who’s afraid of the big, bad chinese dragon?

September 21, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert Gates had plenty of good press lavished on him over the years, much of that press focused on his campaign against wasteful spending to prepare for wars that might never be fought. And when you take down multi-billion dollar projects typically described as absurdly over budget, totally unnecessary, or plagued with delays, it’s hard not to win some well-deserved praise for reigning in Pentagon’s excesses. But while cost-cutting might make you popular with many, there will be those who use that cost-cutting as ammo for a shot across the bow, as in the case of retired general Charlie Dunlap, who fired off a public missive that criticized Gates for everything from his personal income, to a lack of long-term vision, asserting that with an emphasis on cost-cutting and responding only to immediate military needs, the Pentagon could find itself unprepared for a potential threat from China. The former general, it seems, sees it as a sleeping dragon…

Judging by some media coverage, Dunlap isn’t the only one afraid of what could happen if China decided that it wants to flex its muscle in the Pacific. With articles alleging quantum communication breakthroughs slated for military purposes, rumors of a missile capable of taking out a U.S. naval carrier, and reports of many of South Asia’s militaries shelling out billions for high tech weapons as an insurance policy certainly seem to indicate that China is being recognized as not only a major world power, but a big player in the world’s military and economic stages, a superpower ascendant. And so you might see the logic espoused by Dunlap, that all the counterinsurgency operations being undertaken by the military are immensely important, but not at a cost that would leave the nation ill prepared for another conventional war at some point in the future. We should be keeping in mind that the Pentagon spent over half a century focused on the long term, fighting wars with guns and aircraft designed to be used primarily against the USSR and its proxies, and then anyone who decides to start a war, of course. Having a potentially militarily aggressive China on the horizon follows the old blueprints of getting ready for the wars of tomorrow today.

But is Dunlap right? Is China a potential USSR 2.0 and will the U.S. need to be ready for an attack? Well, while the China we know today has a long history with the USSR and Russia, it’s not a redux of the Soviet Union. It’s a very different nation and one that’s far more interested in keeping its economy revving than building empires for the sake of ideology. Militarily, it can, and certainly would, pose a major challenge to any country, but it also relies on foreign investment to keep its people fed, employed, and happy. Scare away the major corporations’ buyers, and all that economic growth might come screeching to a halt. Likewise, it’s surrounded by neighbors which aren’t too happy about letting it have its way around the Pacific, and which can call on the U.S. for help if they feel threatened, a nation which just happens to be a key trading partner, debtor, and customer. Why go to war with your biggest source of income rather than settle whatever the dispute may be and go back to making money? During the Cold War, the U.S. wasn’t tied at the hip with the USSR and so both nations could pursue grand plans for world wars and terrifying doctrines like M.A.D. This time around, things are different.

While China and America are highly interdependent, it’s more than likely that a display of saber-rattling will be just that, a show to remind the world that China is becoming a superpower, an economic, military and political force to be reckoned with. An actual war, or an outright attack on American commercial interests in Taiwan, or any other South Asian nation, might cost China more than just buying the resources it needs. It’s crucial for all countries to stay vigilant and be prepared to defend themselves and their allies, but we need to recognize that a world defined by commerce and intertwined by the internet, is a world in which conventional wars require a complex political calculus to plan and carry out, and our degree of vigilance could certainly vary when it comes to China, especially since its military spending is still behind that of the U.S…

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  • The ruling Chinese oligarchy believes that American politicians are ruled by the corporations. So as long as China can get US corporations to appease its will, they can pretty much use them to control US politicians and rule America and Americans without a shot.

  • Greg Fish

    … at the same time, if the very same companies writing out big checks to politicians will start fearing China and push their campaign funds’ recipients hard enough, there would be a push back against the nation.

    Again, this is a matter of calculated balance, rather than China trying to rule the U.S. by economic proxy. You can only give people so much money to overlook what it is you’re really doing and when the money’s gone, there will be consequences.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Has there ever been a situation in history where one major power was thoroughly in debt to its leading rival?

    I can’t think of one (though economic history is among my many weak points).

    That said, it seems that throughout the post-Mao era, Beijing has been at least one lap ahead of Washington in terms of strategic thinking and dealing with the unprecedented.

  • Paul

    “Why go to war with your biggest source of income rather than settle whatever the dispute may be and go back to making money?”

    Reasons for going to war aren’t necessarily logical. The sabre-rattling that leads to war, not necessarily in a nation’s own best interests.

    Look at Taiwan. They are an independent nation by any reasoned measure. They are protected by the US against invasion/conquest. They are deeply entwined in China’s economy. And China looks like a bully, and a stupid bully at that, by making military threats whenever anyone in Taiwan or the US makes comments about Taiwan’s independence.

    So why doesn’t China simply recognise Taiwan’s independence?

    It would eliminate a major instability in the region, make China look more sensible /trustworthy. It would likely increase Taiwan’s economic dependence on China, and reduce US influence and military presence in the region. All win for China. Any supposed loss-of-face is vastly outweighed by promoting China’s image (both externally, and for internal consumption) as a modernist, progressive nation, able to do business with Western democracies.

    But any mention of Taiwanese independence and China suddenly sounds like North Korea or Iran, mad Generals shouting about how they’ll destroy the foreign devil threat to their sovereignty.

  • Paul

    (Oh, and just to be fair. Also look at the US and Cuba. Same dipshit cock-waving.)

  • Anonymous

    It’s Russia -CZAR Putin the USA should Fear the Most and ISRAEL too for they SPY and with Russia Hack the USA.