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Lest We Grow Too Fond of It
December 14, 2013 2:43 AM   Subscribe

The Great War’s Ominous Echoes — "It is tempting — and sobering — to compare today’s relationship between China and America to that between Germany and England a century ago. Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have McDonald’s will never fight one another. Yet the extraordinary growth in trade and investment between China and the United States since the 1980s has not served to allay mutual suspicions. At a time when the two countries are competing for markets, resources and influence from the Caribbean to Central Asia, China has become increasingly ready to translate its economic strength into military power." By Margaret MacMillan, New York Times, December 13, 2013.
posted by cenoxo (74 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
I see that just last week an American warship, the USS Cowpens, was forced to yield to a Chinese aircraft carrier that had set a course to ram into it.

The Kaiser's Germany, a late comer to colonisation and envious of Britain's economic empire, was also itching for a fight. Considering the territorial demands China is making in the Pacific - the unilateral declaration of control over international airspace is but one example - it would seem that China, the toddler who has only recently learned to walk, it getting similarly anxious about it's lack of influence beyond its borders.

Given that the Clinton Administration (at the behest of American finance) granted China MFN, America has very few non-military tools to use to make those people come correct....

That American ship would have made quick work of that Chinese tugboat and perhaps it is a pity that it didn't.
posted by three blind mice at 3:40 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, I believe the McDonald's theory didn't even hold when it was first proposed by Friedman, as NATO countries where bombing Yugoslavia at the time: I don't think any serious analysis is giving it much credence.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:51 AM on December 14, 2013


or maybe it won't happen (despite the aggressive militarism of the US) because China is a nuclear power? and why doesn't she go into the military adventurism that the US is engaging in?

this is a really myopic article which says more about the authors high (colonial) Tory prejudices than anything else. what is it that Frenchman said: "they learn nothing and forget nothing."
posted by ennui.bz at 3:54 AM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


> That American ship would have made quick work of that Chinese tugboat and perhaps it is a pity that it didn't

Regardless of where you stand in the global game, there is little to be gained and much to be lost from violence.

I can't envision China stepping back after a loss of face like that, do you really think it would be prudent to give the Chinese a rallying point?
posted by bystander at 3:54 AM on December 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


it would seem that China, the toddler who has only recently learned to walk, it getting similarly anxious about it's lack of influence beyond its borders.

Chinese vessels have actually been patrolling those waters since before Rome was founded.

That American ship would have made quick work of that Chinese tugboat and perhaps it is a pity that it didn't.

you do realize that war is a bad thing, right?
posted by Avenger at 4:49 AM on December 14, 2013 [44 favorites]


Yeah it's not our mutual possession of McDonalds that assures we won't go to war. But the Cold War killed many too and half-scale hostilities could be devastating. To our economy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:50 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have McDonald’s will never fight one another.

I wondered who would say anything so stupid. Figures that it was Friedman.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:17 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


China is a one-party authoritarian government with fascist tendencies. The USA is a two-party authoritarian government with fascist tendencies. War is inevitable.
posted by Renoroc at 5:21 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


China is a one-party authoritarian government with fascist tendencies. The USA is a two-party authoritarian government with fascist tendencies. War is inevitable.

Just like that inevitable war between the US and USSR?
posted by banal evil at 5:43 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Maybe cooler heads will prevail. Maybe.

But wouldn't war between the US and China - even a limited conflict - be economically devastating for BOTH countries?* Their finances, debts, goods and trades are inextricably linked. I would like to see a reasoned (referenced), cool-headed analysis (does one exist?) of what would happen financially and economically if such a conflict happened.

* Apart from military companies. Who "win". As usual.
posted by Wordshore at 5:52 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just like that inevitable war between the US and USSR?

The Cold War, exactly.
posted by Renoroc at 5:55 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


War is inevitable.

♫ If you want it... ♫
posted by Sys Rq at 6:03 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Isn't this kind of simplistic analysis of the situation?

History has always been one of my weaker subjects, but I thought that WWI was caused more by great(er) powers getting drawn into a regional conflict due to mutual-protection treaties.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:05 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]




History has always been one of my weaker subjects, but I thought that WWI was caused more by great(er) powers getting drawn into a regional conflict due to mutual-protection treaties.

Sort of. One major reason for all those treaties was that there was already an awareness that a big war was inevitable in a geopoliitcal system characterized by large, competing empires with massive standing armies who had been fighting little wars for decades prior. The nationalism which came to characterize empiure -- indeed, which empire sort of needed to justify itself -- plus the rise of the so-called "new nationalisms" among colonized or incorporated communities, usually ethnically self-defined, in the "peripheral" parts of those massive empires created a quite unstable system. Think, for example, not only of the Serbian nationalists who shot the Archduke but also about the Irish independence and Home Rule movements, the emergence of Armenian and Kurdish independence parties, and so on in the period.

The treaties were intended to make war undesirable to the great powers and to ensure a degree of connection with or control over the rising nationalist communities on the part of those same great powers. It didn't work. Not only did a world war occur, but the stage was set for a number of the genocides of the twentieth century.
posted by kewb at 6:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


I read the quarterly Naval War College Review, and they feature articles about Asia (for which I usually read "China") in pretty much every issue. The subjects discussed are tactics, history, the diplomatic aspects, etc., and the tone of most of these is cautious and respectful, but never fearful.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:16 AM on December 14, 2013


I wondered who would say anything so stupid. Figures that it was Friedman.
I actually always figured it was his clock right twice a day comment, because it does truly reveal that greater economic ties reduce the chance of war, mainly because in my opinion, it tends to lesson the desire of the populace to bite the hands that feeds it as supplier or consumer.
In my view there is no limited war between china and america, it is an unmitigated catastrophe. My biggest fear is american "politicians" such as the tea party folk decide they would rather win a catastrophic war than tie a stalemate peace if china keeps growing.
posted by bystander at 6:18 AM on December 14, 2013


But wouldn't war between the US and China - even a limited conflict...

The idea of a "limited conflict" between nuclear powers is basically propaganda. Every war game the US ever played that started with conventional warfare with the USSR ended with nuclear exchanges, and this was reflected in US war plans.

This was one of the things that was particularly criminal about the Reagan era defense build-up: our own military doctrine said that using these weapons against the USSR was prelude to apocalypse. So, unless we are actually suicidal: what were all of those tanks and stealth planes and smart-bombs and anti-missile missiles and cruise missiles for? The decades following the Reagan defense build up have shown that we will use those weapons against nations we don't like who don't possess nuclear weapons.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


In general, when countries look like they are doing everything possible to avoid a war, there's a strong possibility of war.
posted by kewb at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't agree with everything in this article, but I would hesitate to say that it comes out of some kind of hawkism or oversimplification.

Macmillan is one of the world's foremost experts on the First World War, and her opinions carry weight. Saying that the war had complex, multifactoral causes is hardly a 'simplistic analysis' and is not only (in my view) kind of true, it's also a vital lesson for today.

Like the people of a century ago, we are too sanguine in our beliefs that trade and connectedness will keep us safe, that leaders are all reasonable and that "that sort of thing just doesn't happen any more". Like them, too, we have largely lost our visceral horror of war. We have shown a disturbing tendency, that echoes those days, to consider very aggressive jingoism to be 'populist' and the self-interested acts of rival nations to be almost personal affronts to ourselves.

There's one big difference, though: back in 1914, there was a generally high level of education about military affairs among both voters and politicians. They might have been wrong about stuff, but they were wrong from an informed starting point. Today, military knowledge is almost the exclusive province of the military, and that is really dangerous.
posted by Dreadnought at 6:39 AM on December 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


drawn into a regional conflict due to mutual-protection treaties.

Mark my words: If we get into a hot war with China, it will be over Taiwan. One day they will decide to re-assert their claim to their "renegate territory" and expect us to blink, as Great Britain did over Hong Kong. But we won't.
posted by localroger at 6:50 AM on December 14, 2013




(Dreadnought: eponysterical:) Dreadnought (1992) explains how complex and closely-held relationships were between European powers in the years leading up to WWII, yet how powerless they were to contain it once the lid was opened. Their prewar competition to build technically advanced Dreadnought class battleships consumed tremendous resources, yet the ships themselves had relatively little direct effect on the war's outcome.
posted by cenoxo at 7:17 AM on December 14, 2013


Mark my words: If we get into a hot war with China, it will be over Taiwan. One day they will decide to re-assert their claim to their "renegate territory" and expect us to blink, as Great Britain did over Hong Kong. But we won't.

Err, we had a lease with a set expiry.
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on December 14, 2013 [23 favorites]


This feels like a remarkably simplistic assessment, particularly coming from a scholar of MacMillan's stature.

First of all, Germany wasn't looking for a fight with England. Hell, it's plans for attacking France and Russia depended on staying out of the war. And for all the complicated web of alliances at the time, it was Germany's invasion of Belgium, of all places, that drew the British into the war.

Also, where exactly would China be if it couldn't export to the US anymore?

Further, I'm no economist, but can someone explain what would happen to the US if it were suddenly at war with a country that holds a huge chunk of its national debt? I don't honestly know, but it can't be good.

The world has had a lot of practice at putting systems in place that keep major wars from breaking out.
posted by dry white toast at 7:26 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Germany was the height of high-tech, and thought they were exceptional.... and so does the US.

England was an older, and had a longer tradition of trade... just like China does.


So... yes, we could be emulating Germany going into WWI with England, or WWII for that matter.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:31 AM on December 14, 2013


Obviously it is not at all certain that the United States and China won't go to war. But of all the states in the world that are not formal US allies, I'd put China down as the one we're least likely to go to war with.

Too many people in both countries are making too much money off of US-China trade for it to happen. CCP officials send their kids to school here, and many of those kids end up becoming permanent residents. Prominent American businesspeople - the people who run the government - have deep ties to China, and American companies have extensive Chinese operations.

But those are just the elite concerns. A war with America would shut off Chinese access to trade with the entire west, and it's that trade access that keeps the factories in Guangdong humming. Without those factories, you've got hundreds of millions of laborers suddenly idled and facing conscription into an army preparing to fight a superpower. Civil unrest would be off the charts.

Here in America you'd see an immediate spike in the price of just about every consumer good. I truthfully do not know how Americans would respond to that (and I'm not saying that pejoratively, I think it's OK that people want cheap stuff).

And so on both sides you'd have incredibly strong mitigating factors in any run-up to war. Almost certainly, cooler heads would prevail.
posted by downing street memo at 7:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


Robert Wright once said that there's no way that we are going to go to war against the country that makes our alarm clocks.
posted by goethean at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast has a very timely WWI episode exploring the background and political situation that led up to it, Blueprint for Armageddon I.

A major theme of the second half is how utterly unprepared and taken aback the British people were that it happened in a time of apparent widespread peace.

Of course, another major reason it happened at all was the abject absence of competent leadership in at least 3 major world powers saddled with effectively incompetent monarchies. Today at least most countries are lead by nominally meritocratic power structures, which hopefully would be able to pull back from the brink.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:56 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Although the discussion is interesting, I don't honestly think we have a sufficiently established common understanding of WWI to be able to use it as a guide to similar situations, even if the parallels were much closer than they actually are. WWI isn't even a guide to WWII.
posted by Segundus at 8:05 AM on December 14, 2013


History has always been one of my weaker subjects, but I thought that WWI was caused more by great(er) powers getting drawn into a regional conflict due to mutual-protection treaties.

While that was a big part of it, there were several scores that the European powers were itching to settle and they'd all been in an arms race for quite a while. The French resented Germany for the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian war, and the Kaiser's open desire for a navy as strong as Britain's was perceived as a direct provocation by that island nation.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:11 AM on December 14, 2013


Artw, the lease was for the New Territories, while the island of Hong Kong was ceded in perpetuity, but in the post-colonial climate of the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed fitting to hand back the entire deal.
posted by sudasana at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2013


I can't envision China stepping back after a loss of face like that, do you really think it would be prudent to give the Chinese a rallying point?

Isn't the US losing a lot of face by moving its ships out of the way of trolling Chinese aggressors? By kowtowing to demands that China has unilaterally imposed in waters and airspace that doesn't belong to China?

Also, does China really need the US? The Chinese middle class is much larger than the population of the US (let alone the middle class population of the US). Perhaps Guangdong perhaps doesn't need the small and impoverished American market any more.

Everything in America is failing. The infrastructure is crumbling. Major cities are now burned-out carcasses. Political parties are eating themselves. Public education is the shits and public healthcare is no better. The nation is a hollow shell.

And it is an insanely proud nation, full to overflowing with patriotism and manifest destiny.

Saving face is an issue for the USA, not China. China is putting men on the moon. The US is putting men in breadlines.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Having done graduate studies in World I history, I must disagree with her assessment. First, China, unlike Germany, cannot engage its rival, the US militarily, let alone Japan and the US. Its carrier is old, out of date and lacks steam catapults and aerial refueling capability, making its light J-15 fighter unable to meet the US on equal terms. The US has 11 carrier groups, 1 of which, forward deployed in Japan could probably fight off all Chinese ground-based aircraft and sink the entire Chinese fleet.

In contrast, Germany had an immediate ability to engage its rivals, on land with a fully equipped first-rate modern army.

Second, the First World War did not come out of a vaccum. It was the product of a war 40 years earlier between France and Prussia. Here, the tensions are more of a rising power against more established powers.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 AM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, does China really need the US?

Unequivocally, yes. (for the non-statistically inclined, these links demonstrate that China is by far the largest single holder of US debt, and that direct exports to the US comprise around 5% of Chinese GDP.)

Everything in America is failing. The infrastructure is crumbling. Major cities are now burned-out carcasses. Political parties are eating themselves. Public education is the shits and public healthcare is no better. The nation is a hollow shell.

Evidence suggests that several of these things are problems of varying scope, but nothing points to apocalypse being around the corner. Infrastructure is a problem, yes, but one would expect it to be a problem ~ 100 years after most of it was built. Some of our cities are in dire shape, but many others are healthier than they've ever been, and even most of the ones in dire shape will be put right with time. Public education in America is generally quite good, outside of selected low-income urban and rural districts. Healthcare in America is among the best in the world, presuming you have access to it, which most do and which everyone else will have shortly.

China is putting men on the moon.

No, they aren't.
posted by downing street memo at 8:57 AM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


In other words what I'm saying here is that a war with the US would almost certainly put China into a deep economic depression, in both the short and medium terms.
posted by downing street memo at 9:02 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Saving face is an issue for the USA, not China. China is putting men on the moon. The US is putting men in breadlines.

China has a ways to go. One of my good friends used to have the job of examining the books of Chinese companies to determine whether violations of US anti-dumping laws were occuring. The Chinese enterprise would have a high-powered US law firm at the table. The factory would bring out its books showing no violation. The regulators would then say to the US lawyers that these weren't the real books. So a second set of books would be produced showing a borderline case. Again she would say these aren't the real books. Finally, the real set of books would come out. They would inevitably be a mess and it would turn out the company had no idea if they were dumping and were not exactly sure they were making a profit. China's businesses have incredibly weak accounting and the last 3 years they have been shorted by Wall Street to devistating effect.

China is growing six ways to Sunday, but there is a contraction waiting to happen--it must become transparent to keep up or foreign investment will dry up.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:20 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


"... the roots of the predatory ideologies of fascism and Soviet Communism were taking hold."

What? No props for the predatory ideology of capitalism? Psha!
posted by shoesfullofdust at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everything in America is failing.

I'm no patriot jingoist by any stretch of the imagination, but did you actually write all that with a straight face?
posted by chimaera at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


In 1914, the then quite new Germany, a unified state only since 1870, was primarily afraid of Russia, whose economy was booming and whose modernization was in full swing. (It is easy for us to forget that East Prussia, with common borders with the Russian Empire, was a Prussian heimatland.) Moreover, it was an article of faith among the German military that war with Russia was inevitable, and, given the temporary superiority of the German military, that war needed to come sooner rather than later. Because of the Entente between France and Russia, the expectation was that France wold have to be neutralized in order to prevent a two-front war. Hence, the Schlieffen Plan to knock France out quickly so that the Bear cold be dealt with in due course. Germany relied on its nonpareil rail system—the best in Europe by far—to speed its mobilization beyond its rivals.

As to Britain, because of the stupidity of Kaiser Wilhelm—ironically, half English himself, as is often forgotten—Germany embarked on a foolish, ill-starred expansion of its fleet to rival Great Britain's. This was the one thing that Britain could not countenance. There was no other real casus belli between them, but the naval threat, coupled with Kaiser Billy's rash adventurism, made the British amenable to join with France and Russia—a stunning reversal of alliances that further stoked German paranoia.

I do not see a strong parallel with the Great War era today. Rather, I hear echoes of the confrontational attitudes of Japan and the US during the interwar period. Both countries war-gamed against each other's fleet, and the US "pivoted" to the Pacific as Japan's naval capabilities grew, especially after Japan's design's on China were made clear. Japan, like China today, was seeking instant Great Power status in Asia, and saw the US—rather than the European colonial powers—as its primary hindrance in that effort. In marked contrat to the situation today between the US and China, however, the US was a primary supplier of commodities and goods to Japan, with the balance of trade especially heavy in favor of the US. Over 90% of Japan's oil was supplied by the US. Nevertheless, the net result of the institutional opposition was a naval war—just as both side's had war-gamed.

The US' "pivot" to Asia, i.e., against China, evokes the prior pivot against Japan. It augurs just as ill for all concerned. Just as Japan the the US should have attempted peacefully to compose their differences in the 1930s, the US and China should be building on their mutually advantageous commercial relationship without the saber-rattling on both sides that threatens world peace for no more reason than did the Kaiser's mad desire for a navy to surpass Britain's.

As the adage goes, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. For those interested in the run up to the Great War, I recommend Sir Max Hastings' "Conflagration 1914" and Christopher Clark's "The Sleepwalkers." I think Hastings has it rather more right than Clark in ascribing primary blame to Germany, but both books illuminate the hubris and miscalculation that resulted in the destruction of dynastic Europe and the planting of the foul seeds that led both to WWII and the Cold War.
posted by rdone at 9:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is total war even possible between nuclear powers? A real war between China and the US wouldn't be some high-tech naval / aerial fight over the China Sea; it would be a week long nuclear exchange that would kill hundreds of millions of people, and I think China and the US both know it.
posted by Oxydude at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2013


War with China is unthinkable.

Wars happen when vain foolish people start imagining them. They happen because vain foolish people start imagining them. The chest beating, the concerns about the inflated chests of the other side leading to generals sucking up even more, the personification of groups of people, the darkly ominous warnings about future hostility have all been the same since the beginning of recorded history, and they aren't caused by wars - they cause them.

War with China would lead to a mass slaughter of people who wouldn't be the assholes who dreamed up the war, it would have the potential to lead to nuclear conflict, and is fundamentally unacceptable to even consider in the modern world. This kind of thinking is and must forever be an anachronism of days past.

Anything else is unthinkable.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:58 AM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Fries Must Flow...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The US' "pivot" to Asia, i.e., against China, evokes the prior pivot against Japan. It augurs just as ill for all concerned.

The pivot towards Asia is in part "against" Japan, or at least an attempt to maintain the post-WWII military relationship. The US would prefer that East Asia remain diplomatically bipolar: China ~ US, and not devolve to some multi-polar arrangement where Japan, in particular, is more aggressive internationally. The pivot also represents an "Americanization" of the cold war situation e.g. Vietnam was, of course, a UN mission.

The basic problem is that the US doesn't understood how the limits built into the international institutions it built (or people like Marshall and Kennan built) serve US interests (or even work,) as witnessed in Iraq... much like the Athenians didn't understand the Delian league.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:12 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US has 11 carrier groups, 1 of which, forward deployed in Japan could probably fight off all Chinese ground-based aircraft and sink the entire Chinese fleet.

Perhaps, assuming that the next Great War will be fought like the last one. China has its own power projection plans with their DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).
posted by cenoxo at 10:24 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


War. War never changes ...
posted by walrus at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is total war even possible between nuclear powers? A real war between China and the US wouldn't be some high-tech naval / aerial fight over the China Sea; it would be a week long nuclear exchange that would kill hundreds of millions of people, and I think China and the US both know it.

China has about 60 ICBMs and only about 240 total warheads. The US has thousands of warheads it could hit China with. The Chinese are not getting into a nuclear exchange. The UK has more nuclear weapons and delivery capability.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2013


The 'no two countries with democracy will fight each other' May be hogwash, but it's corrollary-that democracies do not fight each other-is more relevant and an established fact
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:34 AM on December 14, 2013


small and impoverished American market

Neither of those descriptors is accurate. Especially the former.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:36 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps, assuming that the next Great War will be fought like the last one. China has its own power projection plans with their DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).

It only has a range of 1,100 miles. The carriers will stay out of that range and use aircraft that are mid-air refueled from the carrier's own tankers.

China is not a comperable military power at this time except on its own soil.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:37 AM on December 14, 2013


So, we'll be home by Christmas!
posted by thelonius at 11:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


One's own soil is where it finally matters. DF-21 ASBMs are within range of contested areas of the South China Sea and East China Sea, not to mention Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. American carrier aircraft, even if refueled, will probably not be allowed to fly unopposed over (or near) targets on Chinese territory.
posted by cenoxo at 11:59 AM on December 14, 2013


this is a really myopic article which says more about the authors high (colonial) Tory prejudices than anything else. what is it that Frenchman said: "they learn nothing and forget nothing."

That would be Talleyrand, referring to the Bourbons. (No Tories in France, though I don't expect you were implying there were.)

War with China is unthinkable.

Clearly not. Unthinkable, that is. War in Asia will happen. Question is, does America want to be part of it? Not me. Can't think of thing there I would die for or send my child to die for.

Worth noting that Abe's trying to chum up with fellow Asian nations into an alliance against the PRC. (Fly in ointment -Asia's long memory of Japan's role in WWII). And that for the moment, Taiwan and the PRC are making nice nice.

I'd be fascinated to know what kind of feed back American diplomats are getting from various Asian foreign ministries these days, and what the different ones are saying behind closed doors.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:07 PM on December 14, 2013


dsm, China has talked about putting men on the moon. They will do so, I have no doubt. It is a necessary step toward colonizing off-planet. Meanwhile, the USA is downsizing its space efforts.

omdtlp: As for needing the US, and as for Guangdong markets, the Chinese middle class alone will soon be double the entire population of the USA. If the US has anything China wants, it's a lot of empty and relatively unpolluted land and raw resources. It has very little need for actual US people and their ever-thinner wallets.

chimeara: Name some important things that are not failing.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:08 PM on December 14, 2013


If we get into a hot war with China, it will be over Taiwan. One day they will decide to re-assert their claim to their "renegate territory" and expect us to blink, as Great Britain did over Hong Kong. But we won't.

Great Britain had legitimate, treaty-based sovereignty over Hong Kong before returning it to China (the return was also in the treaty. No one "blinked"). The United Stated never ruled Taiwan in a similar fashion. In fact, the United States (under Carter) unilaterally ceased to recognize Taiwan in 1979.

Not to pick on you, but this sort of thinking/mentality is exactly why I have always been wearier of the US than China. Regardless of how I feel about China's claim on Taiwan, no one denies that China and Taiwan have a long, complicated history. Ditto for Japan and Taiwan. How the f**k does the US get off acting like Taiwan is part of its territory to defend? We aren't even your ally, since you dumped us.

America is NOT part of Asia. The fact that you have the the strongest influence over a region that you aren't in is ridiculous enough. The fact that you worry about the possible rise of a country in that region posing risks of war as it challenges you in that region ... You know what, I literally cannot.
posted by fatehunter at 12:13 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Relevant
posted by fatehunter at 12:23 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


China has talked about putting men on the moon.

And they completed a significant step in that direction earlier today: China Lands On The Moon: Historic Robotic Lunar Landing Includes 1st Chinese Rover.
posted by cenoxo at 12:30 PM on December 14, 2013


Vietnam was, of course, a UN mission.

No, it wasn't. Are you perhaps thinking of the Korean War?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:43 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


One's own soil is where it finally matters. DF-21 ASBMs are within range of contested areas of the South China Sea and East China Sea, not to mention Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. American carrier aircraft, even if refueled, will probably not be allowed to fly unopposed over (or near) targets on Chinese territory.

The Chinese Air Force isn't going to shoot down enough fighter aircraft from 10 carrier groups. Not to mention ground-based aircraft from our bases in Okinawa and Japan. If America invaded? They'd be most certainly crushed. But they will stay far off shore.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2013


fatehunter, you seem to misunderstand my point; I'm not implying that it's a good thing the US will go to the wall over Taiwan, but it is my distinct impression that it will, just as it went to the wall over Vietnam for no damn good reason. The excuse will be the many US business interests there. The real reason will be that some people don't seem happy if there isn't a war going on. The US has made its "interest" in Taiwan plain time after time and if China invades, which I suspect they will eventually, I have no doubt they will be met by American counterforce.
posted by localroger at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2013


In fact, the United States (under Carter) unilaterally ceased to recognize Taiwan in 1979.

It's actually a lot more complicated than that though.

Yes, the US does not recognize the Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. And also, official US position is that it doesn't support Taiwan Independence. But, and here's the tricky part, the US-Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations says:

"The Government of the United States acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China."

US officials have noted that the difference in using acknowledge vs. recognize is intentional, and is meant to indicate that the US does have a different position on this than Mainland China.

It's also complicated, because Taiwan is not a pushover either. This is a nation that is one of the top 20 in military spending, has pursued nuclear weapons (until US pressure put a stop to it), and for pretty much its entire existence has either been preparing to launch an attack at China or defending from an attack by China.

Now, do you think a sharp change in US support of Taiwan would increase or decrease the chances of a war occurring?
posted by FJT at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2013


How the f**k does the US get off acting like Taiwan is part of its territory to defend? We aren't even your ally, since you dumped us.

The Six Assurances of 1982, granted Taiwan in exchange for the US signing the August 17 Communiqué with the PRC (and from the US side, founded on the Taiwan Relations Act).

I don't think it's at all true that the US "dumped" Taiwan. It was geopolitically necessary to bring the PRC into the Security Council. The Taiwanese status problem, however, made it impossible to handle any other way. Logically the ROC could not take the place of China proper at the world table, and yet China was already a nuclear power and able to exercise a veto of Taiwanese independence. We then entered three decades of a sort of nudge-nudge-wink-wink practical standoff cum limbo, during which Taiwan became very rich, Taiwanese native politics began to predominate, and China relaxed its military posture and all that symbolic-yet-very-real cross-strait shelling. And what FJT said.

I really think Taiwan is much less likely to be a flashpoint now than maybe ever. The resource cold war over the South China Sea is the real problem now, not that the issues don't have some overlap.

If it would please you, I have to figure that if Taipei decided tomorrow to become a province of China and sent us a little fuck-off note, we'd have little choice but to comply. Look at what happened in the Philippines, for instance. We remain in the region with the posture that we have largely due to our allies and their interests. I can see how it makes the US seem arrogant, but realpolitik does dictate much of our behavior as a superpower (and that makes the behavior predictable, which is the point of realpolitik).

Isn't the US losing a lot of face by moving its ships out of the way of trolling Chinese aggressors? By kowtowing to demands that China has unilaterally imposed in waters and airspace that doesn't belong to China?

Eh? I don't think you read that correctly. Some fussy patrol boat was trying to get in the way of our ship and order it to stop in international waters, but "the incident was ultimately resolved through ship-to-ship communications via radio between the Cowpens and a Chinese aircraft carrier in the vicinity", which apparently communicated with the patrol boat and ended the incident. I don't think there was a loss of face here, let alone any acknowledgement of de facto or de jure control of the seas there.

Really, I see the Chinese playing a long game here, and their policy wrt Hong Kong and Taiwan bears this out. Eventually, they believe, Taiwan will want to accede. Eventually Hong Kong will settle down and allow the "one nation, two systems" stuff to be effectively nullified (even while it's being ground down bit by bit already). And eventually there will come a time when the US is less interested, or distracted, or less techno-logistically capable, and then they will be prepared to assert full control.

Now, under Hu, there was pretty clearly a technocratic policy approach, and I'm not sure we are sure how much that is going to differ with Xi. That's part of what we're trying to figure out with recent high-level contacts. I think it is clear that they now intend to expand and support their strategic posture more aggressively than in decades past, but it hasn't quite reached the point where their stance embraces the idea of a hot war.
posted by dhartung at 2:03 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I too think it's unlikely that Taiwan will be invaded by China. The bottom line is that if China ever becomes a real threat to Taiwan, either from military expansion or politically, and if the US for any reason is unable our unlikely to intervene, Taiwan will quickly develop nuclear weapons. Since Taiwan is a major first world economy, that should take at most a year. Depending on China's posturing, Japan and other regional powers will be quick to follow. It's almost a certainty that those countries have very quietly kept on hand the information needed to quickly develop nuclear weapons.

So the end result of Chinese militarization and a decline in US power wouldn't be a lead-up to W.W.I, but a rapid nuclear weapons proliferation and a new regional Cold War.
posted by happyroach at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chinese Air Force isn't going to shoot down enough fighter aircraft from 10 carrier groups. Not to mention ground-based aircraft from our bases in Okinawa and Japan.

Chinese air defenses are much more than fighters slugging it out Top Gun style — see Bluffer’s Guide: Fortress China:
Like many countries China deploys ground-based air-defenses to protect against sudden air attack. The fact that China’s arsenal is far larger than most countries is more a factor of the size of the country and growing world standing, rather than an indicator of a militarized society IMO. Armed with a formidable arsenal of nuclear weapons and rapidly maturing delivery capabilities, China has little to worry about in terms of major invasion.
More about Chinese SAMs here and here.

If America were to deploy 10 of its 11 carrier groups against China, how would the rest of the world react? Russia, for example, or India.

If America invaded? They'd be most certainly crushed. But they will stay far off shore.

Absolutely. A trans-Pacific invasion of China is unthinkable and unsupportable, militarily and politically. Maintaining a comfortable offshore distance would be a better option for both countries.
posted by cenoxo at 3:07 PM on December 14, 2013


It's almost a certainty that those countries have very quietly kept on hand the information needed to quickly develop nuclear weapons.

But there are nuclear weapons, and then there are nuclear weapons.

At the ground floor nuclear weapons are (if you are a country) simple: We were confident enough in the U-235 gun bomb that we dropped the very first one we built on Hiroshima without bothering to test it first. Gun bombs are easy. However, they are hard to mass manufacture; isotope separation takes a vast industrial effort and a lot of time.

Plutonium is a lot easier to mass manufacture but you can't make a gun bomb with it. (North Korea almost certainly became the first nation to fail on its first try at a nuke by trying for a Pu gun bomb.) If you want to use plutonium for bombs, you have to master implosion and a much more difficult initiator (the bit that makes sure there's actually a neutron to start the chain reaction at the right time, instead of depeding on a passing cosmic ray). Implosion is hard, which is why we tested it at Trinity before trying it on an enemy target.

There are, however, commercial implosion solutions used for non-nuclear materials testing which could be adapted if you didn't want to make your own explosive lenses. However, that still only gets you Fat Men, bombs weighing around 5 tons yielding 10-20 kilotons. One of those will put a very respectable hole in a large city, but only a hole; if you want to, for example, take out Beijing or San Diego, you would need a lot of them. Like dozens. For one large modern city.

To take out a city like San Diego with one bomb you need a Teller-Ulam H-bomb. This uses the gamma ray flux from a fission trigger to compress and detonate a secondary which is powered by fusion, but which really derives most of its explosive yield from fission of depleted uranium (of which you'll have lots laying around if you've been doing isotope separation) in the vast neutron flux generated by the fusion reaction.

H-bombs are hard. While the principle behind them is grasped easily enough that Howard Morland was able to tease it out of publicly published documents, the details are extremely deep. For example, the gamma flash must compress the secondary and that must react to completion in the microseconds before the fission triggers's physical blast wave arrives and tears it apart. This makes just the fission trigger of an H-bomb a difficult problem, and as a practical matter modern ones are always boosted by tritium to add a little fusion reaction in the trigger core so they don't need 80 generations of neutron multiplication to blow. Tritium does not grow on trees, it has a short half-life, and it's kind of hard to make it without making your intent obvious.

H-bombs are hard enough that basically, if you have not tested an H-bomb you do not have an H-bomb. While we tested Mike all-up that was risky and to do it right you'd test the fission trigger first, which is kind of hard to hide. So bottom line, I don't believe any of the modern non-nuclear players suddenly gets H-bombs without giving the rest of us plenty of warning. It just isn't practical.

China, however, while it may not have many of them, does have H-bombs. They have tested and proven at least one design.

The idea that Taiwan or Japan will quickly develop a nuclear threat to China is a total fantasy. I suspect China developed their own arsenal much more with an eye to Moscow than Washington, but anyone who lobs a Fat Man at them is going to need serious sunscreen to deal with the response.
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


fatehunter, you seem to misunderstand my point; I'm not implying that it's a good thing the US will go to the wall over Taiwan, but it is my distinct impression that it will, just as it went to the wall over Vietnam for no damn good reason.

I did misread your post. My apologies. I got caught up on the difference between UK/HK and US/Taiwan.

I don't think it's at all true that the US "dumped" Taiwan. It was geopolitically necessary to bring the PRC into the Security Council.

I agree with the latter point - it was a rational decision to choose China over Taiwan at the time. But please don't dress the very justifiable decision of dumping Taiwan as anything other than dumping Taiwan. Ask the Taiwanese people who lived through that time how they felt* when they heard the news of the US ending diplomatic recognition, or what they think of the decades of Taiwanese "diplomacy" that mainly consists of paying much poorer countries to recognize Taiwan. Or how the Taiwanese youth today feel about exclusion from international organizations.

Taiwan has strategic importance to the US by virtue of its geographic location. Few of us are naive enough to believe that the US cares about Taiwan beyond that. It's just so obnoxious to watch America play us up when it wants to ~contain China and throw us under the bus when it needs China on board for regional politics or trade or whatever.

* My parents, like many of their peers, felt desperate. It was the moment when they first made a long-term goal to emigrate the hell out of Taiwan one day.

Now, do you think a sharp change in US support of Taiwan would increase or decrease the chances of a war occurring?

A sharp increase would be awful. There's little room for it to decrease, except on paper. How could the US decrease its practical support? Not sell Taiwan outdated, over-priced weapons anymore? Taiwan can buy comparable weapons elsewhere, most of which the Taiwanese military are too poorly trained to operate anyway.

The Taiwanese economy is far too dependent on China for any drastic action now. In recent years, even the pro-independence factions in Taiwan have bent to Chinese interests on numerous occasions for fear of driving away business from the mainland. Unless China comes into a generation of rulers who are true idiots, they will stay the course and effectively have Taiwan under control in a few decades.
posted by fatehunter at 3:35 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really, I see the Chinese playing a long game here, and their policy wrt Hong Kong and Taiwan bears this out. Eventually, they believe, Taiwan will want to accede.

I think this may be the predominant thought, but this doesn't mean certain factions or personalities in the CCP completely agree. Taiwan's government is still rooting out Chinese spies, and in recent years nine spies have been caught by Taiwan, including an army general and air force captain. Meanwhile, Taiwan's own principle intelligence agency, the National Security Bureau, has faced budget cuts. I haven't heard any similar shake-ups on the Chinese side. I'm not sure if this is just because Taiwan is a democratic society with free press, so more noise is made out of this sort of thing, or if it's an actual indicator of the decline of the Kuomintang's (and now Taiwan's) spying apparatus.

but anyone who lobs a Fat Man at them is going to need serious sunscreen to deal with the response.

I think Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea would have to be pushed to a corner to consider researching and manufacturing nuclear weapons, and probably would never consider to use them preemptively. I believe all three countries face great opposition to such weapons from their very own citizens.
posted by FJT at 3:36 PM on December 14, 2013


I think Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea would have to be pushed to a corner to consider researching and manufacturing nuclear weapons

I obviously agree with this. Japan in particular would have a major problem with their own population. But a fly in that ointment is the imminent death of nearly everyone who actually remembers WWII. If the technical barriers to something actually useful weren't so high, I could believe that one of those governments would undertake a secret program "just in case." But I suspect if they've been tempted they've done the same calculation I have, and realized that what such a program could attain still would not buy them a credible deterrent.
posted by localroger at 3:45 PM on December 14, 2013


Ask the Taiwanese people who lived through that time how they felt* when they heard the news of the US ending diplomatic recognition, or what they think of the decades of Taiwanese "diplomacy" that mainly consists of paying much poorer countries to recognize Taiwan

I remember reading that during negotiations, the Republic of China was offered a regular UN member state seat, if they stepped down from the Security Council. However, Chiang refused, and this is partly how Taiwan got into its current situation. Whether or not this would have bolstered Taiwan's efforts for recognition and diplomatic ties is something we won't ever know.

Not sell Taiwan outdated, over-priced weapons anymore? Taiwan can buy comparable weapons elsewhere, most of which the Taiwanese military are too poorly trained to operate anyway.

I agree about overpriced, but I'm not sure about undertrained. ROC Air Force pilots still train at Luke AFB in Arizona, and still get more piloting time than their Mainland Chinese counterparts, mostly because the ratio of modern planes to pilots isn't so lopsided.

they will stay the course and effectively have Taiwan under control in a few decades

Any form of control will have to be done in private. Public polling has shown that more and more people in Taiwan consider themselves "Taiwanese" rather than "Chinese". The window for a soft power victory for China isn't going to grow much anymore. I can't imagine a PRC Flag ever being hoisted at the Memorial Hall or the Presidential Office Building.
posted by FJT at 3:57 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clearly not. Unthinkable, that is. War in Asia will happen. Question is, does America want to be part of it? Not me. Can't think of thing there I would die for or send my child to die for.
That's nice, IndigoJones, you are so distant from all things Asia that you would not risk your life to protect US interests there.

Does that imply there are places for which you would risk your life and send your child to die for?

My own pacifism runs fairly deep and I can't think of many (any?) things I think worth going to war for in a foreign theater.

I do, however, know many Americans who have living relatives in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. who given the right circumstances YOU BETCHA they'd go to war in any one of those countries and cheer their children to do so, too. I have living relatives in Korea and even very pacifist me would have a hard time not hoping for a US intervention if, say, North Korea wanted to overrun South Korea.

To me, IndigoJones, the apathy expressed in your comment seems to have origins in xenophobia, which possibility makes me want to point out there are many Americans of Asian descent who would take exception to such apathy.

I am such a one.
posted by mistersquid at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2013


Why China's Air Defense Identification Zone Is Terrible For Cross-Strait Relations
China’s new ADIZ in the East China Sea jeopardizes the possibility of unification with Taiwan.
For Tokyo and Beijing, the dispute is largely a question of maritime resources and national pride. For Taipei, how the dispute is resolved could also determine the future of Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has his own strategy for resolving the dispute: the East China Sea Peace Initiative. The idea calls for countries to shelve the territorial disputes, exercise self-restraint, and work together to jointly develop maritime resources. These ideas were embodied in the fishing agreement Taiwan and Japan signed in April 2013. While both Taiwan and Japan reserved their territorial claims, the agreement formally lays down the right of Taiwanese fishermen to access the area.

In response, PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Hong Lei announced that China was “extremely concerned” about the agreement, and called on Japan to “earnestly abide by its promises on the Taiwan issue.” In other words, China does not recognize the right of the Taiwan government to discuss the territorial issue with Japan. Once again, the territorial dispute becomes an issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty or lack thereof.

In this context, it’s no surprise that the announcement of the ADIZ caused quite a stir in Taiwan. Not only does the new zone center around a territory that Taiwan claims for itself, but the zone also overlaps with Taiwan’s own ADIZ.

The PRC Declares an Air Defense Identification Zone: Challenging the Pacific Defense Quadrangle
The PRC Air Defense Identification Zone may seem an anomaly or an irrational act challenging multiple players in the Pacific.

But what it is in reality is the opening gambit in trying to impede and defeat the formation of a 21st century Pacific defense and security strategy by the U.S. and its allies.

What we have called the strategic quadrangle in the Pacific is a central area where the U.S. and several core allies are reaching out to shape collaborative defense capabilities to ensure defense in depth. (China’s ADIZ falls directly within this quadrangle, as does Taiwan.)

This area is central to the operation of forces from Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Singapore and the United States, to mention the most important allies.

These allies are adding new air and maritime assets and are working to expand the reach and range of those assets through various new capabilities, such as air tanking and the shaping of electronic surveillance and defense assets.

[...]
We have placed the ADIZ down upon the strategic geography we have identified and a key reality quickly emerges. Just by chance the zone covers reinforcements to Taiwan.

This is clearly a backhanded attempt to promote the PRC’s view of the nature of Taiwan and the South China Sea in their defense calculus.

There have been hints as well that the PRC is looking to do something similar with Vietnam in mind.
Forget Japan: China’s ADIZ Threatens Taiwan
The East China Sea ADIZ effectively cuts off US forces in Japan and South Korea from Taiwan.
Thus, if China can deny U.S. and allied forces the ability to operate in the waters and airspace covered by the ADIZ, the U.S. would be unable to use its immense military resources in South Korea and Japan in defense of Taiwan. Instead, the U.S. military would have to travel from Guam, the Philippines and other nations located around the South China Sea (until China establishes an ADIZ over that body of water as well). This is where the tyranny of distance really weighs heavily on U.S. forces.

It’s worth noting, in this context, that China has demanded that aircraft flying in the East China Sea ADIZ identify themselves even when their destination is not the Chinese mainland. This is different from most nations’ ADIZs, which only require aircraft identify themselves if they intend to enter national airspace.

As my colleague Shannon pointed out last week, China’s historic claims to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands rest on it being part of Taiwan. Thus, were China to gain control over the disputed islands, it would effectively be controlling part of Taiwan.
In the second year of the conflagration that engulfed most of Europe, a bitter joke made the rounds: “Have you seen today’s headline? ‘Archduke Found Alive: War a Mistake.”’ That is the most dispiriting explanation of all — that the war was simply a blunder that could have been avoided.

I think the accidental nature of the start of WWI is ominous and should disturb us greatly, but WWII and the Cold War are probably better analogies for the situation we are in today. I don't think WWIII Armageddon could start by accident, only a massive aggression on the part of a major world power against another world power would do it. Even if the China invaded Taiwan or Japan, I'm guessing it would result in something closer to a Cold War than a World War, but I guess it depends on who is in the White House and the other global decision makers.

The approaching centenary should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident. History, in the saying attributed to Mark Twain, never repeats itself but it rhymes. We have good reason to glance over our shoulders even as we look ahead. If we cannot determine how one of the most momentous conflicts in history happened, how can we hope to avoid another such catastrophe in the future?


This is why if these conflicts are ever resolved peacefully and there is enough cooperation between world powers, nuclear weapons should be abolished as part of a comprehensive global demilitarization.

In other news: Russia launches new ‘stealth’ submarine
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:43 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]



With Air Defense Zone, China is Waging Lawfare
There is a clear unambiguous purpose to all this — namely, China is seeking to bolster its claims to sovereignty over these areas in terms of international law. As I explained elsewhere this week, in international law a major way by which states acquire sovereignty over an area is by actually exercising sovereignty (i.e. administering) over it for a “reasonable” period of time and especially having other states acquiesce to its administration.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:34 PM on December 14, 2013


More about Chinese SAMs here and here.

In practice, large SAM networks have failed repeatedly against well organized air forces. See Iraq in 1991 and 2003 for examples. They're to easy to hit with missiles designed to blow up the radars they use. Using the system gets it blown up.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:16 AM on December 15, 2013


If America were to deploy 10 of its 11 carrier groups against China, how would the rest of the world react? Russia, for example, or India.

What would either of those two countries do? More importantly, what could they do? Russia's not going to launch anything at the US, and neither has a navy that could really do much. Russia and China are sort of buddy buddy now, but they have a lot of rivalries historically and a very long border.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2013


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