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20 August 2007

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Clifford Kiracofe

Kaplan is a colorful neocon writer and so places emphasis on a China threat scenario and "containment." Aside from the Middle East, neocons and their friends like Bill Gertz and Mike Pillsbury seem taken with/obsessed by a Yellow Peril theme.

On the other hand, keeping one's powder dry and eyes open in the emerging multipolar world is prudent.

Some posit an emerging 5 power system (US, EU, Russia, China, Japan) with a rising India as an additional factor. Kissinger wrote about the emerging five power system back in the 1960s as I recall. So his efforts with President Nixon per China were consistent with his strategic perspective at that time and they developed a realistic policy, IMO.

The best serious assessment of Chinese foreign policy I have seen from the academic world is:
Suisheng Zhao, ed., Chinese Foreign Policy. Pragmatism and Strategic Behavior (ME Sharpe, 2004).

Some have a concept that a US-Japan-India-Australia alignment is the way to go to "contain" China.

Primakov's concept for Russia was a Russia-China-India alignment.

I think a US-China-Japan cooperative arrangement makes sense to manage the more salient Pacific issues.

Regional powers should logically cooperate on hydrocarbon development in the various waters out there. Something like an Asian "North Sea" arrangement, etc.

blowback

I am sorry but I reckon that Kaplan's article is a complete load of old tosh.

For example, his championing of the Littoral Combat Ship and Mark V special-operations craft, others have been there before and found that it got them nowhere. They and others of their type will never win a war and given China's lower costs and greater manpower, they would not survive very long in any war where America did not have air supremacy.

As for Guam, that would probably cease to exist a few minutes after any US attack on the Chinese mainland.

As for the Finlandization (just how much harm did it do Finland?) of Korea, China will continue to back North Korea for as long as the US seeks to include a re-unified Korea in its sphere of influence, so the North Koreans will continue to suffer because of American intransigence and empire-building.

Finally, someone who suggests that the Western Allies should have turned on the Soviets before finishing the war in Europe against the Nazis fully deserves this description:

"Kaplan’s real and growingly evident problem is not his Parkinson’s grip on history, or that he is a bonehead or a warmonger, but rather that he is an incompetent thinker and a miserable writer."

Cold War Zoomie

Great article.

Our political and media institutions are failing us. Only a few "elite" are paying attention to the other issues that are not part of the the all consuming GWOT black hole.

The sooner we stop proclaiming terrorism to be the Biggest Menace of All Time, and admit that we can fight terrorism and chew gum at the same time, the better.

b

Reading the piece the good Colonel points to I stumble across "America's liberal imperium."

To whom might this be "liberal". Who of 6.5 billion people on this planet agrees to live under the rules of "America's liberal imperium."

Might the discussion of nuking Chinese peasants be assumed as "illiberal" by some of them?

Aside from moral obligation (which I can't find being observed in U.S. war history at all) why should anyone agree to that project?

Aside from moral - Strategicaly the whole Kaplan piece is also seriously flawed.

How will Russia (a 100+ million people) hold on to the VAST resources of Siberia when 1.300+ million people from China demand access to these?

If the U.S. or NATO would be smart, it would guarantee Siberia to Russia and take its share.

But they follow a stupid strategy of fighting China at sea.

If you want to take on China, use a map and think logistics. It's much easier for the Chinese to walk to Siberia than to swim to Australia.

To see the Pacific area and the U.S. Navy as a decicive force in that big game is simply illusional.


Dave of Maryland

I tried reading Kaplan. I just got angry. There is no point writing a rebuttal.

Will

The German Generals were convinced that the Soviet Army could not have moved as fast w/o all the trucks supplied by the U.S. Admiral Canaris had met with his British counterpart and had tried to arrange for a separate peace w/ the West in which the German military would have gotten rid of the so called "noble wolf" Adolf and continued to fight the Soviets.

In a Guggenheim conference report the Colonel participated in, Imagining the Next War, default on the trillion U.S. debt China holds, is mentioned as a possible cause for war.

Poppycock. The Chinese are content to hold the dollars. They just roll over the T-bills and watch them grow. They send over boxes to Wal-Mart and we send them over greenbacks with brightly colored string. Eventually, they will want to buy real estate with them and recording studios and such.

JJackson

I just found it scary and rather sad. As a European I am not sure I would not quite like a resurgent China as an ally against this kind of American. If this is typical of a significant portion of American thinking perhaps Europe had better re-arm fast and make sure we realign with China and Russia – this guy is dangerous.

JJackson

This from 1992 which I read a few days ago was far more interesting.

Jihad vs. McWorld
by Benjamin R. Barber

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/199203/barber

John Howley

Attention to China will rise dramatically over the next year driven in part by the Olympics. It is useful to discuss the matter and not leave it to experts only.

Kaplan says nothing of strategic nuclear match up. Quick internet research indicates that, at present, China does not have more than a handful of developmental ICBMs capable of reaching the continental US.

How will US-China relationship change as China develops a real capability to strike the US "homeland?"

Second, how does the US strategic situation change if and when we have two potential adversaries (Russia and China) presenting an existential threat?

Three-player games are very different from two-player ones.

Cloned Poster

Iraq was a big play of the dice.... Bush and the poodle did not deliver, oil supplies not secured.

British leaving Iraq.... There is only one agressive hand left to play for US of A, and that is in Iran a target rich environment, but so is the Green Zone, the Emerald City.

Cold War Zoomie

Wow. I'm on a different planet from many of my fellow commentors. My impression of this article was very different from their's.

I assumed that everyone understood that China is rapidly building its empire and we need to decide how to work within that context. This article seemed very level headed and reasonable from a 50,000 foot view, recognizing that we have our interests and China has its interests. Personally, I took away a sense that Kagan is offering a way to *avoid* war.

To be sure, I re-read much of it and came to the same conclusion. He is offering the way we currently do business in PAC as an alternative to what Bush has been doing.

Sometimes we forget that much of the world does not operate like Canada, USA, and Northern Europe. China is not included in that group. On a personal note, an old Air Force buddy of mine goes to China for business fairly frequently. They are ruthless negotiators from his experience.

I am always open to be corrected.

Clifford Kiracofe

<"If this is typical of a significant portion of American thinking perhaps Europe had better re-arm fast and make sure we realign with China and Russia">

JJ Jackson, This is typical of the Neocons and their ilk. The question then is will their type of neoimperial thinking dominate policy decisions. It would be logical in the emerging 5 power system, in which the US is inprudently if not recklessly bidding for a hegemonic position (as official policy per White House directives since 2002, "National Security Strategy"), for the other 4 (or 3) powers to band together to maintain a a balance of power. We have seen this behavior in the international system since 1648 and Westphalia with the Louis XIV, Napoleon and so forth.

As the Neocons are part and parcel of the foreign policy establishment in the US (Republican and Democrat/Lieberman group) one can infer US policy will not change significantly in the near term. The American elite, such as it is, is delusional and the Iraq experience has changed nothing as we all can see day in-day out, day-in day-out.

Hence, one would imagine it likely that powers will move to balance against the United States hegemonic drive either Bushian or post 2008. Academic debate here considers "soft" balancing and "hard" balancing with respect to this question. My own view is that China, Europe, and Russia want to ride things out as the US self-implodes.

Barry Buzan, a very able Brit scholar, gets into this type of discussion in his "The United States and the Great Powers. World Politics in the Twenty-First Century" (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2004). My students at Washington and Lee last year found his analysis of great interest as do I.

If you follow the outpourings of the US foreign policy establishment's Council on Foreign Relations you can assess the degree to which it is detached from international reality. My brother, a scholar on the 16th century, suggested to me something along the lines of Spain after Phillip II, a long drift down for the US owing to the imbecility of the decisionmaking elite. Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers is suggestive.

Will

The only conflict is the vestigial guarantees to the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan. They are now out of power, supplanted by the natives. the mainlanders don't desire to impose an iron governance on them but a symbolic unity. It can certainly be finessed by anybody but a president with straw for brains in his head.

I'm surprised nobody picked up on it. Gertz has already reported a prediction of the Kaplan article come true- a Chinese sub surfacing within killing radius of a U.S. carrier, unintentionally, of course.

Buy land or record companies with their trillion dollars? Maybe not- perhaps buy Countrywide Financial, the largest and troubled mortgage lender in the U.S., at firesale prices.

from the AsiaTimes

"its Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). I discussed SWF in my June 22 ATol article Careful what you wish for, China may grant it). SWF may swoop in and buy, at the bargain prices generated by the crisis, the discounted mortgage securities at the core of the crisis. Then, since they're also now selling at fire-sale prices, they may buy up some of the finance companies themselves - a rumor circulated around Wall Street last week that agents acting on behalf of China's still-nascent SWF were making inquiries related to picking up Countrywide Financial on the cheap. As Pettis puts it, "The large-scale shift of global reserves into what are being called sovereign wealth funds may provide the party with at least one more bowl of industrial-strength punch."

Further, building on the allegory on the Wizard of Oz story as a metaphor of the Silver vs. the Gold Money Standard

" Poor, hapless Dorothy would be seen as representing an unfortunate subprime-mortgage borrower, her dreams of first-time home ownership, with its implied access to the American dream, spinning away and lost in the gale. The Good Witch Glinda, who tries to help Dorothy find her way in this new maze of financial uncertainty, would, of course, be seen as representing none other than the US CNBC cable network's curvaceous "money honey", financial journalist Maria Bartiromo.

The Tin Man with no heart would be the bankers foreclosing on Dorothy's mortgage; the Lion with no courage would be seen as a symbol of America's ruling neo-conservatives, the men who sent today's youth off to die in their wars to hide the fact that they did everything in their power to avoid doing the same in Vietnam. As for the Scarecrow with straw for brains, future literary theorists would pore through current media and conclude that he was an obvious reference to Bush.

But the story would need a new hero. Instead of the hapless Wizard - Ben Bernanke - it would be none other than the kindly, avuncular, bespectacled Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the Bank of China, whose deployment of foreign-exchange reserves was seen to have saved both Dorothy's home and the US financial system ... "

When the big guns fail, call in China
By Julian Delasantellis

Clifford Kiracofe

<"Second, how does the US strategic situation change if and when we have two potential adversaries (Russia and China) presenting an existential threat?">

John Howley, in the Great Seal of the United States, the olive branch, symbolizing diplomacy and peaceful relations, is grasped in the right talon.

Judging from our current predicament, which the whole world can see, our foreign policy elite seems incapable of conceptualizing an effective national strategy with a vigorous diplomatic and economic component.

The provocation of Russia and China, based on American geopolitical narcissism, as seen over the past decade or so, is unnecessary, counterproductive, and dangerous. Triggering arms races is also expensive.

The foundation of military power is economic power and look at our current situation and prospects. This would included an assessment of the dollar and the overall international financial architecture. The eagle is rather mangy these days. When I visited Russia in 1999 their foreign reserves were on the order of $12 billion while today they are over $300 billion and they now have national control over their strategic hydrocarbon resources. When I walk into Lowe's to get hardware and other items, most everything on the shelves is made in China.

Peaceful and cooperative Sino-Russian relations are nothing new. In fact there are historical precedents. For example, the Sino-Russian treaty system embodied in the Treaty of Kyakhta in 1728 provided a reasonable basis at that time for mutually beneficial relations. The SCO organization today, as well as direct bilateral arrangements, provide similar benefits.

A good read on the early history is Mark Mancall, Russia and China. Their Diplomatic Relations to 1728 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).

As Mancall points out (p.275): "The Treaty of Kyakhta...obviated the inevitability of conflict by creating institutions that in and of themselves lacked cultural implications and avoided precisely those forms of contact in which intellectual or institutional conflict had already taken place."

CSTAR

Attempting to view a conflict with modern-day China using categories inherited from America's past military experience is a little like trying to understand quantum field theory using Aristotelian categories.

In addition, being a Latin American myself, I am well-aware of the slow but steady growth of chinese economic (and even cultural) penetration in the western hemisphere below the Tropic of Cancer. Given this, Kaplan's strategic view of keeping China in check, militarily, with mobile hardware and bases seems a little naive. Why should latin-americans care about or in any way facilitate a north-american vision of a world-wide military equilibrium? Given that, it seems the keeping-in-check is going the other way around.

Curious

Long range, I think like any other normal situation, domestic concern prevails over distant affairs. We are going to be back into isolationist mode. (cultural barrier, geographic distance, political trend, education system, etc)

In 2010 when recession & down economy hit hards, average folks in Des Moines or St. Louis are going to ask, why are we maintaining 7th fleet for patrolling the pacific when we can't even keep the bridges from collapsing.

As global arms race escalate the "gun vs. butter" question will come back. People gonna ask if we need to match china's expensive satellite launch 1 on 1. Or match their economic/diplomacy effort in Asia dollar for dollar. That's one aspect.

Another. Contrasting the British empire at its height where their core popular culture is outward looking, we are nowhere near that when it comes to the need to generate new generation of global leaders. At its height their popular culture encourage their brightest to go out, explore, seek fortune, or serve the queen. I challenge anybody finding popular literary works, radio/TV, school readings that are similar to Britain in the 18th century, the height of British empire.

This is not talking dialectic of weapons design and global sale. (eg. what if china and Russia selling cheap advance weapons by the boat loads to everybody we don't like... etc. etc)

At least we are not in Soviet position in the 80's yet. where global ambition is far bigger than economic foundation. ...

but leave it to those people to eff it all up with dubious adventures.

Duncan Kinder

The downside as well as the upside of planning should be considered - as the circumstances before WWI illustrate.

Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas personally were first cousins and the best of friends. Accordingly, before the war, they got together and - to their satisfaction - thrashed out Germany's and Russia's differences. But when they got home, their respective staffs told them their agreement would not work - it did not jive with each country's plans.

In August, 1914, Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia. However, Austria-Hungary's plan called for her troops to mobilize on Russia's border. This forced Russia to respond. However, Russia's plan called for her troops to mobilize along the German border. So Germany also had to respond. But Germany's plan called for a preemptive strike against France. Hence an Austro-Hungarian move against Serbia precipitated the massing of millions of German troops against France.

On a certain level, the catastrophe of August, 1914, resulted from a Rube Goldberg malfunction.

Consider also Robert Burns:

Wee,sleekit,cowrin,tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
What makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell -
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me;
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects dreaer!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!


Duncan Kinder

Two further comments on Kaplan's article:

  1. Kaplan projects China as a potential naval power in the Pacific. If China does evolve in this direction, it would be inconsistent with three thousand years of Chinese history, in which China has been earthbound, directed toward the Asian landmass and not towards the Pacific Ocean. ( During the early Ming Dynasty, China did send several fleets into the Indian Ocean, but those episodes were tangential and inconsequential. )

  2. Assuming that Kaplan nevertheless is correct, and China does intend to project outward into a group of disparate Pacific countries, which Kaplan plans to oppose this with a "spoke" strategy:
    The better road is for PACOM to deter China in Bismarckian fashion, from a geographic hub of comparative isolation—the Hawaiian Islands—with spokes reaching out to major allies such as Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and India. These countries, in turn, would form secondary hubs to help us manage the Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian archipelagoes, among other places, and also the Indian Ocean. The point of this arrangement would be to dissuade China so subtly that over time the rising behemoth would be drawn into the PACOM alliance system without any large-scale conflagration—the way NATO was ultimately able to neutralize the Soviet Union.

    Chinese history, however, is familiar with this sort of strategy, as well as its antidote. During the late Waring States period, from about 325 to 235 BC, the Chin state - projecting out from her bulwark in what is now Shensi, threatened to overwhelm the other warring states. The other states developed a "Vertical Alliance" to oppose her. This Vertical Alliance was essentially Kaplan's "spoke" system. Chin responded with a "Horizontal Alliance," undermining the Vertical Alliance by linking up with more distant states then gobbling up the suddenly vulnerable nearby states. The rest was a mopping up operation resulting in the Chin empire, which unified all China. So the Chinese know very well how to deal with Kaplan - and have for two thousand years.


Ian

Past history is, in itself, an imperfect guide to the future behaviour of nations. Prior to 1898, American policy had been earthbound, directed toward the continental landmass, and not toward the acquisition of an overseas empire.

walrus

This article bugs me on at least three levels.

I think Kaplan has stolen someone else's homework here.

Multilateralism and integration is alive and well and has been, to my knowledge for at least the last seven years in an Australian context.

By chance yesterday, I learned that Australian Airforce instructors are now learning to land on U.S. carriers. We already have Abrams tanks, and the Delamere Airforce range up North is the only fully "computerised" range I'm aware of outside the U.S. - everybody uses it, Thai, Singapore, U.S. and so on, same with the training facilities up there.

But Kaplans article still contains the same narcissistic American drivel that drives me to distraction, and by coincidence, it is the same drivel that was spouted by the British about Americans from 1770 to 1778.

I'm rereading Barbara Tuchmans "the March of Folly" yet again, and frankly, her description of the behaviour of the British Government of the day sounds exactly like the Bush Administration and Congress.

The mistake of the British of course, was overweaning pride and belief that they had such "technological" superiority over the Americans that their rebellion could not possibly succeed. Sounds familiar?

The Chinese are not stupid. Neither are the Russians. What passes for market economies in both countries are infinitely more capable of producing quality weapons of reasonable sophistication at much higher rates than their old command economies. Concern for my own skin prevents me from offering comparisons.

In my opinion, their science is considerably better than American science these days and the usual breezy assumption of American technical dominance of ANY battlefield may just turn out to be myth.

.....And of course absent that one assumption, technical dominance, and the American empire is just a house of cards, just like the American economy.

And furthermore, what gets my goat is Kaplan's tone in laying out what we might do tot he Chinese. How do you think you would feel if the boot was on the other foot and Chinese journalists were calmly discussing the names of the American cities they were willing to destroy and idly speculating about the hundreds of thousands of American casualties their attacks would cause, before dismissing them as mere "collateral damage"?

Clifford Kiracofe

CSTAR, very interesting insight and comment.

All, for those interested in a sophisticated technical study to compare with Kaplan's neocon Yellow Perilism see,
Michael D. Swaine and Ashley J. Tellis, Interpreting China's Grand Strategy (Santa Monica: RAND,2000). In the Conclusion:

"If both preemptive containment and preemptive appeasement of China are then judged to be premature as basic strategies, the only broad surviving policy option for the United States remains some form of realistic engagement." (p.238).

John Howley

More Burns, please.

A recent analysis of US-China nuclear strategy from the Federation of American Scientists can be found at http://www.nukestrat.com/china/chinareport.htm.

John Hammer

I really don't see what everybody is getting so upset about. Locking China into a rule set that is favorable to the U.S. and forging alliances that deter military conflict, well there are worse things one can do.

Jon Stopa

As the American economy staggers from side to side like a drunken sailor, one has to ask about the power of T-bills! One way to empire is to cause your foolish opponent to pull his pockets inside out, then evect him from his castle.

On Chine

Here's Tom Barnett's review of this Kaplan piece from May 2005.


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