Tag Archives: international security

China’s Peaceful Rise?

Chinese Military

Peaceful rise. We hear that term a lot nowadays to describe China’s economic development ambitions. What does it mean? Is this possible? How will the world be different in thirty years? Twenty? Ten? Will it be more, or less peaceful? Will our children and grandchildren enjoy the freedoms many now take for granted. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Free to live where you want. To pursue happiness.

Deng Xiaoping understood what the communists in the Soviet Union did not. He believed the best way to move his country forward was to encourage economic growth. He knew that continuing a state controlled economy would keep his people impoverished for many generations. In 1978 Deng gambled when he opened up the Chinese economy and allowed the provinces relative economic autonomy. His gamble has certainly paid off handsomely. Foreign direct investment combined with an indigenious economy that has been exposed to, and is competing with, the fiercest of global competition has built an economic juggernaut of historic proportions.

As China grows stronger economically, it is natural that it will want to protect its interests, as we do. To do this, the Chinese military will have to become larger, and increasingly forward deployed. It will require a blue water Navy to secure trade routes. It may garrison forces in places like Africa, the Middle East, perhaps even South America, to protect strategic relationships with suppliers of key energy resources and raw materials.

How will America respond to this? These are steps nations, such as ourselves, took in the early, rapidly developing stages of our development. Will we welcome a new near peer, and potentially (eventually?) peer power? Or will we be fearful and self-fulfill the doomsday prophecy of a New Cold War, or worse?

Here is what today’s thought leaders think about the topic;

  • In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Thomas Barnett’s 2004 book The Pentagon’s New Map became an extremely popular read. He divides the world’s countries into the Functioning Core, and The Non-Integrating Gap. Barnett tells the story of making the rounds at the Pentagon presenting what he began to call “The Brief'”, to ever more senior levels of military and political leadership. Barnett theorizes that nation states no longer need to wage war with one another. As members of the ‘functioning core’, they are too economically integrated to consider attacking one another. Everybody loses when the apple cart is upset. War is relegated to Functioning Corers cleaning up zealots in the Non-Integrating Gap. 
  •  Dr. John J. Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, on the other hand believes the U.S. and China are destined for conflict as an ever more powerful China attempts to establish regional hegemony and push the United States out of Asia.
  • Dr. Susan Shirk, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Professor, University of California, San Diego wrote a book in 2007 titled China; Fragile Superpower. In it she claims the U.S. has more to fear from a weak China.

Although China looks like a powerhouse from the outside, to its leaders it looks fragile, poor, and overwhelmed by internal problems. But China’s massive problems, instead of reassuring us, should worry us. It is China’s internal fragility, not its growing strength that presents the greatest danger. The weak legitimacy of the Communist Party and its leaders’ sense of vulnerability could cause China to behave rashly in a crisis involving Japan or Taiwan, and bring it into a military conflict with the United States.

If economic growth slows and problems multiply, there is a possibility that China’s leaders could be tempted to “Wag the Dog” – mobilize domestic support by creating an international crisis. More likely, however, is that when confronted with a crisis, the leaders make threats they can’t back away from because of their fear of appearing weak to the domestic audience. Only by understanding the dangers of China’s domestic tranquility and incorporating this understanding into their policies can Chinese and American decision makers avoid a catastrophic war

  • Dr. Suisheng “Sam” Zhao, Professor and Executive Director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at the University of Denver, is concerned that domestic chaos could cause China’s Communist Party (CCP) leadership to pursue an aggressive foreign policy to stir nationalistic enthusiasm and deflect attention from the CCP. Further, Dr. Zhao believes these domestic forces could begin to fester if economic growth slows below 6% – 7% per year. American’s can only dream of that pace of growth today. If China slows to this level, Dr. Zhao believes their economy will no longer be able to absorb the historic migration of population from farms to cities. This will cause large numbers of young, unemployed people, to begin to question the CCP’s decisions that brought their country to this point. Aggressive foreign policy could take the form of flexing their newly enhanced military muscle to further intimidate Taiwan, clash with the Japanese over oil drilling rights in the East China Sea, or challenge U.S. dominance in their backyard.

I highly respect each of the scholars I’ve mentioned above. With these, and many other disparate voices out there; what are we to believe? How do we prevent ourselves from being acted upon? What can we do to influence positive outcomes? I do not profess to have the answers to these big questions. I have many, many more questions than I do answers.

 GlobalWonk intends to convene a “No New Cold War” conference within the next eighteen months. We will bring together today’s thought leaders to discuss key issues in the U.S./China relationship. We’ll work together to develop meaningful steps that individuals and communities can take to have a positive impact on this most important of relationships.


Nightmare Scenario

Mushroom Cloud 

The security community agrees that there will be a dirty bomb attack on an American city at some point. The puzzle is why it hasn’t happened yet, especially since the means and motives are readily available. – Graham Allison, director of Harvard University’s Belfor Center for Science and International Affairs. Global Security Newswire 10/17/2007.

I left the White House Communications Agency in the fall of 1992. I was back home in the Chicago area before Thanksgiving. My father and I quickly developed a routine of sipping coffee while solving the world’s problems. I very clearly remember telling him I was troubled by some of the things I learned through my duties at WHCA.

Working in the Secure Voice section provided me with access to some of our nation’s most classified information. Conference calls convened in the middle of the night usually involved folks at the tip of the foreign policy or intelligence gathering spear. Things went bump in the night.

Before then I never knew how many people actually wished us harm. People out there actively planning to execute missions designed to kill as many Americans possible. The sheer magnitude of people or groups attempting nefarious acts was astonishing.

At the same time, many of the former Soviet republics were teaming with sites that stockpiled poorly secured raw materials for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In some cases actual weapons were poorly secured. The break-up of the U.S.S.R. created instability in the region. This greatly enhanced the likelihood some of these materials could change hands. (Where was our post-Cold War Marshall Plan?)

The combination of a very strong desire to cause maximum damage with the opportunity to acquire WMD components created the recipe for a nightmare scenario.

Now, I was a good soldier and would never divulge classified information to my father. Besides duty, honor, country, I was heavily incented (with the threat of a federal prison term) during my out-processing to maintain Omerta. What I did tell my father was that, for the reasons stated above, I believed we would see the detonation of a nuclear device in a major American city within five to ten years.I just felt the odds of preventing every attempt were against us.

My time line would have taken us to 1997 through 2002. Do you think for a minute that the persons responsible for bombing the World Trade Center in 1993, and flying planes into them in 2001, would have thought twice about using a nuclear device if they had the ability to acquire and detonate one? I don’t. Because I know that had they been capable, they would have executed a nuclear mission on United States territory. Our losses on September 11, 2001 would have staggered the mind. The potential for hundreds of thousands dead. Possibly a million or more sick or injured. There would parts of Manhattan uninhabitable for years.

If we fail to act, this deadly combination of relentless will and sloppy controls over access to materials in some areas of the world will spell disaster at some point in the not too distant future. The fact is has not yet happened is testament to the dedication of the professionals working these issues, in our name, every day.

So what can you, as an individual citizen do? I implore you to check out the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s web page at the following link: http://www.nti.org Here you will find information on donating your money and/or efforts to supporting the cause of securing loose WMD materials at sites around the globe. If you need further motivation, take the opportunity to watch their movie; Last Best Chance. It is available at http://www.lastbestchance.org

You can donate cash to enable nonproliferation programs. You can lobby your representatives in Congress and force them to fund these programs. You can elect a President in 2008 that has this issue on their radar screen. The most important thing is to act, before it is too late.

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