Monday, April 04, 2005

SecDef vs Gens, Part 2; Geo-Political and Economic Realities

I think it is safe to say that no one anticipated the multitude of Geo-Political changes that have occurred over the last twenty years. The Soviet Bloc collapsed nearly overnight, “revolutionary” governments throughout Central and South America have been flipped and are as stable as can be expected, democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, resurgence of democratic efforts in Lebanon, and the recent uneasiness of the population in Iran, all underpin the movement of the world towards democracy, stability, and peace.

Al-Queda still lurks as a destabilizing force. Syria, North Korea, and the government in Iran, remain as the few serious agitators in the world. Cuba, while still a thorn in the western hemisphere is no longer exporting revolution. China, while “communist” remains engaged with us in our attempts to corral North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. India and Pakistan have maintained a strained, but workable “peace.” A serious look about, reveals that terrorism, and muscle flexing amongst the North Koreas of the world are about the extent of what we can be expected to handle over the next decade or so.

This is not a call for the US to unilaterally disarm, but it may be an opportunity to re-organize to meet the realities of the world map as it exists today, not as we remember it 16 years ago. Without a doubt the biggest strategic discussions since the disintegration of the former USSR, have center around how our forces should be molded, and what “threats” should we be ready to respond to. A simple look at today’s map, and geo-political realities, begs for revised thinking.

Clearly the biggest worry is a two theater war(s). An endless discussion takes place here on what “could” happen. I think the shift should be it to what will likely happen. We often work the arguments around being engaged in one area, then having to go to war with a major power in another. Well, China is the only major power left, and the likelihood of us going to war with China is small.

A quick look at a global map highlights the difficulty for China in going to war…with anyone. They could of course, and recently have, threatened Taiwan, but military action would be impossible without our early detection of their forces massing…giving plenty of time for diplomatic activity to diffuse and time for our military to prepare. While there is a nationalistic incentive for China to want to take back Taiwan, the true drive would be for the economic engine of Taiwan. Again, the counter to this would be economic, not military, for an isolation of China economically would be the quickest way to achieve a policy change. Without significant importation of resources, China could not sustain a war and its bloated population…a population that requires vast resources on its own just to feed, house, and keep the lights on. If the government fails to do those things, stand by for People’s Revolution Part II.

Also, aside from Taiwan, where can the Chinese go without withering on the vine…ten time zones across Russia? Through SE Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, India, etc. on their way to Europe? All of which would destroy their economy and have them fighting insurgent actions as they drive to Europe. The reality is, there is really nowhere for them to go militarily. Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

With every factory that a US company opens in China, war with China becomes less likely. The economic undercurrents in the global political picture are as large a driver as the geo-political picture was two decades ago. While China maintains a happy face about the “People’s Revolution,” they are in reality, becoming increasingly dependent on capitalistic activity to sustain their central control over the population. This is a double-edged sword for them…as more Chinese participate in an increased standard of living, the expectations of the population will also increase…making it more difficult to maintain that central control without that sustained economic activity…economic activity that doesn’t occur in a communistic system or when the world boycotts you for your aggression. So China, at least for the foreseeable future, is stuck on it current path of tolerated capitalism, but with no hope of changing course back to a truer form of communism. As a billion plus Chinese become consumers of western goods, the base of the “People’s Revolution” erodes from around the central government. China will have a political change, but it will be driven by economics, not by war.

I may not be 100% correct here, but certainly these issues influence what the “threat” really is, and how we should adapt to meet it. And while we wring our hands about the possibility that I might not be 100% correct, taking action to restructure will be a success if it is the 95% solution. The other 5% we can make up with innovation, drive and shear will. No force structure will be perfect in terms of meeting the threat, being economically sustainable, or being sufficiently modern, but a re-examination is certainly called for, and changes likely, based on the significant shift of the geo-political and economic realities of today.

It is incumbent on the military leaders in the Pentagon to open up their minds, and develop courses of action that were unthinkable 20 years ago. While many will call them sellouts as pet projects or other specialties are disposed of, now is a time for bold thinking and innovation…otherwise known as leadership.


More still to come on the military realities in today’s world.

8 comments:

Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

I agree completly with everything you say in your first post, but I think you've missed the mark on China. The US is as much a Pacific power as it is an Atlantic one, and it has significant interests in central asia and the ME - and it has a serious interest in maintaining stability on the Indian subcontinent. Those are all things that China can threaten - they can attempt to choke off Pacific sea lanes, they can threaten oil and natural gas supplies in central asia, they can threaten trade with Japan, Korea, SE Asia, they can end up butting heads with India, which could very likely draw us into a conflict. All of those things are a much bigger threat than China erupting across Russia into Western Europe. And, China is building a technologically sophisticated military - they've learned the lessons of the Korean War, and of Desert Storm. AQ and the Islamic nutters are the immediate threat, but we shouldn't be lulled into building a military that can fight an insurgency well, and a sophisticated military enemy poorly. I see China as the emerging threat of the 21st century.

ink said...

It is tempting tp be persuaded by your analysis but it leaves me uneasy in a couple respects;
1) historical precedent, specifically a reflection on 1914 when a general war was widely seen as economic catastrophe. None of the participants anticipated the four year blood bath which evenuated but they ended up there anyway.
2) You assume the Chinese are weighting the odds the way we would, this may be so but they may not be. If that is the case they may behave in ways which appear, to us, as irrational but make sense within their world view.

As the contradictions between their currently professed version of socialism and a population with rising capitalist expectations clash they may be tempted to militaristic adventures. The old Roman dictum of ensuring stabiliy at home through war abroad springs to mind.

Chinese history has few examples of peaceful government change.

I hope you are right but basing our defense planning on that assumption seems a high risk strategy.

Major Mike said...

SF and Ink. Thanks for the great comments. My feeling is that China could go to war as a socialistic monolith, but I believe they have passed that point, because the tentacles of their capitialism will be the restricting factor. Rapid economic sanctions and blockading of raw materials would strangle their economy forcing cessation of hostilites, and causing their war efforts collapse under the weight of their population. I believe they can control their population, or go to war, but not both.

To SF's point, I realize China could do all of the things he suggests, but for other reasons, they "can't".

I think the balance for re-orgainizing falls somewhere between what they can do and what they are likely to do. Our generals/admirals tend to focus on the the former.

Thanks again...had me thinking all night!

Anonymous said...

Yea, I agree with SF Alpha.

I think the Major is entirely too comfortable in the scenario that he, {and not the Chinese themselves...} created.

What if they were to try to Finlandize the Pacific rim nations, and intimidate them, as they have already intimidated them concerning the Spratlys?

Actual military movement, they could render unnecessary by threats and economic measures.

Yes, we are capable of imposing economic sanctions on them, but in the world to come, with the anti-American EU on stage, how SERIOUS and LASTING do you think such sanctions would last. Throughout the cold war, take a look at how serious Europe was on imposing sanctions on the Soviet Union, EVEN after they moved into Afghanistan. THEN we had diplomatic clout to wrangle the Euros into line with our policies, barely. What chance do you think that the Franco led EU will agree with our policy regarding China, when they could easily step into the vacum economically in China, replacing companies and markets held by Americans.

I think the Major suffers from a lack of imagination of the possibilities.

1) an EU profoundly hostile.
2} a China overflowing with confidence
3} the momentum created by their own state sponsored propoganda, {recall that for a decade easy, the Chinese press does nothing but talk of the looming showdown over Taiwan}

I don't like the direction this train is moving in.

Anonymous said...

Recalls to mind the words spoken by Mussolini, when he first laid eyes on Hitler, getting off a train to meet him. He was heard to uter to an aide: "I don't like the looks of him...."
The Duce should have followed his gut....

And MY gut starts to squirm when I think of what the Chinese are going to do in the Pacific.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the others for several reasons:
1. The motivations of the Chinese may not be rational to our way of thinking.
2. Taiwanese independence, or the perception thereof is a "hot button" for the Chinese.
3. The Chinese see themselves as challenging the US (and Japan) for their natural right: dominance of the Western Pacific Rim.
4. The writings of the mid-level military officers in their professional literature reflect antipathy towards the US and deal in large measure with countering US actions in their area of interest.
5. The State Council and NPC have few, if any, survivors of the Long March or WWII. Knowledge of the realities of war is unlikely to be a factor in keeping the sword in its scabbard.
6. Many aspects of military affairs defy logic and rationality. My confidence that China will follow a path of enlightened self interest is weak and wary. Double that when considering our current crop of problem nation states.
7. Boy do I hope you are right!
V/R JW

Anonymous said...

Agree with the others for several reasons:
1. The motivations of the Chinese may not be rational to our way of thinking.
2. Taiwanese independence, or the perception thereof is a "hot button" for the Chinese.
3. The Chinese see themselves as challenging the US (and Japan) for their natural right: dominance of the Western Pacific Rim.
4. The writings of the mid-level military officers in their professional literature reflect antipathy towards the US and deal in large measure with countering US actions in their area of interest.
5. The State Council and NPC have few, if any, survivors of the Long March or WWII. Knowledge of the realities of war is unlikely to be a factor in keeping the sword in its scabbard.
6. Many aspects of military affairs defy logic and rationality. My confidence that China will follow a path of enlightened self interest is weak and wary. Double that when considering our current crop of problem nation states.
7. Boy do I hope you are right!
V/R JW

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the double entry.
V/R JW

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