the above mentioned geopolitical hairballs that should be attracting the interest of strategists and policymakers before they start worrying about fabricating the next "strategic competitor." None of this is original, but it makes an imposing list, working my way slowly around the world from the 180th meridian in a westward direction:
1. A Nuclear North Korea
2. The unfinished revolution in Indonesia
3. A weakened state in Thailand threatened by Karens in the west and Muslims in the South
4. A feeble state and ongoing factionalism in Afganistan
5. The looming uncertainty of post-Putin Russia
6. Dealing with an (eventually) nuclear and fundamentalist Iran
7. Strengthening the nascent state in Iraq and ending the insurgency there.
8. The impending challenge to the House of Saud on the Arabian peninsula.
9. Turning Israel and Palestine into viable, prosperous neighbors.
10. Addressing the issue of Kurds in Asia Minor generally, but specifically in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.
11. Ending the genocide and violence on the Horn of Africa
12. Bringing lasting peace and prosperity to the Balkans
13. Managing the complex challenges of Sub-Saharan Africa
14. The insurgency and weak state in Columbia.
15. Mexico's soft underbelly (Chiapas, et al.)
The list could go on and could get even more speculative, but I think you get my point. If I were in one of those conference rooms on the E-Ring of the Pentagon rather than here in the Hutong in Beijing, I'd look at the globe and find a lot of places from which threats to the international system could emerge that are far more urgent than the distant potential of China as anything more than a military paper tiger.
The point is simply this - in this scary new world, China can either be a friend like the U.K. was during the Cold War, or it can be an enemy and a comfort to all of the bad actors in the world. We can either try to engage as allies in the process, seeking to support each other as our nations and the world undergo a huge transition, or we can piss each other off and 15-20 years from now be right back where we were in the late 1970s.
Great power realists will have you believe that China and the U.S. MUST become enemies simply because "the two biggest guys on the block eventually have to fight." I say that's simplistic nonsense, and dangerous to boot. 2006 is not 1945.
Posted by David at June 4, 2006 09:24 PM
Nukes also change the picture dramatically. Although if you believe the article in the Mar/Apr 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy", bu Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, the USA effectively has a nuclear monopoly over the PRC. (China only has 20 missiles capable of hitting the US, so if the US can locate and destroy these by rapid first strike, the US wins by default. Chinese missiles are old and require 1 hour to refuel before being ready for launch, US ones can be fired from missiles, submarines, or dropped from strategic bombers).
Posted by Patrick Tan at June 5, 2006 01:08 AM
Here's the 2005 article from The Bulletin that speaks of the China nuclear hype:
China's 18 ICBMs, sitting unfueled in their silos, their nuclear warheads in storage, are essentially the same as they were the day China began deploying them in 1981.
This minimal arsenal is clearly a matter of choice: China stopped fissile material production in 1990 and has long had the capacity to produce a much larger number of ballistic missiles. The simplest explanation for this choice is that the Chinese leadership worries less about its vulnerability to a disarming first strike than the costs of an arms race or what some Second Artillery officer might do with a fully armed nuclear weapon. In a strange way, Beijing placed more faith in Washington
Posted by bobby fletcher at June 15, 2006 06:42 AM
Seems to me to be a sign that the PLA takes its training seriously. Seems to me that this should worry the ROC armed forces immensely. I've commented more here.
Posted by MeiZhongTai at January 29, 2006 01:38 PM
The fact that the commander forgot to order air support is a sign of seriousness? As opposed to what, forgetting to show up entirely?
The fact the PLA was found to be incompetent in waging information warfare should cause Taiwan to worry? About what, where they will bury all the dead PLA soldiers who wash ashore after the failed invasion?
Of course, had the exercise gone well, MeiZhongTai and the rest of Beijing's amen chorus would be saying that was a sign of PLA's seriousness and formidability.
Posted by Conrad at January 29, 2006 05:54 PM
I think it should be very worrying to Taiwan (and anyone in a position to get in China's way should they choose to flex), do you honestly think a professional army will make such a grave mistake twice ?
All parties concerned will have learned a lot about how their system works when tested and it will now be a better system, i.e. harder to combat.
Moral of the story - start talking because fighting will not end well for anyone.
Posted by Hojuin at January 30, 2006 09:02 AM