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May 16, 2005

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Little is more pathetic when someone starts believing their own press. Good stuff, praktike.

Ah, darn it, I was hoping for lots of intelligent comments. I can't fill the gap--I know nothing about modern naval warfare.

On the subject of the Atlantic, that is one very mixed up magazine. At times over the past few years they seem to be the thinking man's guide to imperialism, with two or three pre-Abu-Ghraib articles defending torture, for instance, but they also publish some good stuff. It's a hard magazine to categorize, which I don't mean as a compliment, because what's hard to categorize is whether it's worth reading or not. One good article a month might be right--May's good article was the Benjamin Schwarz piece on Israel. Don't know about June.

My favourite line in Kaplan's piece (not addressed by Barnett)was his assertion that China and the EU were likely to grow morally closer as the Chinese superficially toned down their autocracy and the EU becomes increasingly run by an unelected bureaucracy.

This both puzzled and amused me. Does anyone have any insight into what Kaplan's point here is?

I'm sort of waiting for some comments as well, but if that's the kind of deep thinking that goes on in the current military, I'm going to have my daughter study Chinese...

Well, I do know a teensy bit about modern naval warfare, and Drum's Washington Monthly thread seemed to get a few things wrong. Namely, missile destroyers have a much larger detection range than described, and part of their purpose is to defend against missile attack. Two destroyers carry a loadout of just under 400 missiles ready to launch. How many of those can be configured for missile defense and what the intercept timeline is (read: how many simultaneous intercept missions can be managed), I have no idea.

I was in the...can't recall what the name of the room was, save combat operations were run from there...of the U.S.S. Mason, the day before it was commissioned, and you could see radar tracks of commercial and private air traffic from a distance that might urge you to try toasting marshmallows in front of the radar phased arrays. Think of these ships as floating missile defense batteries and you're covering maybe 10% of their capabilities. One of the other neato things about this particular type of ship is that it carries two ASW helicopters inside, and you'd never know from looking at it unless someone had clued you in.

Assuming that they were loaded out for fleet defense rather than land attack, which would probably be the case if they were in fleet-defense mode.

Have we got a war for you!

It seems that certain irresponsible people (and I do not include military planners in that category) want to promote a war with China for no better reson than a desire to have a major war. They seem to pick China less for any deep sense of ideological conflict than a perception that China has the resources to actually sustain a military conflict with the United States. This promotion of the next big war highlights both the absurdity and the addictive nature of the system of conflict without end that has dominated international politics since World War II.

From time to time, the weakness of the current adversary, and the prospect of actual peace, brings a kind of visible panic to the wrtings of those most enthralled by war; a of panic similar to that experienced by addicts on contemplating the prospect of sobriety and responsibility. It seems to me that the search for the "next war", the "next enemy" has grown more and more like the search for the next fix.

And I see reality cut the mosnsters of George Orwell's imagination down to size: the demonic O'Brien of the mnistry of Love, promoting hate, war, and oppression, the "boot stamping on a human face forever" has dwindled, in reality, into the hollow eyed pathos of the junkie.

Can it really be correct that neither the parent post, nor any of the commenters on it, nor the "takedown" referenced mention the word "Taiwan"? The original article certainly did.

Truly strange.

Why does "proximity" matter? Because the war in question will be begun by an invasion of Taiwan by China, which, as the military mastermind Thomas Barnett somehow fails to comprehend, will be easier for China than it would be if Taiwan was thousands of miles away.

And it is also truly strange that such a large number of people are unable to comprehend how hostilities between the US and China might very well begin. There are many in Taiwan, and in China, and in the US, that believe the US will come to Taiwan's defense in the event of agressive action by China towards Taiwain. Some, again, in Taiwan, and in China, and in the US, believe the US is legally obligated to do so.

Yet somehow, the word "Taiwan" is not even uttered. One hears only the derisive laughter at those military fools who would plan for a conflict with China. Well, you guys have a point, I guess, as in the 1910s, commercial ties will preclude an all out war.

felix
One should note the reason that commercial ties did not preclude all out war in WWI, which was because ideas of comparative advantage and spheres of influence and regaining national prestige by waging war. (there is obviously several theories, but all of them seem to revolve around over belligerence and an inability to back away from the edge) I'm not against threat assessment and all that, but when they shop a guy out to whip up fear so that budget allocations can keep flowing, I think someone ought to call BS.

Felixrayman writes:

...the war in question will be begun by an invasion of Taiwan by China...
Perhaps China and the United States have interests in Taiwan that no effort, no negotiation can reconcile. Perhaps both sides consider their interests so important that they justify all the blood, all the treasure, and all the risks of a decades-long naval cold war. If so, I would love to see the argument; it would certainly make for an article worth reading. But Kaplan gives us none of this. He just assumes we have to have a war, no negotiation possible, no justification necessary:
To understand the dynamics of this second Cold War—which will link China and the United States in a future that may stretch over several generations...
Felixrayman writes:
Well, you guys have a point, I guess, as in the 1910s, commercial ties will preclude an all out war.
What exactly did that all-out war accomplish, besides the death of tens of millions of people, and misery and horror for millions more? It set the stage for the Leninist revolution in Russia, for the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1919, and for the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. The great powers of the world chose to go to war in 1914, and they chose to stay at war, even after events had proved their strategic predictions nonsense. And millions of people, right through most of the Twentieth Century, had good reason to wish they had not marched mindlessly into that war.

Today, we still have a small but vocal minority of people who long for war and conflict the way an addict longs for that bag of white powder. Since the rest of us will pay the cost of war, in lives and treasure, I would suggest that we insist, each and every time, that writers who propose future wars should explain, cogently and comprehensively, the need for such wars, the futility of negotiations, and the justification for the costs in money, opportunities, and lives. Attempts to assume the need for future wars, in my view, rate nothing more than a contemptuous dismissal.

I'm not sure it's so much of a longing, John, as it is an indoctrinated confidence that predictions of inevitable war are true. But that's not me, a self-awarded Carnak for me.

I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if China made a grab for Taiwan at some point, in an attempt to make it yet another special economic zone. I don't predict that, though, and even if I did, I don't much other than a grazing familiarity with China to back that up with. What we might do in the event that China does attempt to grab Taiwan is another conversation. If we did choose to involve ourselves, though, you can bet that it'll be dubbed The War for Microchips, or some such.

What exactly did that all-out war accomplish, besides the death of tens of millions of people, and misery and horror for millions more?

I'm not sure what you're trying to imply here. Does the fact that wars frequently accomplish nothing but misery lead you to believe there won't be another one?

Do you believe it is unlikely that China will, at some point in the next few decades, attack Taiwan unless Taiwan accepts greater integration with mainland China? Do you believe it is unlikely that the US will respond militarily in this case?

And are the probabilities of those events really so low that the word Taiwan should not even be remarked upon when considering military and political strategy in the Pacific?

Probability has nothing to do with the issue; if the United States goes to war with China, you will do so because you have chosen to. You can choose to ignore Chinese history, pretend that the Chinese have no reason not to want to give up their sovereign territory to outsiders. You can ignore what happened when they gave up Hong Kong to the British and Manchuria to the Japanese. Or, you can choose to try to accomodate China's legitimate security interests. You can try to consider their point of view.

I object to Kaplan's piece precisely because he does not acknowledge this dimension of moral choice. It may seem congenial to some people to argue that we have no choices, that great states compete by nature, that we have no alternative to the war of all against all. Addicts, likewise, prefer their addictions, however self-destructive, to freedom.

But freedom exists, and we can make a choice. We can opt for conflict and power politics without end, or we can opt for the rule of law. Kaplan produces not a single argument that the United States and China cannot build a legal and democratic framework to resolve any differences.

I object to Kaplan's piece precisely because he does not acknowledge this dimension of moral choice.

The politicians have such a choice - the military does not. They will prepare for the wars that are likely to be begun.

We can opt for conflict and power politics without end, or we can opt for the rule of law

And which option has the current administration chosen?

Slarti: I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if China made a grab for Taiwan at some point, in an attempt to make it yet another special economic zone.

China's desire for Taiwan has little to do with economic gain, IMO, and much, much more to do with winning the civil war in a way that 1949 failed to. Money's nice and all; but crushing the KMT and proving themselves the legitimate rulers of the Middle Kingdom, that's worth fighting for.

John Spragge: You can choose to ignore Chinese history, pretend that the Chinese have no reason not to want to give up their sovereign territory to outsiders. You can ignore what happened when they gave up Hong Kong to the British and Manchuria to the Japanese. Or, you can choose to try to accomodate China's legitimate security interests.

As someone who grew up in Hong Kong... what on earth are you talking about?

"As someone who grew up in Hong Kong... what on earth are you talking about?"

I assume that -- in that sole comment -- he's saying something to the effect that China had a legitimate grievance/reason-for-shame/insult in being forced to surrender practical sovereignty for so long over the original rocky little island (but more to the point, not retaining control, until regaining it recently, over what it became. (And, of course, practically speaking, losing Manchuria [or "Manchuko"] and so much other territory, for a time, to the Japanese was objectively far more grievous in terms of loss of life and territory.) That's not, per se, particularly wacky. (Of course, perhaps he has something else in mind.)

Felixrayman writes:

The politicians have such a choice - the military does not. They will prepare for the wars that are likely to be begun.
One more time: references to probability distort the issue. At least at this point, the United States government and the American electorate has the ability to choose to confront or to respect the Chinese. If you get into a conflict with China, you will at least partly have chosen to do so. While the military has to obey the politicians, journalists who hype military preparedness in effect advocate a particular policy. Talking about how you would fight a war frequently amounts to avocating that war:
We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money, too!
Just as American politicians and voters have a choice, Kaplan had a choice, too. He could have written about the legitimate interests of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indonesians, Austrailians, and others, and how to accomodate them; instead he wrote about a war. He explicitly advocated viewing the developing relationship with China in military terms. I see no reason not to hold him accountable for both the accuracy of his strategic predictions, and for his failure to address the possibility that alternatives to a conflict managed by the military might exist.
...which option has the current administration chosen?
Does this mean that the behaviour of one administration in one situation has to bind American policy makers until the end of time? Again, Kaplan writes of a "cold war" lasting decades, while the current administration must, by law, come to an end in less than four years.

Gary Farber writes:

...China had a legitimate grievance/reason-for-shame/insult in being forced to surrender practical sovereignty for so long over the original rocky little island...
Mr. Farber has interpreted my point exactly. I can only add that the century or so after the British forced China into "territorial compromise" on Hong Kong involved a series of disasters and humiliations for China, and the Chinese government, like all governments, takes its characteristics from its history. The last hundred and fifty years have given the Chinese many reasons to believe that disaster follows any surrender of territory. Considering that history, I believe the United States government can probably find a way to reach an acceptable accomodation with China, if they choose to do so.

The last hundred and fifty years have given the Chinese many reasons to believe that disaster follows any surrender of territory.

A fair point but irrelevant to the issue of Taiwan, at least insofar as you've constructed this argument. Taiwan was a) was barely part of the Chinese empire [although the modern Chinese would probably dispute that, given their myopia on the issue], b) its indigenuous people were never assimilated (or functionally eliminated, like the Hakka), c) it was in fact returned to the Chinese post-1945 and d) it's now the erstwhile KMT*, a rogue domestic power, which controls Taiwan, not a foreign invader.

In the absence of either a mercantilist war like the Opium Wars or an imperial war like the invasion of Manchuria/Manchukuo, I don't see how China's (justified) fear and hatred of foreign invaders pertains to the issue of Taiwan or, more generally, how Taiwan factors into the calculus of "legitimate security interests".

* It actually isn't any more, but the CCP doesn't really care so I'll let it slide.

The last hundred and fifty years have given the Chinese many reasons to believe that disaster follows any surrender of territory. Considering that history, I believe the United States government can probably find a way to reach an acceptable accomodation with China, if they choose to do so.

That depends on what China considers to be its territory. Given both that their understanding of what constitutes "China" is woefully deficient at the popular level and that the current trends are poor, I'm unconvinced that China can be persuaded to draw acceptable territorial lines, nor be convinced to guarantee its citizens meaningful civil liberties, without some show of force.

Outright war, though, is another question. YMMV.

At least at this point, the United States government and the American electorate has the ability to choose to confront or to respect the Chinese

The first is true (that the US government can choose its course) the second (that the electorate can do so) I don't believe to be true. Do you think that the US electorate has an accurate and complete description, at this time, of what promises have been made to Taiwan about what would happen in the event of hostilites initiated by China? I don't think they have that information, and don't see how they could make a choice lacking the necessary information.

Talking about how you would fight a war frequently amounts to avocating that war

I don't agree with that statement. China is one of the few entities on this planet that could, although it does not now, represent a serious threat to my way of life. Islamic terrorists do not represent such a threat. China could. I want the military to prepare to confront the real threats. I personally see war as a last resort, I personally see preparedness as an imperative.

If the US has told Taiwan, "In the event of an attack by China, you are on your own", then I am making much ado about nothing. If the US has told Taiwan, "In the event of an attack by China, the US will come to your aid" then the US military would be irresponsible not to plan for total war.

And to get back to my original point, the failure of the "takedown" article to even mention Taiwain is baffling.

Felixrayman wrote:

Do you think that the US electorate has an accurate and complete description, at this time, of what promises have been made to Taiwan about what would happen in the event of hostilites initiated by China?
I don't think promises never submitted to the American electorate or their representatives necessarily bind the American people. At the very least, the American electorate can revise the positions of past administrations; as for promises made by the current administration, you can certainly set limits to the commitments made by your own government. The voters certainly have a right to tell George W. Bush he can't make promises that would pitchfork millions of Americans into combat.
I want the military to prepare to confront the real threats.
I didn't say the military shouldn't prepare for war, I said that for a journalist to hype preparedness for a war often amounts to advocating that war. In a uncertain world, it makes sense for the military to prepare for politicians to blunder into a war. But Kaplan's article treats those plans pretty much as solutions, rather than last resorts if things go wrong.

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