Monday, March 05, 2007

Two posts on China

(These are both over at Ezra's place, and I neglected to cross-post them earlier, so I'll just smoosh them together here.)

Something Bush hasn't (yet) been able to ruin

Just to add to the whole Delong-Klein remarks about China (and what schoolchildren of the future are taught) [see here - J] I think it's worth pointing out one of the biggest reasons to be optimistic about future Sino-American relations: America remains astonishingly popular among actual people (if not their governments) even in places where there's a history of hostility.

Perhaps the best example is Iran, where decades of frosty relations between Washington and Tehran -- punctuated by terrorism on one side, accidental jetliner shoot-downs on the other, and vicious propaganda on both -- still hadn't managed to poison the minds of Iranian people against Americans. Name a Muslim capital, aside from Tehran, that had spontaneous pro-American rallies after 9/11. While I suspect Iranians' opinion of America has cooled somewhat since then, it's worth remembering how friendly the people of Iran were, despite all the water that was already under the bridge -- a history that was much, much worse than any current or future problems the US and China are likely to face.

So even if Sino-American relations go frosty over trade issues (and I'm barely old enough to remember this story with Japan) provided that cooler heads keep things civil, I suspect we actually don't have much to worry about. Keeping the actual governments of the US and China on the straight and narrow is far more worrisome to me than keeping their constituents rational.

While it may be painful for Professor Delong to hear, I don't think any schoolchild takes their teacher that seriously about long division, much less international politics.


China, cont.

For a perfect example of the kind of writing Sino-American relations don't need, read this by Mark Helprin.

Helprin makes much of America's reduction in it's nuclear arsenal, and the supposed disadvantage this will bring vs. China, but there's really only three things you need to know:

1) Much of the so-called reduction will amount to putting the warheads in storage, so they could be put back in to service very quickly. They are not being permanently dismantled.

2) Even if this were not true, the DOE and DOD recently announced they will begin building new warheads in the near future (circa 2012.)

3) Even if both of the preceding weren't true, it's should be a mystery to me, you, or anyone else how America is more secure with 10,000 warheads instead of 1,000. The insanity of the Cold War arms race was just that -- insanity. Russia and the US could have capped their strategic nuclear arms at 1,000 apiece and still effectively destroyed each other multiple times. (In that either state would totally cease to function after "only" a handful of nuclear strikes.)

The same holds true for China, only more so. If China develops a second-strike capability -- and why wouldn't they? -- there's little America can do about it, including multiplying America's already-robust nuclear force. After all, the US has had a second-strike capability for generations now.

Helprin seems to hang his hat on the idea that China, being a less technically-advanced society than the US, would be willing to target the US' networks without being vulnerable to similar counter-attacks. But of course, the most dangerous offensive parts of the Chinese military are, yes, exactly those that are most technically dependent and vulnerable to counterattack. Obviously, it's always possible that Chinese leaders are insane, but Helprin makes it clear how that he thinks they are in fact clear and disciplined grand strategists.

But this is par for the course in this debate: First, praise the Chinese leadership for their clear, decisive grand strategy and contrast it with the vacillating, weak-need American conduct from Clinton onwards. Then, assume the Chinese go insane some point in the future, preferably with a long enough lead time for some major defense spending.

No comments: