Monday, October 19, 2015

October 19 2015. If one economy expands at 2% and the other at 7 to 10%, will the first one remain the strongest military power in the world? Answer in one two letter word.






Tai Ming's avatar image.Tai Ming asked Victor O'Reilly:

What do you think about China's continuous aggressive stance and activities in the South China Sea?

As a Military thinker and Economist, what do you think will happen if China continues to push the issue which have every country on edge?


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Fascinating question, Tai.

Right now we are obsessed with terrorism (and not dealing with it particularly effectively--a whole other subject) but I regard the possibility of a war with China as a much greater threat.

War is a truly terrible thing--terrible beyond the ability of most of us to grasp it unless we have experienced it-- but nations have a habit of drifting into it almost casually nonetheless.

Of course, nations, as such, don't initiate wars. They are normally caused by individuals, or relatively small groups of vested interests, who have their own agendas. Then, once conflicts start, they soon develop momentums of their own--regardless of the intentions of those who started them.

The current U.S./China situation (and, yes, I know other nations are involved) reminds me very much of the period preceding WW I when the Great Power of the 19th and early 20th century, the British Empire, was being rapidly overtaken by newly united Germany.

Even though the British and the Germans did have considerable economic ties, and were united through the Royal Families, it still didn't stop one of the most destructive conflicts in human history from breaking out for not particularly good reasons. In fact, if you go through the chain of events which led to WW I--The Great War--it is rather hard to see why it happened at all.

True, Germany felt cocky because of its previous military successes--particularly over France--but the potential downside, one might have thought--would have deterred them. After all, whatever about the likelihood of defeating France, it was quite clear that Britain would enter the picture, and though the British Empire was not particularly strong militarily--it still had the strongest navy in the world, and enormous resources to draw upon.

Nonetheless, the Germans felt threatened (an important point to remember)--as well as cocky--because France had rebuilt its forces, so decided to invade anyway--and the consequences were disastrous on a scale few, if any, had anticipated.

Yes, China's behavior is a cause for concern, particularly because war is often used as a distraction from internal problems--and China faces huge internal problems (include the near certainty that it's own political system will increasingly come under question).

In fact, throughout history, that has been one of the commonest underlying motivations (apart from sheer greed--or so-called 'Wars of Conquest'). Such conflicts not only distract, but they also unite a country against a common enemy, allow those in power to take extraordinary measures to maintain control, and justify the crushing of opposition. In short, what is not to like--if you ignore the costs in blood and treasure, and the possibility that you might lose.

I've actually got a lot of sympathy with China because it hasn't been well treated by the West for most of the last century and a half--something that must be rather hard to forget if you are Chinese. Accordingly, a certain amount of defensiveness and fear disguised as aggression has to be expected.

In addition, the U.S. is very far from blameless. If you look at a map, you will see that China is surrounded by U.S. bases, the U.S. has invaded both China and numerous other countries in the past--sometimes on a fairly major scale, and the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Air Force are both assertive and aggressive.

Then you have to add the Taiwan issue--and let's not forget the Korean War. It happened on China's border--not on America's.

On top of that, you have to add that American politicians--particularly the Right Wing Republicans--have the unfortunate habit of making aggressive and pejorative statements about the Chinese virtually every day--and, in this age of near instant global communications, such remarks do not go unnoticed.

A further factor is the influence of the U.S. Military Industrial Congressional Complex--or MICC. This Washington DC-based, large, and extremely influential group have a vested interest in maintaining a climate of fear in the U.S. because that keeps the vast sums of money spent on defense flowing. That climate of fear needs an enemy to focus on and demonize. For decades, it was the Soviet Union. Now it is China, with terrorism as a fallback. However, terrorism fails in the context of justifying really expensive weapons systems--you need a world-class power for that--so China is a natural.

A recently assertive Russia is a possible contender, but Russia doesn't have the economy to back up its barking, so China remains the main demon.

Here, I am not saying that China is innocent. It is a one-party state with little regard for human rights which has done some pretty terrible things in the past--particularly in Tibet. More recently, it has engaged in industrial espionage on a truly massive scale, fails to play fair when it comes to international trade, is re-arming at a rapid rate, and is, indeed being aggressive in various ways.

A factor which is of particular concern is its rapidly increasing military sophistication, combined with a clear bias towards developing weapons systems which will neutralize the U.S. current military advantages.

There are a number of examples of this, but increasing Chinese success in space, combined with their development of hypersonic missiles seem quite likely to put U.S. carrier groups at risk. In fact, the Chinese have focused on area-denial to the point where they may well achieve it within a few years. That capability won't stop the U.S. Air Force and missiles, but it would certainly hinder going to the aid of Taiwan.

So what should be done about all this? It boils down to Teddy Roosevelt's comment that the U.S. should "Walk softly and carry a big stick."

There is a need for a serious and ongoing diplomatic initiative--part of while must include making it clear PRIVATELY that Chinese aggression will not be tolerated--combined with the U.S. maintaining military dominance to the point where it will remain absolutely clear to the Chinese that the game is not worth the candle.

In other words, that they, the Chinese, would be better off focusing on solving their internal problems rather than being militarily aggressive.

It would help if the U.S. itself was less hegemonic in both style and substance--and also cleaned up its deeply flawed political and economic systems.

Current U.S. policies are not adequate in a whole host of ways. One important aspect concerns the current American Business Model. It isn't working well, and unless it is reformed drastically--and the full potential of the U.S. economy unleashed, China will inevitably overhaul the U.S. is just about every way--without firing a shot

There is a great deal more I could write about this extremely worrying situation--but I'm plain out of time.

My fundamental point is that most of the answer lies in the U.S. getting its act together.

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Thanks for the question, Tai.

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