Tuesday, May 10, 2005

John J. Mearsheimer and the new Cold War 

Last Wednesday I attended a talk given by the Taiwanese Student's Organization. Speaking was Peng Ming-Min, a senior adviser to President Chen. He said exactly what you'd expect him to say: that Taiwan is it's own country with it's own identity at home and abroad (which the TSO demonstrates, by the way,) and that China's all wrong if it thinks that it can bully Taiwan back into the fold. Not that I disagree with him here, but it was pretty predictable.

So was Professor Mearsheimer, mostly. Obviously, M is a big proponent of nationalism, and he realizes that both the Chinese and Taiwanese have developed a strong sense of it, which will continue to drive this conflict - even if China suddenly becomes a democracy. While I can appreciate the power of nationalism, I don't agree that a change of government would make no difference in Chinese foreign policy.

Obviously, Mearsheimer thinks that future hostility with China is inevitable, and balancing is already happened - Japan declaring Taiwan a shared security interest with the US and the US allowing Lockheed Martin to bid for India's 126 fighter contract, and pledging to make India a world power. From M's point of view, it's all exactly what you'd expect from an offshore balancer like the United States, and yes, it's pretty predictable.

But there were a few surprises. Mearsheimer expects the timeline of any Chinese agression in the region to be anywhere on the order of 30-50+ years, a far cry from the 2008-2010 window forecast in this Navy War College paper. Furthermore, he expects the balancing coalition to be larger than I think will be achieved. Australia, South Korea, Japan, the United States, India and Vietnam are easy calls. But Mearsheimer is sure that Russia will eventually balance a Chinese threat to its borders, especially as its population continues to shrink. This I find hard to believe; unlike the previous countries, there is no evidence the Russians are especially concerned of growing Chinese military power. In fact, the Russians have been the primary source of the latest Chinese military hardware and technology, including the SS-N-27 Anti-Ship Cruise Missile, the Varyag aircraft carrier, Kilo-class subs, and the Su-30, which China has been buying up in large numbers and which easily eclipses its indigenous J-10 fighter.

Not only, that, but the strength and speed of the coagulation of the balancing coalition Mearsheimer envisions surprised me as well. When I asked about India balancing China, M responded (paraphrased) "I have spoken with a number of Indian military specialists, and the response is 100% positive, the Indians want to jump into bed with us as much as we do with them." Honestly, it's been pretty hard for me to find evidence of Indian enthusiasm to balance China - I've been lurking Sino- and Indian-defense boards to try and glean that sort of sentiment (and have been largely unsuccessful), so I guess this sort of second-hand info might have to do for me. It stands to reason, then, that the reason that India has been so slow to award its fighter contract (now largely a political decision) to Lockheed is that the F-16 is far from the best plane for the job. It's not, but it's a move they'll pretty much have to make, and in this both M and myself agree.

Peter, I completely agree with you that Russia will not jump in to help. I see it as extremely likely that they would jump in on the side of the Chinese thereby distracting from the main offensive in the South China Sea any help we may obtain from the Europeans (if anyone--Britain maybe). As far as India goes, however, a lot of stuff goes on behind the scenes (away from the press), so it's conceivable that they'd like to help out. I have a problem with helping them become a world power though. I'm completely satisfied with supplying them with F-16s because we've got stuff so much better now, but don't poopoo the F-16 . . . it's still one of the best fighters in the world. Just remember what the best Air Force in the world (Israel) primarilly flies. And in America we are only now getting around to replacing it with the F-35.
Fighter quality is most determined by electronics and communication.

Areas India wishes to improve.

The choice of platform then is a mostly political decision.

We have a lot to thank British imperialism for. And then there is Africa. Did I mention China? A mixed bag to be sure.

OTOH I'm sorry to say but we bear a large measure of responsibility for the South American mess. We have done a lousy job of winning hearts and minds there. Despite 200 years of efforts.
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