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Monday, June 13, 2005

Kissinger on China

It is always worth it to pay attention to the words of Henry Kissinger, and this Washington Post piece on China is no execption. A lot of what he says here makes a great deal of sense to me. This one bit though seems a bit overly optimistic:

China's emerging role is often compared to that of imperial Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, the implication being that a strategic confrontation is inevitable and that the United States had best prepare for it. That assumption is as dangerous as it is wrong. The European system of the 19th century assumed that its major powers would, in the end, vindicate their interests by force. Each nation thought that a war would be short and that, at its end, its strategic position would have improved. Only the reckless could make such calculations in a globalized world of nuclear weapons. War between major powers would be a catastrophe for all participants; there would be no winners; the task of reconstruction would dwarf the causes of the conflict. Which leader who entered World War I so insouciantly in 1914 would not have recoiled had he been able to imagine the world at its end in 1918?
Obviously, no one wants a nuclear war and any prospective gains from a conflict pale in comparison to the loses one would occur in such a thing. I don't think we can so cavalierly dismiss the possibility however. As Kissinger notes, if you were able to send a history book back in time to 1914 to the leaders of the nations that became embroiled in WWI, things would have turned out differently. Is it not possible though, that provided with this knowledge an ambitious nation would assume that the others would fear to oppose it, knowing the dramatic consequences if it did? Would Germany have ended it's agressive posture, or become more aggressive believing that Britain, France, and especially Russia would fear to greatly to become involved in a war of such devastating consequences. And if Germany did so, would Britain and France perhaps decide that terrible though the war would be, not responding to such aggresiveness would over time be even worse? We certainly have the 'history book' ahead of time when it comes to nuclear war. There is no doubt that such a thing would be horrible. Even with a limited exchange, there would be losers and no winners. The problem is, everyone knows that everyone knows that. China knows that it would take a pretty major act before the U.S. would use nuclear weapons against it. Knowing that, it can feel free to use a certain limited degree of aggression without fear of a U.S. response. Obviously, there is a line a which the U.S. will feel compelled to respond, and equally obviously it is dangerous to publicize that line or China will feel free to do everything right up to the line. Mistakes can be made in such a situation, and a result that no one wants can end up happening. Kissinger does give other reasons why China is unlikely to be this aggressive, and they certainly have at least some validity. However, the mere fact that Nuclear War would be horrible does not ensure that it will never happen.


Blogger Cubicle said...

"Even with a limited exchange, there would be losers and no winners. "

unless of course we can shoot their missles out of the sky, then in that case there would be a clear winner and a clear loser (and it would not be us)

6/14/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Even in the scenario you describe, we would not 'win.' Devastation in China would not be to our interests and would hurt us economically.

Add in, that even with a perfect missible defense shield a smuggled nuclear device could destroy a city and being gung-ho about this sort of conflict is quite dangerous.

6/14/2005 12:32:00 PM  

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