ZenPundit
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
 
TIME FOR KAPLAN TO COME IN FROM THE COLD WAR

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent"
- Winston Churchill

" Power flows from the barrel of a gun and that gun must never slip from the grasp of the Communist Party "
- Mao ZeDong


Harsh words from the age of the Cold War. The words however are for that age and not for ours. We have an entirely different enemy today and our war is not the Cold War redux. If we were to follow the advice offered by Robert D. Kaplan in the pages of The Atlantic we would be propelled into the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong enemy, which China is not unless we choose to make her so. By counseling as he does, Mr. Kaplan indicates that he not only does not understand China, he clearly doesn't understand the Cold War either.

This is not an argument that China is a friend or ally of the United States. It is not. Nor will I argue that China's economic and geopolitical rise does not represent a shift in the global order and a strategic challenge for American policy makers. It does. What I will illustrate is that China in 2005 is not the Soviet Union of 1945 and that to base our strategic policy of how to relate to China as " Cold War II" is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One crucial difference that Mr. Kaplan does not seem to be aware of is that the fundamental economic and foreign policies of China today and the Soviet Union circa 1945-1949 differ by approximately 180 degrees.

Josef Stalin's strategy was to hermetically seal off the Soviet bloc from not only Western but all foreign influences, including independent Communist voices such as Tito's. Stalinist trade policy promoted autarky, preferring barter agreements to cash exchange whenever possible and even aid - whether for famine relief or the Marshall Plan was decisively rebuffed. Eastern Europe had Communist satellite governments imposed upon them and miniature Terrors executed that killed hundreds of thousands of Polish, German, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian and Czechoslovak intellectuals, religious believers and " reactionaries".

When after Stalin passed from the scene in 1953 - though not until after Blockading Berlin and sanctioning the Korean War - his successor Nikita Khrushchev made support for " Wars of National Liberation"the cornerstone of Soviet policy in the Third World. This policy remained unchanged up until the USSR began collapsing in 1990. Khrushchev - who compared to Stalin can be regarded as a " moderate" - also brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, invaded Hungary and erected the Berlin Wall.

Where or how does China represent anything close to that order of threat magnitude to the United States ? Outside of Taiwan, which remains a true potential flashpoint, have the Chinese in recent decades resembled in their behavior toward their neighbors , the Soviets of the 1940's ? Or even the Soviets of the 1970's and 1980's ?

These are not differences of degree but of kind.

What Kaplan does not realize is that Containment worked well in part because the USSR's own paranoid totalitarianism complemented our strategy by isolating themselves from all forms of connectivity. Watching any " flows" of people, ideas or force across the Iron Curtain became a simple surveillance task for our intelligence services and multilateral alliances alike.

How well would George Kennan's grand strategy have fared if the Soviets sought not isolation but integration ? Not conquest and domination but connectivity, influence and markets ?

The supreme irony of Mr. Kaplan's argument is that even if China is an enemy, using a Cold War model strategy might doom us to defeat. Different opponent with different objectives who presents a completely unique and primarily longitudinal set of challenges. Few of which are military in nature and none of which are as imminent as the War on Terror that Kaplan has waved away as a " blip".

Geopolitics is not a cookie-cutter operation Mr. Kaplan

RELATED LINKS:

Curzon at Coming Anarchy - defending Robert D. Kaplan against Dr. Barnett.

Thomas P. M. Barnett - Burning Bridges

Nadezhda at Liberals Against Terrorism - sees Kaplan as a self-fulfilling prophet as well.
 
Comments:
See my comments here.
 
I'm amazed at how easily some throw around the topic of, "war with China." To paraphrase Col. Hackworth (R.I.P.), war with China would be a disaster for the U.S. As for Taiwan, I don't see the strategic connection with the U.S. Why would we risk nuclear war over what is essentially a civil war in China? How does this situation affect our freedom or way of life? The more important issue, in my mind, is what happens in China politically. They are communist in name only. Seems to me, the easiest replacement for a communist dictatorship is a nationalist dictatorship. Greater minds than I will have to determine how we can positively influence their political situation. I would add that I don't see any results of the Clinton policy (which is where we are today)of increasing trade with China in order to reform it politically.

Barnabus
 
Hey Barnabus

The U.S. is committed to Taiwan's defense through the Taiwan Defense Act. Though at the present time Taiwan is capable of repelling any Chinese invasion on their own, our public stance as Taiwan's ally would force us to action.

Even a short ( few days)Sino-American war would have absolutely catastrophic effects on the global economy - markets would crash everywhere. China is connected unlike the USSR back in the day or North Korea now
 
This is my response to Curzon's post on Barnett.

I would not have posted on this, but it seems that Kaplan's article on How we would fight China in The Atlantic Monthly has generated a lot of buzz. Thomas Barnett did a great piece on it in his May 16 newsletter and that in turn has generated some responses. The one I am responding to can be found at http://www.cominganarchy.com/ under the title Curzon’s New Map: Cold War II. The reason I respond to this is because I believe that he failed to understand exactly what Barnett was saying in his newsletter, blog and book. In order to understand the exchange I advise you to read Kaplan’s piece which can easily be found in full here. Then read Barnett’s piece above, and Curzon’s piece after. If you have the time and energy you can also read my response. Enjoy.

Response to Curzon’s New Map:

Reading your post, I don’t think you have read Barnett’s blog on a regular basis, and if you have, you’ve missed a few things. There’s a difference between fearmongering and preparation. Fearmongering is exactly what Kaplan and by extension, the U.S, navy have been doing. Kaplan to keep his closely guarded VIP status with the navy, and the navy in a bid to legitimize its argument that its budgetary appropriations not be cut, or shifted to other services. Kaplan’s article engages in the worst kind of fearmongering by just asserting without any facts that China will attack the U.S., without stating why it would do so or under what circumstances. As Barnett said, who cares, let’s just get down to the fun part; in other words it just happens. Preparation is acknowledging a threat and taking steps to counter it based on informed analysis; this does not mean asserting a threat exists and beginning preparation for war, without understanding what the threat actually entails.

While there are many reasons why we would end up in war with China, there are also many others that would hedge against it. Yes, China is a rising power and true they are building up their military. However, this buildup will take at least a decade to even come close to matching U.S. military prowess.

Barnett is not arguing that we should just assume that China will not attack us, or that if they do we should be confident that we can handle them. What he is saying is, that we should engage them now that we are in a position of strength, to smooth our or resolve outstanding issues and differences while at the same time working on common problems to engender a measure of trust and respect between the two sides.

If’ you’ve read PNM or Barnett’s blog, you would have noticed that Barnett doesn’t argue that we should give up our overwhelming military superiority, rather he argues for repositioning our forces to address current and future threats. One of his answers is to create two forces within our military. The first would be a Leviathan force, composed mainly of the Air Force and the Navy, to take on any and all adversaries with overwhelming power and precision. That is using our air and naval superiority to pulverize the enemy’s forces and will to fight. This doesn’t mean ceasing to invest in our superior military power, but doing it more efficiently on the type of military we will need to confront threats and not the one we would like to have to fight future dreamt up scenarios. If you also notice, he used the term Leviathan to denote that we should maintain this superiority.

The second type of force Barnett calls for is the System Administrator which would be composed of the Army and Marines. This second force would be capable of winning military engagements, and have the necessary skills to stabilize a place after conquering it to begin reconstruction (something we so clearly lacked in Iraq). With these two forces and the cooperation of our allies, in either or both functions, we would be able to engage threats as they emerged and deal with them more effectively. The System Administrator Force would be geared more to a clean up force to repair everything we have broken. For a better explanation of this read Barnett’s book or read through the archive of his blog.

Now moving on to your personal experience with some Chinese Nationals, I must just say, that I’ve experienced that those same encounters with some Americans, who can’t but wait till we get it on with China, a la Kaplan’s Cold War II. The reason behind this is that many need an easily identifiable and defined enemy (i.e. the Soviet Union), this was the case in our military, expecting a rising China or a resurgent Russia, only to have 3000 civilians killed on September 11, 2001 by 19 guys using commercial airplanes as guided missiles. The reason the Pentagon, got caught with its pants down was because it wanted an easily identifiable enemy like those in the past, and as such ignored the reality of the larger world. Additionally, as my experience and that of others can show, one cannot gage the sentiments of a whole people, or a country based on a few conversations with some friends or colleagues overseas. This is particularly true of a country as complex as China.

In your post, you do well to point to the areas in China not touched by the benefits of China’s new connectivity. China’s leaders have acknowledged this and have been for the past few years trying to attend to these areas and resolve longstanding tensions there. How? Well by attempting to expand their recently found connectivity to include those regions. The Chinese realize that it is much easier to grow and prosper using the benefits of globalizations that have made China so rich in recent decades. They also now that socialism doesn’t work, and pragmatically abandoned it as their governing principle. They also realize that they can only expand their prosperity by attracting investment from the rest of the world, particularly the U.S., and know they can only do that if their region is stable. As history has shown, investment doesn’t flow during war, and the Chinese know they have much more to loose than we do, if it came to that.

China’s expanding influence abroad and your question on what Barnett would say regarding China’s expanding influence, Barnett would say that it is not a danger, but rather the expression the same root problem affecting U.S. foreign policy, mainly its need for energy resources. He has argued in his blog that people easily identify energy as the root of U.S. Foreign Policy decisions but fail to note that the same holds true for China. He argues that the problem lies in the fact that military planners, on both sides, ignore this reality, and instead spend their time planning spending wars a la Cold War II. That is we can’t be fearful of China seeking energy resources throughout the globe but rather recognize that there are rational reasons behind their actions, driven by many of the things that drive us to the Middle East and yes, Latin America. Once we recognize this, we can better go about working together to resolve these problems, by having Chinese, Indian, American and other companies investing in energy resources, both petrol and alternative, to ensure that we can all have the resources we need to continue to feed our respective economic growth.

If you read PNM, Barnett cautions against this same thing as well. He sees the world as being in a similar situation as Europe encountered at the turn of the last century. The Globalization at the time was based on empires and at the turn of the centuries, there were rising powers that could not expand because of that system, as the rest of the world was already colonized by the existing powers. What happened, these players began to raise tariffs to protect internal economies, close their areas of influence to others to ensure that they could not be taken away, and built up their militaries to win the coming war. Eventually, each power followed suit, engaging in spiraling arm’s races that lead to a war none wanted, nor could decisively win. This destroyed that globalization (WWI and WWII (a byproduct of the unresolved issues of WWI)).

Barnett argues that China is similarly situated to the US at the turn of the century. The Brits saw the U.S. as a rising power that could equal if not surpass their strength, rather than confront us, the Brits chose to engage the U.S. and work together on common problems to both. After the old globalization system collapsed (colonialism) the U.S. rose to power, and placed through Bretton Woods and other agreements the edifice upon which globalization would be rebuilt. Barnett argues that we must do the same with the Chinese; we need to recognize the challenges they face and engage them to resolve them. We also need to connect them to this for of globalization so that they benefit as much as we and the rest of the West do.

As for the part of the argument relating to Latin America, specifically, it is only natural that the states in the region begin to look to the outside as only then can their economies grow independent of the U.S. Most economists and development specialists have argued for years that this needed to be done. I call it horizontal integration to the world. It is another aspect of globalization. The first, vertical integration related to how the developing world connected to the developed economies of the west, now however, these states are connecting to each other and rising Core countries, fueling each others development in turn. Where Chavez is concerned, he is a problem we will have to deal with eventually, but of a different sort than China or the rest of Latin America.

Finally, as a last point on Barnett’s strategy I would just add that his strategy is not about overconfidence in China’s desire for peace. Rather, his strategy is based on the premise that by engaging this rising power and having it benefit from the current world system and globalization it is less likely to want to tear the system down as Japan, Germany and Italy tried to do at the beginning of the last century. His theory is that if you make the system indispensable for the Chinese to prosper, then the Chinese will have no reason to change it. In short, it is about managing threats and turning potential enemies into partners and assets in the system. It is a strategy based on preparation, not fearmongering.
 
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