“How We Would Fight China”

Update: To avoid copyright issues, I am removing the PDF file that was sent to me. You can learn quite a bit about Kaplan’s article here.

Robert Kaplan’s excellent but unlinkable article from the Atlantic Monthly is available here in its entirety long, detailed, and quite gripping. Sample:

In any naval encounter China will have distinct advantages over the United States, even if it lags in technological military prowess. It has the benefit, for one thing, of sheer proximity. Its military is an avid student of the competition, and a fast learner. It has growing increments of “soft” power that demonstrate a particular gift for adaptation. While stateless terrorists fill security vacuums, the Chinese fill economic ones. All over the globe, in such disparate places as the troubled Pacific Island states of Oceania, the Panama Canal zone, and out-of-the-way African nations, the Chinese are becoming masters of indirect influence—by establishing business communities and diplomatic outposts, by negotiating construction and trade agreements. Pulsing with consumer and martial energy, and boasting a peasantry that, unlike others in history, is overwhelmingly literate, China constitutes the principal conventional threat to America’s liberal imperium.

Kaplan is no neo-con, by the way. Read it all when you have time.

Update: As I read through it again, I realized we’d all better pray nothing like this ever happens.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

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The Discussion: 19 Comments

a running dog?
It seems the true paper tiger is here.:)
http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm

April 29, 2005 @ 5:33 pm | Comment

Very interesting article. What struck me throughout is that America is threatened by war with China not for any ideological reasons (the author himself says the CCP is justifiably trying to ‘liberate’ its 1.3 billion people from a its developmental straightjacket) or defence (China’s involvement is asymetrical “like terrorists” and built upon economic bribery of the region rather than miltary posturing – a sort of ‘RMB imperialism’ as Molotov would put it), but simply because the US isn’t budging from its current theatre. Well, wasn’t that the USSR’s argument for being in East Europe? We’re there and we’re not moving?

April 29, 2005 @ 7:36 pm | Comment

Why not in HTML?:
http://www.tuur.be/duck/

April 30, 2005 @ 12:15 am | Comment

Finally, I think most people accept that something along the lines explored in the article will inevitably happen. To what greater or lesser extent, we obviously can’t predict.

PRC is already, as Keir mentions above, making huge diplomatic global incursions with it’s RMB Imperialism. I don’t believe that such a gung-ho diplomatic policy is only meant to acquire resources and markets for a peace-loving PRC to advance the living standards of it’s poor peasants.

April 30, 2005 @ 3:08 am | Comment

americans basically accept w/o a doubt that china is the next enemy. americans don’t know how to live w/o an enemy. we don’t like any one until we’ve beaten them in some kind of war – england, american revolution; france, french and indian war (not to mention we saved their asses twice); spain, spanish american war; jap/germany, ww2/ww1; russia, cold war; china, chinese revolu, no… kor, no… viet, no… economic collap… no. how is america supposed to feel superior?! americans (the type that writes these things) won’t like china until china bows to american dominance, be it in the form of economic collapse or political “regime change.” THAT’s the real story.

April 30, 2005 @ 3:35 am | Comment

Kaplan a non-neocon? I’m not so sure. He seems to have little trouble accepting their basic goal of a global Pax Americana as the only acceptable alternative to a multi-polar world. His paranoia about Europe, particularly about a European military alliance with China, fits in pretty well with the neocon worldview, too.

On the other hand, he (unlike most of the True Believers) seems to think that the EU is poised to become a strong competitor to the U.S. The conventional wisdom is that Europe is doomed to slow, steady economic and geopolitical decline, and ultimately irrelevance.

But unlike the U.S., Europe isn’t in hock to the Chinese, and it’s much better positioned to cope with the upcoming era of resource scarcity. Not to mention the fact that European élites are not actively seeking to abolish the Enlightenment and turn their countries into strict social-Darwinist theocratic monocultures, as the U.S. élites are.

Not that I’m blind to the tremendous problems facing Europe, but personally I think the future belongs to those societies that choose fiscal responsibility, sustainability, and genuine pluralism. The U.S., though, is boldly marching in the opposite direction — and China, despite its (evidently falsified) rosy economic statistics and its apparent progress toward some form of non-totalitarianism, is severely hobbled too (Gordon Chang, q.v.).

April 30, 2005 @ 4:17 am | Comment

Personally, I think India should be the power to watch with it’s large, educated, English speaking, and culturally connected high tech workforce and relatively stable democratic political culture. This is assuming that the Kashmir problem is kept in check.

April 30, 2005 @ 11:56 am | Comment

Thank you for that, and no, KAPLAN IS NO NEO-CON! Does Vaara know what the word means? Kaplan has always been a moderate conservative and has no kind words for the spread of democracy for democracy’s sake.

April 30, 2005 @ 2:55 pm | Comment

Kaplan has been a longtime favorite of mine. One of Bill ‘ I never had sex with that woman” Clinton’s
favorite books and mine is; “The Coming Anarchy”, as well as “Warrior Politics”
I just received my issue of Atlantic Monthly and look forward to reading Ben Schwarz’s article too.
Kaplan has a keen oberservational eye. He believes, for instance that a war in the Middle East may actually come about because of water not idealogy.
We can see those kinds of environmental stresses in China (and India) Water, air, too many males..China has a plethora of internal issues to address. Will these internal issues be resolved?

April 30, 2005 @ 4:00 pm | Comment

Interesting article. I like the tone of the article portraying the US military forces as a benign and positive force bringing order and democracy to an unruly world. Meanwhile China is portrayed as an unknown force like a teenager who’s going to grow up and we don’t know how he’s going to turn out. In order to keep him straight and narrow, we have to be prepared to use force like a good beating. In other words, the US is a stern but loving parent who’s doing all this for China’s own good. So the US will have to surround China with military bases bristling with soldiers and advanced weapons.

Realistically, China is no match for the US in naval or air strength. They may have thousands of jet fighters but most are old, obsolete junk. They have only about 100 frontline fighters which are countered by the US with their 2000 frontline fighters. The disparity is only going to get worse as the US is going ahead with the production of the F-22 Raptor Stealth fighter at $70 million dollars apiece. The Chinese navy is strictly a brown water fleet rarely leaving their own waters preferring to patrol. They don’t have an aircraft carrier, no intention of buying one from the Russians, and no capability to build one. It would take decades for the Chinese to build a military to counter the US and would probably end up bankrupting them.

One of the interesting points Kaplan makes is finding a cooperative security location or military base in some host country near China. What the hell for? According to Chalmers Johnson’s book, Sorrows of Empire, the US already has around 725 military bases scattered in 130 odd countries! This doesn’t include the hundreds of bases in America. Don’t tell me the US is short of bases to fight a war with China. During the Afghanistan invasion, the US built numerous bases in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan. I’ve lost track of how many. In Iraq, despite calls for a pullout of US forces, they’ve already built or planning to built 15 permanent bases.

While the US likes to talk about peace and democracy, ringing China with military forces doesn’t speak of goodwill. Central Asia is China’s and Russia’s backyard. Why is the US there? Is it because Central Asia has one of the largest untapped reserves of oil in the world? There’s talk of turning Japan into the Great Britain of the Pacific, making it into an armed camp and building up its military forces.

This article is typical of China demonizing in order to build her up as the next enemy. Without a potential enemy, there’s no need for expensive toys like the F-22 Raptor or the DD(X) destroyer that will cost $3 billion dollars apiece. China isn’t going to fight anybody unless it’s over Taiwan. It’s unfortunate that this author is predicting or calling for a new Cold War.

April 30, 2005 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

I dunno…I think it’s more “calling for” than predicting to some extent. Because I just don’t see a full-on Cold or Hot war happening between the US and China given the degree of economic interdependence. Should something happen to change that, then, we’ll see…

April 30, 2005 @ 7:21 pm | Comment

I agree with Varaa – Kaplan is a neo-con, though not an intimate of the core group around the Kristols and Podhoretzs. Kaplan’s position in Warrior Politics is very close to those of the lovely Kagans, pers et fils, Donald and Robert, who are core neo-cons. Warrior Politics could even be seen as Straussian.

April 30, 2005 @ 9:43 pm | Comment

wkl, interesting, and a lot of what you say is true enough, certainly at the moment.

I’m, however, still more concerned about the years to come if the PRC continues to emphasise military development, diplomatic alliances etc.

Don’t underestimate the mood in the PRC (China ruled world for centuries but was recently taken over by the west and should now ready itself for it’s rightful place as the sole superpower etc). It appears to me that the PRC is on track to unrivalled superpower status and the only country standing in its way is, ultimately, the US.

May 1, 2005 @ 12:39 am | Comment

I always thought of Kaplan as a level-headed conservative, not a Heritage Foundation/NRO neo-con.

To those who criticize the Pax Americana, I am largely with you, and I agree that we wouldn’t be so concerend abut a lot of the world’s hot spots if we didn’t think there were hefty sources of oil under the land or water.

To those who insist we always need an enemy and now it’s China, I am not so convinced. The GOP knows where its bread is buttererd, and that if it vilifies China it threatens an already shaky economy. And we have the perfect villain already, Islamofascism. To point to America as though we are the only one with “enemies” isn’t fair. Every great country has had enemies, real or perceived, China as many as the US.

May 1, 2005 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

MJO, there’s three different categories of deciding whether a country is a superpower such as militarily, politically, and economically. The United States is a superpower in all three categories. The former USSR was a superpower only in militarily terms. Japan and Germany are superpowers economically but not militarily or politically. Actually, Japan and Germany have strong militaries but are unlikely to use them in a hostile fashion in the near future. Given their past, both are political dwarfs given their size and economic influence.

China is a rising power only economically. Despite its military budget, China is actually downsizing their army trying to upgrade the equipment and training to become a modern army. The navy and air force is presently way behind the West technologically and in numbers. I seriously doubt they can ever lead the world politically like the US does presently or Great Britain in the past since we don’t share a common history.

Richard, the US always needs an enemy to justify the military budget. When the Bush administration came into power in 2001, it decided to cast China as the next Evil Empire. Most of the ICBMs had their targeting switched from Russia to China. The administration decided to provoke China by launching an aggressive surveillance campaign by having spy planes monitor Chinese military communications just outside China’s territorial waters. The Chinese responded by sending up their own fighters to harass the spy planes in a game of chicken. What nobody expected was the Chinese to actually bring down a spy plane even though it was an accident which led to the spy plane incident in 2001. Shortly afterwards came 9/11 and the administration focus was suddenly switched to Islamic terrorism taking the pressure off China.

China is needed as a potential enemy because most of the new weapons the US military is planning to buy is useless for fighting Islamic terrorists. What use is having stealth destroyers or stealth fighter jets against shadowy targets whose weapons are knives and bombs? Recently the New York Times ran a couple of articles questioning why these new equipment is even necessary. The F-15 Eagle fighter which is the current main fighter is more than a match for any Russian or Chinese fighter. The only reason why it’s necessary to build hundreds of new F-22 Raptor Stealth fighters at $70 million apiece is to provide jobs for the military industry.

May 1, 2005 @ 8:41 pm | Comment

Gee, wkl, you must be able to read minds. How do you know to the letter what motivates America’s government? Do you really think we decided to villify China in 2001? Because I have a vivid memory of Bush standing with Jiang Zemin wearing one of those ostentatious jackets in China and having a ball, and I recall his sharp castigation of Taiwan earlier this year for pushing independence. Can you find people in the Bush regime who see China as a deadly enemy? Certainly. And others are very pro-China and know our economy depends on China’s to a large extent. The more ornery Cold Warrior types want to take us back to the 50s, and while their voices are getting louder I haven’t seen much substance to prove Bush is going to follow them; quite the opposite.

That stuff about America always needing an enemy — with respect, it sounds like one of those broad generalities I hear so often from certain commenters here (“Americans do this” and “Japanese do that”). And you completelty avoided my point that for the past four years we have had the perfect enemy, which can be used to justify infinite arms sales and limitless military spending, namely Islamofascism. China is not hated by Americans, it is greatly admired, and definitely feared from a jobs standpoint. But the US isn’t presenting China to us as an enemy; that’s a fantasy. Clinton and Bush took extraordinary steps to reach out to China and tell the Americans they are our vital trade partner (not to mention our one hope of dealing with the DPRK).

May 1, 2005 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

How the Bush administration saw China coming into power in 2001 is common knowledge. Anybody can just Google China US relations. You can read books like Gwynne Dyer’s – Future Tense: The Coming World Order or Anatol Lieven – America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. I don’t need to read minds. I can find many articles and sources to back up my points.

I haven’t ignored the threat of Islamic Terrorism. My point was 9/11 came a few months after the spy plane incident. With that the Bush administration had to continue a Clintonesque policy of engaging China and having friendly relations. China is a big supporter on the War on Terrorism. They couldn’t afford to fight two wars and have a hostile policy towards China. It’s well known coming into power Bush and his team were clueless about Islamic terrorism and had ignored warnings about Osama Bin Laden.

May 2, 2005 @ 5:25 am | Comment

Kim Jong Il, missiles, nukes….yea I’m sleeping w

Here’s what I don’t understand. If China, really wanted a free hand to take back Taiwan, then why don’t they offer up ol Kim on a silver platter. I mean it, pack him off to the looney bin, and let Korea reunify. For China it would not be anymore of a…

May 3, 2005 @ 1:40 am | Comment

The military always needs an enemy because without one the enemies of the military will cut it’s budget to the point where the U.S. will be caught with it’s pants down. Unfortunately a democracy is still not mature enough to spend money on preventative maintainence of peace. WW2 is proof. the Korean War is proof, and even the current war is proof. The military was heavily cut by Clinton and the Republican Congress, and U.S. operational capability suffered as a result.
Nobody is picking China to be the enemy, they are just looking at the most likely threats. If China turns out to be friendly to the U.S., then the U.S. can rest easy. But if China turns out to be a threat (and with Chinese Generals saying things like “America cares more about Los Angeles than Taiwan” and “War with America is inevitable”) you can’t blame people who say better safe than sorry.

May 12, 2005 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

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