re: China and war

Fri, 18 Apr 1997 13:46:51 +0100
Richard K. Moore (

To: philofhi, wsn:

The discussion of a possible war between China and (primarily) the US has
overlapped across phiofhi and wsn. The meaning of WW II as a precedent has
been developed, as well as the theory of when core powers do and don't
initiate or engage in wars.

As for the latter, it seems clear that core powers have often preferred the
strategy of encouraging proxy wars among their adversaries and competitors
- certainly an obvious and sensible strategy - and several examples were
offered by Nikolai S. Rozov and Sergio Ribeiro Porto:
England/ France vs Germany,Austria,Russia in 1799-1815,
England/ Russia vs Turkey in 1853-56,
England(+USA)/ Germany vs France,Russia in 1914-1945
England/ Brazil, Argentina and Urugay vs. Paraguay 1867-70

But "core behavior" is not some immutable natural law - it responds to
circumstances, exhibits the bizarre as well as the systematic, and evolves
over time. Guy Ankerl pointed out that direct core-power engagement in
wars does occur:
USA attacked in the last decades Granada, Panama, Iraq


Isn't it obvious that what core powers do is to advance their own interests, and that they use the means that seem most appropriate at the time? Certain sensible strategies show up repeatedly simply because they're sensible in each case.

If we want to predict core-power behaviors today, doesn't it make sense to look directly at what the core interests are, what means core powers have available to them, and what signals they give out? Historical precedents alert us to possibilities, but in this era of radical and diverse global changes, aren't we well advised to examine the evidence directly and keep an open mind about what we may discern?

One historical distinction that _is_ worth noting, regarding strategy selection, is whether or not a core power enjoys a strongly dominant military positition. Alexander, Napolean, Hitler, and Tojo all had an overwhelmingly dominant military superiority over their targetted adversaries, after taking into account the advantage of outstanding generalship. For this reason, it made sense for these players to dispense with proxy games and get on with their expansionist designs through direct deployment of their own military resources, under their own management. Direct attack is the simpler and quicker option if a core power can carry it off and not draw in thereby unwanted third parties.

Today, especially since the Soviet collapse, the US enjoys just such a position of overwhelming military superiority - with respect to the whole globe. And the US has demonstrated in the past that it is fully cognizant of both direct engagement and proxy manipulation, as policy options.

If in fact some kind of violent conflict of interests is to be played out between the US and China, we would be well advised to be fully open to either strategy: (1) the US could carry out a hi-tech Iraq-style Yellow Storm (2) the US could encourage proxy conflicts: China vs some combination of Japan, Russia, Taiwan, India, etc.

We simply can't predict one outcome over the other on the basis of historical core power "laws". Under current circumstances either scenario could unfold - but allow me to offer several reasons why I believe the hi-tech option should be taken as the front-runner: (1) The US has no need to further weaken Russia, and no interest in weakening Japan, India, or Taiwan - hence no collateral advantage to be gained from proxy wars.

(2) Any hot war involving China would be highly volatile (escalation prone) because of the likelihood of nukes being employed by the first side that fears being overrun - hence US would be only marginally delaying its entry, and undesired damage to allies would be likely during that delay.

(3) A US pre-emptive first-strike on China, prior to eruption of major hostilities, would offer the best chances of confining the conflict to Chinese soil. Such a strike would be aimed at long-range missiles, air power, air defenses, and communications. It would employ tactical nukes, cruise missiles, stealth weaponry, electronic counter-measures, and would be preceded by electronics-destroying radiation mega-pulses.

(4) The US is aggressively pursuing development of weapons suites that would enable such a first-strike to succeed in its missions, as well as enabling the US to continue to prosecute such a war without getting bogged down in surface operations.


We all know, and many have pointed out in our discussion, that the meaning and role of "core power" is undergoing profound transformation in this era of globalization. One can rightly question the continued applicability of traditional geopolitical concepts such as "US strategic interests", "Chinese sphere of influence", "core power rivalries", "balance of power", "regional hegemony", etc.

But it should be clear that China has not yet taken a full globalization tack, that it has voiced designs on a traditional nationalist sphere of influence, and that it is assiduously upgrading its military power. It also seems to be clear that in the absence of a real commitment by China to globalist integration (both economically and in terms of adjudication of disputes), the US continues to evaluate the Asian theater in terms of traditional balance-of-power considerations. And a regionally hegemonous China is definitely a no-no from that US perspective. Hence I believe the scenario analysis given above is valid under current circumstances.