The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about potential clash of the USA with China by demonstrating applicability of history of interactions between dominant and raising powers that more often than not ended in military confrontation. This historical analysis spans from ancient Greece to the latest confrontations of XX century. The second point is to review all conceivable ways that growing confrontation between USA and China could develop in conflict and, finally, to provide recommendations and alternatives for future actions.
THE RISE OF CHINA
“The Biggest Player in the History of the World”
The first part of this book is about raise of China over the last 30 years and its movement to becoming number one economic power in the world. Here is a small graph illustrating this process:
A lot of the narrative here based on PPP data that obviously provides numeric advantage to China’s estimates just because its population is about 4 times bigger than USA, but author quite reasonably suggests that growth in economic power would prompt growth in all other aspects of the country power including technological and military, so eventually it will lead to change in world balance of power.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
Athens vs. Sparta
Here author moves to review history of international power rebalancing starting with ancient Greece and raise of Athens that threatened to dominant power of the time – Sparta. Eventually the competition between Sparta as the dominant land power and Athens as dominant naval power led to Peloponnesian war that Sparta won, but at very high price of weakened all Greek city-states.
Five Hundred Years
Here author moves from the first well-documented specific case of the dominant versus the raising power clash to general overview of such clashes over the last 500 years mainly within Western civilization and their outcomes:
Author specifically reviews the most recent cases:
- Japan vs. United States in mid XX century
- Japan vs. Russia and China in early XX century
- Germany vs. France in mid XIX century
- England vs. Dutch Republic in XVII century
- Hapsburgs vs. France in XVI century
Britain vs. Germany
Here author looks at what seems to be the most applicable case when dominant power of Britain, while being much bigger Empire due to colonies, started to rapidly lose competition to Germany in areas of technology and industrial power. Here is graph representing this change:
The British response to this was increase in resources allocated to maintain advantage in military power especially navy, but it was clearly inadequate despite success in maintain advantage:
Eventually the competition turned into war and it was fought mainly on land.
A GATHERING STORM
Imagine China Were Just Like Us
This is a typical litany of Americans being imperialistic: pushing Spain out of its American and Pacific colonies, creating and enforcing Monroe doctrine, creating new country Panama because Columbia would not allow build canal on American conditions, buying Alaska from Russia and quite forcefully defining borders with Canada. In short as raising power of early XX century America did not show a good example of behavior towards declining power or weak states. In order to provide some feeling of what it would look like now, author compares Teddy Roosevelt and current Chinese president Xi pointing out that it would be quite a nightmarish scenario.
What Xi’s China Wants
This chapter is an attempt to look at things from China’s point of view. This point of view is a mix of pride, humiliation, and strives for restoration. It relates not only to the country as whole, but also to the personality of its leader who went from high living of child of important party official through humiliation of Cultural revolution, and back to the top of power. The key point here is that Chinese believe that their rightful place in the world is at the top and would do everything to get there by all means necessary. Author also discusses potential difficulties such as loss of party control over society, slowdown of the economy, demographic consequences of one child policy and so on, but so far Chinese leadership feels strong enough to start challenging USA in South China Sea – possibly the first tremor of coming earthquake.
Clash of Civilizations
This chapter starts with the story of Lord Macartney mission to China in 1793 when both side where so far away culturally that no effective communication was possible. Author analyses potential clash of the West as represented by USA and China, which he believes is highly probable due to superiority complex that both sides have. Here is a nice table to compare cultural approaches:
These innate cultural differences lead to demonstratively different approaches to just about everything: economy, diplomacy, education, and what not.
From Here to War
This chapter is pretty much a list of hypotheticals about all conceivable situations that could lead to US-China war. It starts with historical factoids of Korean War and China-Soviet mini war and goes through various scenarios from accidental collision at sea outgrowing into the war, so economic conflict pushed all the way to military confrontation.
WHY WAR IS NOT INEVITABLE
Twelve Clues for Peace
Here author returns back to the history trying to identify specific factors that prevented war between dominant and raising power in previous conflicts. Author presents 12 different clues that served to avoid open military conflict:
- Existence of higher authority that both sides would listen to
- Competing states are embedded in larger political, economic, and security institutions
- Politicians on both sides could find way to accommodate each other with formerly dominant power recedes gracefully
- Dominant power missing opportunity to stop raising power on its track as Britain could possibly do if they supported Confederacy, breaking America in two weak states in process
- Cultural commonalities could prevent conflict as it happened between formerly dominant Britain and raising USA.
- Nuclear weapons, which make any large scale military conflict literally deleterious for both sides
- The same as 6, but formalized as MAD strategy
- MAD could not be justified
- But for MAD be effective leader should be ready to use it all and convince others that they do.
- Thick economic Interdependence
- Alliances should be under strict control
- The final and most decisive factor: domestic performance
Where Do We Go from Here?
These are author recommendations:
- Begin with structural realities: if China continues on current path of growth and USA on current path of relative decline, China will become economically dominant and military dominance will follow
- Apply History: it has a lot of examples to learn from and lessons that are applicable to current situation
- Recognize that American strategy is a contradiction: the strategy “engage and hedge” allows everything, but prohibits nothing. This strategy founded on believe that democracy and freedom are universal aspirations and therefore applicable to China, but they are not. Idea of equal “citizenship” in “community of nations” is alien to Chinese hierarchical culture and besides would not be acceptable to it anyway because traditionally some “citizens”, namely USA are more equal than others.
- Review all strategic options even ugly one: the bottom line here is: accommodation should stop.
- Accommodate: this obviously contradict the precious one and basically means just accept China dominance in the future
- Undermine: revive the believe in universality of democratic values and try to push them on China
- Negotiating Long peace: delay any possible confrontation as much as possible by finding agreements
- Redefine relationships: achieve common understanding that win-loose is not possible due to nuclear weapons so it is better to find win-win than stumble into loose –loose.
The conclusion once again stresses need for clarity of vital interests, understanding of Chinas aspirations, striving to act more at strategic level, and always keep in mind paramount value of controlling domestic challenges first.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book provides pretty interesting historical and political analysis and quite convincing lead to necessity of confronting China before it is too late. I personally believe that China threat is about 90% product of American misunderstanding of the world and misplaced believes that everybody mainly just want a good live. It seems to me that for Americans the very notions of national and ethnic greatness, conquest just for power sake, and achievement of superiority over others, are deeply alien and basically inconceivable. Americans can understand giving all to achieve or protect freedom, but could not understand giving all to deprive others of freedom so for them China or for that matter former Soviet Union are just incomprehensible. Generally I agree that something had to be done and this something already start happening: limitation on uncompensated transfer of intellectual know how to China is just around the corner, pressure on trade is coming, creation of strong cyber defenses are not that far away, so all these measures could quite possibly stop China’s march to economic and political dominance. So far China’s raise was to the huge extent parasitic one: use of foreign capital, including massive transfer of technology and building production facilities aimed to use cheap Chinese labor to produce goods for Western population. This period of rapid parasitic growth is coming to the end and quite quickly. For once automation makes Chinese cheap labor irrelevant, consequently making technological knowledge transfer paid by profits from cheap production unpalatable for Western businesses. The general absence of respect to property, especially intellectual property quite possibly will put China on “no business” list and it could happen soon. The probability of China developing its own technological prowess is very problematic if one takes into account absence of intellectual and political freedom. Humans are quite complicated creatures so if one limits freethinking in one area, let’s say political and philosophical, it is virtually guaranties the decaying of freethinking and consequently success in technological area. The final point is that Chinese population advantage is on somewhat shaky ground taking into account that West includes not only 300+ millions of Americans, but also 500 millions EU, plus additional billions of people in countries like India, which in any conceivable confrontation will reside with the West rather than bow to Chinese dominance. All this would probably prevent any war because the equation of force both economic and military will always be against China, while odds of China’s joining democratic world as full pledged equal member will grow in proportion to decrease in opportunities for parasitic growth.