2010 August 22 Sunday
China-US War Avoidable?

Can the next really big potential war be avoided?

Four years before World War I, British author and politician Norman Angell published "The Great Illusion," arguing that military conquests had become obsolete between modern economies. Many policy makers use the same logic today to predict that China and the United States can avoid war. Like their forebears, they may be wrong.

That's the implicit argument of University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer, who delivered the annual Michael Hintze Lecture at Sydney University this week. Politics, rather than economics, will decisively shape the future of Asia just as it did Europe in the previous century, he believes. China's ascent is likely to spark an intense security competition with the U.S., leading to the strong possibility of war between the world's two biggest economies.

One fear is that future generations of Chinese leaders will become far less cautious. Not mentioned in the article: The American people were foolish enough to elect George W. Bush followed by Barack Obama. One can only guess who they'll choose next.

Once Chinese power rivals and even surpasses that of the US we are going to need strategic calculators of Richard Nixon's level of ability. But my guess is that future Presidents will be chosen due to their ethnic loyalties as the country becomes more balkanized. Presidential candidate quality will probably decline.

So where to decamp to if you can foresee an inevitable war? Trying to get out of harm's way at the last minute will be difficult to do for all but the most wealthy. Better to move in advance. But to where? Canada's physically too close to the US. Australia might break from US alliance and become neutral. After all, immigration trends there will create a big Chinese-leaning faction and China will continue to buy large amounts of Australian natural resources. Maybe Eastern Europe will be the place to be. Or perhaps the most heavily German/Italian part of Brazil. That's where the hot models come from.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 August 22 08:18 PM  Civilizations Clash Of

Stephen said at August 22, 2010 10:33 PM:

Over what would China and the US fight?

Commodities (ie oil)? If supply became so bad that fighting breaks out, then it wouldn't be just a two-way fight.

Non-commodity markets? I can't think of any product market where the gains from any win would be worth the cost of achieving that win.

Territory? Perhaps Taiwan, but would the average US citizen care enough to risk a war? Especially as in 10 years time the US will have scrapped a battle group or two in order to save costs and by then Taiwan will be well and truly in China's sphere of influence.

Political philosophy? Chinese communism isn't proselytising, so its not as if there's scope for local civil wars to be turned into superpower proxy wars. And anyway, is there anyone left in the US who loves their system of government so much that they'd be willing to take a bullet for it in a Vietnam/Korea-style scenario?

Debt collection? Maybe. Say if the US defaults on its government debt and in response China seizes all private US assets located in China. That said, if the US is in such a bad way that it defaults, then its not going to be able to afford the cost of a war to reclaim those assets.

Randall Parker said at August 22, 2010 11:03 PM:


Good question. The US has possessions in the Pacific. Would China try to claim some of them?

The US might create a web of defensive alliances and get pulled into war that way. China could attack Vietnam for example. Or maybe the North Koreans would make a move that would pull in the US to defend South Korea.

The Filipinos might decide they want the US back in Subic Bay due to demands from China for concessions.

Black Death said at August 23, 2010 6:38 AM:

I agree with Stephen - there is not much reason for the US and China to fight. That doesn't mean they won't fight, of course, just that there's not much reason for them to do so. There wasn't much reason for the European powers (and, later, the US) to become engaged in WW I, but they did. And there wasn't any reason for WW II to start over some German-Polish border issues, but it happened. So we cannot rule out the possibility that idiotic leaders will begin another nasty war, but we can hope that they do not.

Look at a map - China is surrounded by enemies, real and potential, and, since the beginning of the 20th century, has fought wars with most of them (Russia, Korea, Japan, the Nationalists on Taiwan, Viet Nam and India). Any military push by China into neighboring territories will arouse intense opposition from some of these countries. The US will be pretty far down the list of countries that China will encounter.

The US Pacific possessions (except Hawaii) don't amount to much and couldn't be worth a war between the US and China. And Hawaii? It's pretty far, and the last Asian power that attacked it got its head handed to it on a platter.

Plus, of course, the US has an enormous nuclear arsenal, a small part of which could turn all of China into radioactive toast. Even a non-nuclear war is unlikely - China imports most of its oil from the Persian Gulf, and it wouldn't take a huge naval force out in the middle of the Indian Ocean to turn off the spigot. Land-based Chinese missiles and aircraft would be useless there.

Right now the only potential flash point between the US and China is Korea, and both powers should work together to insure that this does not erupt into a conflict that neither side wants (i.e., no "Guns of August" replay). I think China is resigned to eventual reunification under South Korean leadership but does not want a united Korea as another enemy on its doorstep. The US should have no problem with this. China also does not want to deal with a flood of North Korean refugees if the regime collapses.

ASPIRANT said at August 23, 2010 1:12 PM:

Don't think there'll be a war. We have too much to gain from each other.

Dave in Seattle said at August 23, 2010 4:47 PM:

Two possible causes of future wars that come to mind are: a moslem country detonates an A-bomb on New York and the government of Mexico collapses. I agree that a war with China is unlikely -- our treasonous elite already give them everything so why should they attack? I could see a civil war coming when the elite make a big push to convert America to a non-white majority. For example an effort to restart the economy by inviting in fifty million Asian immigrants might trigger unrest.

California kid said at August 24, 2010 10:59 AM:

The USA is rapidly shifting to a Latino/3rd world population. Latinos aren't very warlike.
Street crime yes, mechanized warfare no. But in 2025 some of the current elites will still be in charge, even if only behind-the-scenes. There will still be some Scots-Irish and German Americans eager to march off to war. So on a psychological level it may still be possible. But financially, maybe not.

Sgt. Joe Friday said at August 24, 2010 2:21 PM:

Dave says there might be war if the government of Mexico collapses. I think the big question there is would WE fight? I think there are far too many among our ruling political class who would view the tsunami of Mexicans flooding over the border as some kind of political opportunity dressed up in humanitarian drag, not a violation of our sovereignty or an invasion to be repelled. It's almost a certainty that they would refuse to use the military or national guard, except to (a) maintain order in the refugee camps, and (b) to subdue U.S. citizens who might be inclined to demonstrate or riot in response to what's going on.

This is why any collapse of established order in Mexico would be dangerous - not because of the failed state next door so much as the opportunities it would give our ruling class to impose rapid, irreversible demographic change and perhaps a dictatorship at the same time.

broodrack said at August 24, 2010 8:00 PM:

What good are "hot models" going to do you old farts?

Pigbone Jones said at August 24, 2010 8:41 PM:

A war with the PRC is possible, but unlikely. They're gonna grab Taiwan and the clowns in DC will yelp, but that's about it. I do expect a nuclear explosion set off in the US by those who are unhappy about the recently passed health legislation though. Civil War II has a good chance of happening. The Chinese will be involved, but as weapon sellers. They make fine stuff from rifles to grenade launchers to artillery to rockets...Check out Norinco just for some stuff! No US $, but gold and/or silver (maybe other resource guarantees) will be accepted. I expect the Russians to offer some good deals and good stuff as well. Just so you know: The V.A.Degtyarev Plant is always ready for mutually beneficial cooperation. Da!

Brenton Dube said at August 25, 2010 10:08 AM:

The world was much more militaristic +50 years ago. What would cause it to reappear? Without that, war is extremely unlikely.

the bees knees said at August 26, 2010 3:11 AM:

Highly doubt it

I live in Beijing by the way and I'm anglo-saxon (triple citizen of Uk, US, and Canada)

This whole "China will take over the world real soon" idea is nonsense. It will give the world a run for it's money that is for sure but the country has a long way to go to resemble anything of the US. China as a nation is pretty peaceful when it comes to foreign nations, it quarrels with itself often but I highly doubt it'll wage war against the west. It's own war like conflict ends on its borders. If anything, the country will split up far before a war breaks out.

The media in the west does a really great job of hyping up situations here in China, both good and bad.

You want to understand China? Live here for a bit and you'll understand its place. The growth here is real, but it has so long to go.

I've never seen so many cranes in my life here...that's all the 'economics' I need to know.

no i don't said at September 8, 2010 2:47 PM:

"China could attack Vietnam for example."

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but do you mean to say or imply that Vietnam is a U.S. possession in the Pacific?

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