Tuesday, March 5, 2019

America's Civilizational Clash with China

It should be well understood by now, America’s most significant opponent is not Russia; it’s China. Why else would Congressional Democrats be running around screeching: The Russians are coming; The Russians are coming?

Evidently, the Trump administration is addressing the problem of unfair economic competition with China. How well or poorly time will tell. And yet,  as Mark Helprin argues in a Wall Street Journal the military imbalance between China and America is growing wider. To the point where we will have considerable difficulty defending our interests in Asia.

By Helprin’s lights, the issue is not economic competitiveness as much as it is military capacity. It’s a point that we ought to take seriously. Over the years America has been weakened militarily, perhaps by bad trade deals, perhaps by a will to make it into a large welfare state.

 The way to deal with China, and thus North Korea, its naughty but wholly dependent vassal, is not by a failing and provocative attempt to weaken it, but by attending to America’s diminishing strengths. Unlike the short-focused U.S., China plays the long game, in which the chief objective is a favorable correlation of forces over time and the most important measure is military capacity.

Surely, Helprin is correct to see that America, a nation divided against itself, has been losing its military strength advantage. He does not mention it, but the American military today seems more concerned with diversity, and sensitivity training than it does winning wars:

China looks past this and all short-term maneuvering to see the U.S. ill-attending to its fundamental strengths, and marks us down as a declining country that cannot come to terms with necessities. It knows that in the 1970s and ’80s, when America led the world in computers, electronics, research, and capital, we failed to automate. Taking the easy way out by offshoring for the sake of cheaper wages, we allowed our manufacturing base to atrophy. And now China sees a weakling that, rather than venture competition, seeks safe spaces behind tariff walls.

The solution, for Helprin, is for America to build up its military capacity, to the point where it appears to be a formidable adversary, not a world leader in producing a powder puff navy:

The only effective leverage on China, and by extension North Korea—which otherwise will retain nuclear weapons whether overtly or covertly but certainly—is to alter the correlation of military forces in the Western Pacific, and indeed in the world, so that it no longer moves rapidly and inevitably in China’s favor, which is what China cares about, the essence of its policy, its central proposition. Though with some effort the U.S. is perfectly capable of embarking upon this strategy, it has not. It seems we lack the awareness, political will, intelligence, probity, discipline, leadership, and habit of mind to do so.

The obstacles abound. First, while everyone is worrying about American and Russian withdrawal from a nuclear arms treaty, China, a major nuclear power, is constrained by no such deals:

First, it is astounding that China, the world’s third-ranking nuclear power, with 228 known nuclear missiles and a completely opaque nuclear-warfare establishment, unlike the U.S. and Russia is subject to no agreements, no inspection, no verification and no limits, while in this regard the U.S. remains deaf, dumb and blind. The U.S. should pressure China to enter a nuclear arms-control regime or explain to the world why it will not.

Second, Helprin notes that we are barely capable of defending our Pacific bases, and our allies:

Second, keeping in mind that America’s inadequate military sea and air lift make wartime supply of forces in Europe a well known problem, the distance from San Francisco to Manila is twice that between New York and London, China has 55 attack submarines, and the U.S. Navy has long neglected antisubmarine warfare. This renders the diminished string of American bases on China’s periphery crucial for initial response and as portals for resupply. But they are vulnerable, and little has been done to make them less so.

This means that China might well choose to rid the region of American influence. Could it do so? Helprin sees it as a distinct possibility. And yet, often perception drives events. The more America seems to be weak and ineffective, unwilling to upgrade its military capacities, the more China will feel tempted to flex its muscles.

China understands that a knockout blow against our bases would banish the U.S. from its environs, condemning us to a long-distance campaign to which the U.S. Navy in its present state—overstretched, undertrained and half the size of the Reagan Navy—is inadequate. And if China spiked the Panama Canal, which we abandoned and it took on, and used its six nuclear attack submarines to block the southern capes and choke points east of Suez, it would have to contend only with roughly half of our already diminished fleets.

He concludes:

At present the U.S. is inexplicably blind to the fundamental power relations upon which China is intently focused. As long as we remain vulnerable while China increases its military powers and ours decline, Beijing need not do anything but pretend to compromise. This can change if we send the Chinese a message they cannot ignore. That is, if we take our eyes off the zero-sum game long enough to assure our strengths in depth. Frankly, if we do not, the Pacific Coast of the United States will eventually look out upon a Chinese lake.


David Foster said...

There is also the issue of political/cultural influence, on American-made movies for example. See my post So, Really Want to Talk About Foreign Intervention?


Sam L. said...

I would note that building ships takes a goodly while, as well as a lot of people capable of building them, and training sailors to crew them. I would expect the Democrats to complain, delay, and refuse to fund such action.

UbuMaccabee said...

I am focused on a Civil War against leftists in the United States. That is my first enemy. If China can help me defeat them, then I'll ally with China. But I suspect that China would be wise to fund leftists in the United States, I know I would if I were China. Nothing destroys a culture like leftism. China was nearly destroyed by it themselves. They spent decades slaughtering one another, all inspired by leftism. Our nation cannot possibly address China while we are at each others throats--and rightly so, leftism is a cancer, it dies or Civilization dies. Those are my current priorities. A war with China will not unify us, it will offer further clarification of just how divided we really are.

Webutante said...

Good post, Don. So true. No place to run but defend the building of our morality and our military strengths.

sestamibi said...

As the article points out, the present danger to our armed forces is the obsession with diversity and "sexual harassment" in the military, causing us to lose focus on readiness.

The longer range danger is the rapidly declining share of white Americans. Younger age cohorts, especially those approaching military age, are more likely to be unwilling to defend a nation they really don't identify with against "enemies" who look like them. It's the "what you mean, "we", kimosabe?" syndrome.

Even young white men are unlikely to want to defend a country that offers nothing to them when they return (IF they return!), instead filling every single leadership position and well-paying yuppie job with women, and criminalizing their very efforts to find a mate.

Unless and until we deal with these issues, we better be prepared to circle the drain.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Tom Friedman lost what little credibility he had left when he swooned about the Chinese government model being superior. The Left is all about command control.

What do AOC and David Hogg think about China? I am starving for their wisdom.