Review of “The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy” by Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak is an extremely impressive individual who has led a profoundly interesting life.  I won’t bore you here with his extensive biography except to say briefly that he’s a geopolitical and military strategist, analyst, and adviser by trade (well, mostly), and an enjoyably clear and entertaining writer.  Since my ‘Review’ of TROCVTLOS would be, ‘Seems mostly right to me’ it would be better for me to summarize the book’s thesis instead.

(UPDATE: Thanks to a commenter, here’s an hour long interview with Luttwak on his book. UPDATE2: Welcome YCombinator / Hacker News)

I was first introduced to Luttwak’s writings through reading his very influential article in Harpers’Dead End: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice” (pdf here) and has been reading everything he writes ever since.  I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend his “Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook” which, while dated (1968), is both a great scholarly work on a rarely assessed topic, and a terrific piece of witty satire. His “Grand Strategies” of the Roman and Byzantine empires are phenomenal multidisciplinary works of historical analysis.  When he delves into Economic affairs he does seem a little out of his element, such as with his book “Turbo Capitalism“.  But his forward to Ian Fletcher’s ‘Free Trade Doesn’t Work‘ was sensible enough, where he continued his theme that modern free market ideology is a religion that is leading certain developed countries unnecessarily to their decline.

Here’s a Sailer post on his interview with Tablet magazine.  The interview helps to illustrate that Luttwak presents himself as a kind of the anti-Kissinger.  He’s worked extensively for the U.S. Army and DoD (and is now a senior associate at CSIS), and his style and reputation are almost the polar opposites of Kissinger’s.

Luttwak is considered to be brutally honest, whereas Kissinger is recognized as a successful and charming but mendacious manipulator.  Both are brilliant, and both are flawed in their own ways, but, in my view, Luttwak’s writing is more often reliable as giving you actually correct information (though selectively, with a slant towards his broader agenda of policy influence), whereas Kissinger is better at obtaining access and favor.  They are kind of a real life Jewish immigrants versions of the ‘Once an Eagle‘ duo where Kissinger is Massengale and Luttwak is Damon.  Naturally, it is Kissinger who has had more positions of influence and makes a lot more money in his 90th year with a wife who is much taller and leaner than he is.  Kissinger advocates Realpolitik, whereas Luttwak emphasizes the paradoxes of this ‘interests-maximizing rational actors’ approach in his version of the ‘Grand Strategy’ concept.

To put it very simply, rational decision making, especially in competitive scenarios, is divided into different disciplines which concentrate on different scales of time, space, and complexity.  In the immediate time frame – with only a few moving parts and only several feasible courses of action which will play themselves out in a short period of time – we have ‘tactics’.

Tactics don’t require much fluid intelligence or ad hoc improvisation, and instead are ‘in the can’ techniques and procedures that are repeatedly practiced and drilled, so that subordinates can deliver high quality performance on demand, and the cognitive burden of assessing situations is lowered so that recognizing which tactics are the most appropraite to employ becomes crystallized in the minds of junior leadership.

Above tactics is the Operational level which requires more planning and wargaming, and involves more complexity and less certainty.  While the lexicon is hardly uniform, we can generally call the next subsequent stages Campaign Plans (for phases of a particular conflict), Strategies, Theater Strategies, and finally, at the longest time horizon for all the global interests of the nation at large, we have ‘Grand Strategy’.

Extremely long-term strategizing involves so much complexity and uncertainty that one cannot conceive of goals in anything but large generalities.  Luttwak is, very reasonably, highly materialistic on this score, and says that Grand Strategy is largely about trying to maximize the resources and various forms of capital under the sure command of future decision makers, but even more importantly the relative advantage one has over one’s potential rivals.  It’s worth it to take oneself down a notch if it takes your adversary down two.  But the positive side of the coin of Grand Strategy involves economic growth, a large and high quality population, the accumulation of lots of cutting-edge military hardware and advanced intelligence capabilities, and the right set of international alliances.

AMENDATION:  A great historical example of the predominance of material factors with regards to achieving victory in any conflict is the American Civil War.  By most accounts I’ve read of the era, the Confederacy had better soldiers and superior generals.  Yes, they were outnumbered from the beginning, but they punched far above their weight and the numerical disparity on its own was insufficient to account for the Union victory.  But the Union’s vast material and economic superiority, and it’s ability to industrially produce far more military-related output, probably meant that Southern defeat was inevitable.

As an illustration of this, I hold in my mind the image of the last year of the war, during the siege of Petersburg, when the Union was simultaneously cutting off all the confederate railroads while building a new one straight from the captured harbor to the very edge of its own front lines.  The ships from the North came in at hundreds a day, and the Union supply situation continuously improved while the Confederates starved.  By the end of winter, Lee was on the run, and he couldn’t run for long.

So, you might simplify greatly and say that Grand Strategy is, “Make Decisions So As To Be As Much Stronger Than Your Competitors As Possible In The Future”.  Doing that, and assuming everyone else is also trying to do that, is very Realpolitick.

But there’s a catch that is similar to what Heartiste says about super-alpha Paul Walker, “Rules governing human interaction break down and recombine into strange new polarities, nearly the inverse of the laws that regulate most biocommerce between the sexes.”

Likewise, Luttwak contends that at the higher levels of Grand Strategy the logic of ‘get big or get stomped‘ reverses paradoxically.  If you pursue military aggrandizement so monomaniacally and consistently with realpolitick that you start to seriously threaten your neighbors and competitors then, if they are smart enough and act in time, you will provoke them into forming an alliance of resistance dedicated to doing whatever is necessary short of nuclear war, but including crushing your economy, to prevent you from getting big enough to dominate.  Luttwak says that the ‘realists’ are in fact fooling themselves with a delusion in regards to imagining themselves as actors with ‘free will‘ and that the sequence of international power politics is much more deterministic as all the actors are in fact, “… trapped by the paradoxes of the logic of strategy, which imposes its own imperatives …”

In other words, pursuing the action of rapid and massive growth in your military capabilities ends up being counterproductive in that it stimulates reactions by your counterparties which will  lower your overall competitiveness.  Trying to get ahead one notch encourages your competitors to get ahead two notches.  Of course, if you able to get so big, so fast, while those counterparties fail to summon their will and organize, then you pass a tipping point and really do get to dominate and stomp.  The resistance-of-rivals-to-your-expected-future-power graph is a bell curve, running from indifference to near-conflict but then back to resignation and acquiescence or even effective subservience.

What characterizes the realm of strategy is the impossibility of achieving straightforward results by straightforward action, because others exist and others react in between the two.

But short of that, the ideal thing to do for an emerging great power (China, in this case) would be to artificially suppress your military aggrandizement and try to influence perceptions about your country in the direction of ‘friendly’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘peaceful’, ‘non-confrontational’, ‘cooperative’ and especially ‘non-threatening’ growing out of ‘objectively not interested in domination because not interested in military power’.

Then the people that could stop you will be lulled into just ignoring you as you are able to devote all your resources grow your economy to colossal proportions.  All butter, no guns.  And then, after you’ve built your Mt. Everest of butter, you can use it later to buy yourself a world-class regionally-dominating military in short order, too quickly to be stopped.  And then you can stomp and dominate with it.  Suckers!

That’s what you could do, but the bottom line of Luttwak’s book is that China is making a huge unforced error in this regard by not doing this, and in fact, doing the opposite.  China is pursuing a Realpolitick National Strategy of ‘get stronger fast’ (it’s no coincidence that Kissinger’s latest book, ‘On China‘, is a collection of flattery over growth which encourages them to do this) at the expense of more subtle Grand Strategy considerations, ‘but be careful not to provoke your counterparties into reaction’.

China is doing it wrong in two ways, especially since a well recognized ‘behavioral shift’ in 2008 coinciding with the Global Financial Crisis.  First, it is growing its Armed Forces rapidly, with impressive annual military budget increases that sometimes even exceed their stellar pace of economic growth.  Second, in what Luttwak calls its ‘Premature Assertiveness’, China has pursued very obnoxious, aggressive, and confrontational policies with regard to territorial, maritime, and airspace disputes with other nations in the region.  It constantly makes stubborn and uncompromising maximal claims over everything ,and it has taken risky and threatening actions over every trivial pile of rocks in the ocean that ever had a Chinese subject sing a poem in which he dreamed about stepping foot there or maybe just fishing in the general vicinity.

Contradicting the conventional wisdom as to its ‘purely commercial’ rationale, it does this whether or not there is actually any indicated of hydrocarbon reserves nearby, which emphasizes the military and regionally hegemonic motives of behavior.  Lastly, not only does the Chinese government seem both utterly tone-deaf and indifferent to the effect these acts have on the attitudes of other nations, but it imagines this type of behavior to be a clever and successful negotiating technique.  The ADIZ stunt is just the latest in a string of recent unilateral provocations of this type.

It probably works wonders getting the local boys all riled up.  But, Luttwak claims, strategically it’s a huge mistake.

I. Premature Assertiveness

Luttwak mentions several non-exclusive theories as to origin of China’s premature assertiveness.

  1. China’s rulers have been made unhinged by their sudden rise of fortune
  2. China’s multitude of uncoordinated and effectively independent governmental institutions, ‘go rogue’ and pursue their own agendas at the expense of the national interest.
  3. As above, since 2008, China’s leaders believe that threats and provocations aren’t as offensive as they really are, and are instead beneficial in that they induce others to negotiate over long festering and unresolved disputes in a conciliatory manner.

The third explanation is most accurate and contradicts in practice the officially promulgated Chinese policy of ‘Peaceful Development’ (Zhongguo heping fazhan) or ‘Peaceful Rise’ (Zhongguo heping jueqi).  But the second explanation has some truth to it as well, and it in a desperate and simultaneously untrusted attempt to get the thousand, Dr. Strangelove-esque minds-of-their-own-tentacles of the Chinese government apparatus on board, senior officials have occasionally had to issue memoranda reminding people that they are supposed to be committed to an accomodative and unaggressive policy.

II. Great State Autism

Luttwak says that the largest and most powerful nations (especially if they have a long history of power and independence of cultural identity) tend to have leaderships that are ‘Autistic’ with regards to international affairs.  What he means by ‘Autism’ I think is a kind of ideologically delusional, and intellectually lazy, ignorance with regards to the nature of other states and their peoples.  Clearly, that causes a lot of deleterious miscalculation and surprise.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. The Inability to Scale The Management of Domestic Events:
    1. Almost inevitably, whether by conscious design or shaped by impersonal market forces, nations tend to have a single, coordinated ‘dominant national news story du jour’ in their most prominent media outlet, or, the equivalent, a repetitive echoing-complex, seemingly constituted of of many independent content creators, but which actually feeds off a few principal sources.
    2. And there are certain categories of rare, shocking, scandalous, or tragic activity that will cause a mass reaction because the human mind will always place them in the ‘nationally newsworthy’ category.  And ‘nationally newsworthy’ events tend to create a perception of a need for a response by the top national leadership.
    3. And, given the statistically stochastic nature of human events, having a large population necessarily means that more of these national events will occur.  So leaders of large, advanced countries find themselves constantly dealing with these ‘urgent’ domestic occurrences which leaves them unable to focus seriously on studying foreign affairs.  They, “.. cannot adsorb in-depth information with all its complexities and subtleties, even if it is offered to them…”  This over-attention can also be caused by
      1. A political system [cough, Democracy, cough] that overemphasizes focus on domestic issues and punishes anyone who takes their finger off the domestic pulse for even a second.
      2. A justified and intense paranoia about internal insurgency or rebellion [cough, China, cough]
      3. And if your country is both large and Democratic [cough, USA or India, cough] or extremely large and extremely paranoid [cough, China again, cough] then it’s going to be very hard for leaders to actually understand the thinking of foreigners, in the scientific sense of making accurate predictions about their future actions.
  2. Universalist Extrapolation of the Character of the Native to the Alien:
    1. Partly because they are preoccupied with these domestic concerns, Great State leaders take the erroneous intellectual short cut of assuming that foreigners are just human beings who think just like they do and who focus on the same priorities.
    2. This tendency to a kind of passive, subconscious, egalitarian universalism is, of course, greatly amplified if you are actually an Egalitarian Universalist because that is effectively your official state religion [cough, USA, ‘they’re really just like us!’, cough].
    3. And human beings are naturally shiftless and disinclined to make serious, intimate study of foreigners, especially through the only truly effective method of cultural immersion.  In reality it is very difficult to put oneself in another man’s shoes, and it is more difficult the more different that other man is.  Leaders with political skills like to believe they are ‘people persons’ and understand people in general, and combined with a characteristic overconfidence in their own abilities, they are are greatly tempted to underestimate real differences and to overestimate their actual ability to handle relations with foreigners.
  3. Differential Hierarchical Modes:  Leaders in any country will tend, after a certain period of stability, to be drawn from an elite group of cognitively and politically gifted individuals who tend to go on to form caste-like classes with very distinct attributes from the bulk of the governed population.  But, while the character and attitudes of the elites are rarely reflective of the populations from which they are drawn (indeed, they tend to go to great lengths to try and distinguish themselves from their hoi polloi), their ways of relating to the overall population, and as a consequence the particular character of the populist pressures that they face, can take many forms.  Leaders from differing nations recognize this about each other, but elites from one country dealing with elites from another country tend to mentally model these pressures as following the same rules of the same game played by everyone.  Such is hardly the case.
  4. Exorbitant Imperial Privilege:  The leaders of certain powerful countries with unique histories become so used to cultural, linguistic, and ideological dominance throughout their domains that they genuinely start to think of it as ‘deserved’ and even ‘natural’.  Russians who were never able to leave the Soviet Union but who could travel through the Warsaw Pact found that Russian thought, culture, and language dominated everywhere.  Americans experience something similar when they travel throughout the West.  And China is so large, and its people so sensitive to the narcissism of small differences, that it is experienced internally as being the Middle Kingdom Empire composed many dozens of ‘distinct’ countries and surrounded by future tributaries.  Paradoxically, highlighting small, internal differences diminishes one’s imagination of the overall possible scope of human difference, and impairs the appreciation to comprehend the dramatically larger ones between one’s countrymen and foreigners.

Luttwak then chronicles a few key, and somewhat humorous, examples of miscalculations regarding differing perceptions resulting from Great State Autism.  Folly through misundertanding is, of course, the essence of a lot of humor and frequently-used trope that is an eternal spring for popular comedies and was a favorite of Shakespeare.  But, alas, the consequences of this folly are not mild but instead serious and severe, and all’s not well because it won’t end well.

The key is that Luttwak insists that China definitely suffers from this autistic syndrome and therefore its leaders fail to recognize that other nations attribute deeply malevolent motives to actions it perceives as much more ‘innocent’.

III.  Chinese History

Luttwak says that, even without the other reasons, China’s autism would result from an idiosyncratic History as an isolated great civilization surrounded by minor gangs of barbarians.

The essential features of modern diplomacy include, inter alia, the formal equality between states of differing power and the equal immunity of all ambassadors.  But such habits of international relations were developed in a European context, specifically between adjacent and fluidly-aligned Italian states.  This occurred mostly in the early Renaissance era in a evolution which, some would argue, culminated in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, concluding the major European Wars of Religion.

China’s Historical experience was profoundly different and, Luttwak argues, inspires a perspective which informs their attitudes to this day.  Briefly, the Chinese really do see themselves as deserving to be The Middle Kingdom, restoring the condition they enjoyed at the very peak of their power, and rightfully the center of all humanity.

While not utterly dominating all other nations, they would all ideally be subservient or subordinate to China, in a hierarchy of concentric circles of cultural and geographic proximity (with China at the top, naturally), and where everyone pays tribute and demonstrates loyalty, alleigance, and especially, submission to supremacy.

The Chinese name for this notion – which emerged under the Western Han dynastry (206-9 BC) – is Tianxia or ‘all under heaven’, and which was imagined in the past to radiate out from the person of the emperor.  The concept came about about a long, and ultimately victorious, conflict with nomadic barbarians, and resulted in a ‘barbarian-handling mentality’ that influenced Chinese thinking for centuries to come.

Barbarian handling has two essential elements, both of which are particularly useful for undermining the barbarians subversively during periods when they have the upper hand.

  1. Induced economic dependence; one might even say, ‘addiction’ or ‘corruption’.
  2. Indoctrination into the Confucian value system and the behavioral norms of the Han.

The effect is to make the barbarians “… psychologically as well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance.”  While considering itself the superior, indeed supreme, form of sophisticated civilization, Han states were nevertheless rarely militarily superior to the horse-riding nomad barbarian tribes that surrounded their lands and repeatedly came to invade and dominate them across many centuries.   This relative weakness is the reason they kept building parts of what eventually became The Great Wall.  The Chinese, in fact, through large parts of their History, resemble the Jews in their impressive ability to survive culturally and preserve their unique civilization and traditions even when frequently under the rule of antagonistic conquerors.  It also helps if your people tend to be Market Dominant Minorities when they’re outnumbered, especially when

The idea is that uncultured barbarian nations may be powerful and violent and rule the roost over the Chinese today, but gradually China will tempt them into losing control.  Today, the US fills this role in the CCP worldview.  Here is Luttwak’s logical sequence:

  1. Initially, concede all that must be conceded to the superior power, to avoid damage and obtain whatever benefits or at least forbearance that can be had from it.
  2. Entangle the ruler and ruling class of the superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its original vitality and strength, while proffering equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes every other power (“G-2” at present)
  3. Finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all token of equality and impose subordination

Lovely!  Is it any wonder that nobody trusts China?

AMENDATION:  The ‘corruption through material dependency’ path seems, on reflection, to resemble the path whereby federalism was undermined and state diversity replaced with increasing governmental homogeneity.  See, e.g., Paul Moreno’s recent article, “How the States Committed Suicide.”  See also South Dakota v. Dole.

IV. Geo-Economic Resistance

By “Geo-Economic” Luttwak refers to his thesis of how modern conflicts will be conducted amongst Great Powers, in ways that resemble the Cold War.  The era of large conventional warfare between large nations was over in WWII, and the importance of global trade and economic concerns has expanded dramatically.  He says:

That is so because in our nuclear age, with any significant warfare between nuclear powers largely inhibited, the logic of strategy must find alternative, nonmilitary expression in “geo-economic” ways.

Mostly, I think, he means that since effective forms of combat would lead to nuclear escalation, they are inhibited, and instead nations must summon a willingness to violate an ideological devotion to unimpeded international “free trade” [cough, USA, cough] and a readiness to use restrictions of trade, sanctions, and even complete embargoes or blockades, as levels of power against adversaries and in order to accomplish their strategic goals.  This is similar to the pressure the Allies placed on Japan in the late 30’s and early 40’s.  It really put a huge amount of pressure on the Japanese.  It certainly encouraged them to start negotiations, and they kept coming to the table trying to find a modus vivandi, which FDR never intended to give them.  Eventually they realized diplomacy was futile save for total capitulation, and thus, Pearl Harbor.

While ‘almost unthinkable’ in these times of normal US-China relations, Luttwak maintains that this form of geo-economic resistance is both inevitable and will because the natural default position in the even the Chinese ever commit any major act of aggression [cough, invading Taiwan, cough].

But despite the US elite commitment to free trade – most intensely expounded from its stronghold in the US Treasury Department – intellectual support for geo-economic resistance is building if, for no other reason, than the growing recognition of multiple downsides to the Chinese trade relationship.  The trade deficit, national debt accumulation, de-industrialization and disemployment effects in a time of weak labor markets, and currency manipulation issues are well known and probably best covered by Michael Pettis.  But Chinese merchandise is also often shoddy or toxic.  And anything electronic is full of exploits installed by the PLA3 – China’s NSA.  Not just everything Huawei makes, but even including household electronic appliances.

The purpose and effect of geo-economic resistance or containment would be to slow China’s economic growth.  Luttwak says this is only an interim solutions to preserve the world’s balance of power equilibrium for a while until … something breaks down.

A 4 percent annual growth rate may be both incompatible with the stability of the CCP regime and yet essential to preserve the U.S. position in the world.

Lovely again!  But the bottom line is that no one trusts a China that grows faster than that to not also grow their military power as quickly, and no one trusts them not to use their military power to get what they want.

V. China Today, Germany Yesterday?

In a chapter called “The Inevitable Analogy” Luttwak compares a rising Chinese superpower to its closest Historical analogue, pre-WWI Germany, which, as early as 1890 has already overtaken British primary in countless academic, industrial, and economic trades and was utterly unmatched in the critical chemical sector. I think this leaves out the case of post-Meiji Restoration Japan as another possible analogy, but the comparison isn’t quite as exact.  And do I dare include the case of the US?

Unions were already causing major difficulties in Great Britain, but the Germans avoided similar labor difficulties by constructing a strong welfare state with soothed the main anxieties of their working classes.  Germany grew strong and rapidly across the board, finally overtaking the British even in finance in the early 1910’s.

Starting in 1890, under any realistic thirty-year projection, as the beneficiary of the world’s most advanced industries, best universities, richest banks, and the most harmonious society thanks to its welfare state, by 1920 Germany should have been altogether superior in every way to an increasingly antiquated Britain.  Instead, by 1920, Germany was defeated, ruined, and destined for another quarter century of mounting disasters … The British paid a high price for their victory, but they did succeed in overturning the future before them…

German strategic incompetence, a frequent companion of tactical genius, was the necessary precondition of catastrophic national failure, which necessarily started with hubris – like many Chinese now, many Germans at the time were plainly unhinged by the rapidity of their rise.  But it was the British reaction to Germany’s rise that ensured the final outcome.

How did the late-Victorian-era British do it?  Foresight, humility, compromise for the sake of alliance, and expert diplomacy and statesmanship.  [Excuse me for a moment as I wipe the tears off my keyboard in my woe at contemplating what greatness has been lost and despite the fact that loss was not mine, though it was the world’s.]

Between the end of the 19th century and 1904, Britain, recognizing the emerging German threat, scrambled to make friends of past enemies, and give up a great many just but disputed claims to negotiate as many separate agreements as possible, especially with France and Russia.  The result was comprehensive encirclement and the gradual strengthening of the anti-German Anglo-Franco-Russo alliance.

The obvious German countermeasure to the Russians would be to employ the classic ‘leapfrog’ strategy to form an alliance with a powerful nation on the opposite border of the adversary, and thus threaten the Russians with a two-front war causing them to be distracted and disperse their forces.  The rising Japanese nation (who had already been making evil toy robots for a century) would be the obvious candidate, a conclusion that would be vindicated later by their defeat of the Russians by 1905 (partly due, indeed, to Russian over-concentration on the European theater).  But the British, Dark Sith Lords that they were, foresaw this possibility, and thus agreed to a treaty with Japanese in 1902 – the first truly equal Euro-Asian alliance – and thought it important enough to abstain from helping their Russian ally during its conflict in the Far East.

The bottom line is that the very existence of Germany’s growing strength mobilized the British to oppose Germany globally.  Luttwak claims:

… only a militarily nonthreatening and diplomatic conciliatory grand strategy could have served Germany well – accelerating its peacful rise to new heights of cultural prosperity – is obvious in retrospect.  But by 1907, and indeed long before, that best strategy had become simply unthinkable for Germany’s political elite ….

And, it seems, it’s unthinkable for the Chinese political elite today.

VI. Sun Tzu Et Al Are Overrated

Remarkably undiminished by the actual record of Chinese history, with its repeated subjugations by relatively small numbers of primitive invaders, this great confidence in Chinese strategic abilities reflects the immense prestige of China’s ancient writings on statecraft and the art of war …

Luttwak respects Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for its concise expression of timeless and paradoxical strategic truths, but, consistent with Great State Autism, Chinese generals were only able to adapt its lessons successfully when they were fighting other Chinese generals during periods of Warring States.

What is highly consequential, on the other hand, is that all the protagonists were Han – they were the rulers, generals, and advisors of rival Chinese states, all of whom operated within the same framework of cultural norms with similar objectives, priorities, and values.  Because their inter-state relation were intra-cultural, there were exceptionally ample opportunities for diplomacy, espionage, secret operations, and political subversion alike, all of them both facilitated and bounded by a common language, a common mentality, and share cultural premises.

It was much the same in Renaissance Italy whose states likewise engaged in intracultural war, diplomacy, and subversion on a continuous basis.  The result in both cases was the swift alternation of conflict and cooperation between states that could make and break alliances with equal ease, fighting each other one day only to become allies the next – because there was no accumulation of ethnic, racial, or religious animosity between fellow Italians, or fellow Han Chinese.

Deep commonality also made practical and efficient the other classical strategy of easy conquest via regime replacement.  In an intracultural context, it’s not difficult at all to cut off the head of a rival snake and replace it with your own snake it.  It’s just like replacing an interchangeable part in a machine, and is likely to inspire much less chauvinistic resistance among the locals.  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

To illustrate the fluidity of the political situation and the Hobbesian Bellum omnium contra omnesin in a typical time of Machiavellian warring states, I simply have to excerpt the following passage in full.  Try to follow along, if you can:

In 294 BC, Mengchang was defeated in a court intrigue and fled to Wei.  Qi and Qin then made a truce, which allowed Qi to attack the state of Song and allowed Qin to attack the reduced Han-Wei coalition.  Six years later, Qi and Qin were planning a joint attack on the state of Zhao, when the Qi ruler was persuaded that that only Qin would benefit; instead of attacking Zhao, he started forming a coalition against Qin.  In danger of isolation, Qin responded by giving back territory it had seized from Wei and Zhao.

In 286 BC, Qi seized the entire state of Song, alarming the states of Qin, Zhao, Wei, and Yan, which promptly formed a coalition under the guidance of Qi’s very own former chief minister Mengchang back from his Wei exile.  Yan next launched a powerful surprise attack on Qi, which also came under attack by Qin, Zhao, and Wei, losing most of its territory.

Next, Zhao and Qin started a long war that allowed Qi to recover-and so it went on, and on, and on …

Luttwak detects three residue of the Art of War mentality of the misapplication of intracultural norms to intercultural conflict.

  1. The presumption of unlimited pragmatism (or rational greed) in inter-state relations
  2. The tendency of Chinese officialdom to believe that long-unresolved disputes with foreign countries can be resolved by deliberately provoking a crisis
  3. An exaggerated faith in the power and efficacy of deception, as well as of the strategems and surprise moves that deception allows.

The effectivenes of deception and related methods is immensely increased by proximity, familiarity, consanguinity, cultural homogeneity, and easy access, all of which facilitate the acquisition of indispensable in-depth knowledge of the adversary.

Cultural proximity, and the lure of regime replacement, encourages a Chinese preference for high-risk but high-payoff tactics, like assassination and covert actions, that have been relegated to relatively minor roles in Western strategic thought and practice.

The problem with this, combined Chinese Great State Autism, is that they one day they will certainly miscalculate and conduct what they imagine to be a small, risky gamble which escalates into full-on conflict.

Americans are pragmatic and commercial to a fault, but when attacked they behave most unpragmatically and uncommercially, with a decided preference for maximum force even when there are more restrained and cheaper options.  Hence Chinese faith in clever Warring States statecraft, to gain much with just a little violence, an almost symbolic bold stroke perhaps, might collide catastrophically with an altogether more violent American response.

Rational Irrationality.  “I said one little thing and bitch just go crazy and releases the Kraken upside my head!”  But the deterrent effect of irrationally disproportionate responses to mild provocations only works if the deterree knows, understands, and believes in that reputation.  Thus, Pearl Harbor.  By most accounts, the Japanese certainly expected war – they thought they were boxed in and had little choice – but they didn’t expect their attacks to be met by the Americans with as utterly cataclysmic an effort as was pursued; one that essentially ended by insisting on a replacement of their entire form of civilization.  Lesson learned.  You don’t fsck with FDR!  And Obama? Well … let’s just say he’s certainly no FDR.

But until provoked to break out its inner alpha Superman (RedGov – DoD), the Americans are naive Clark Kent nice-guy beta chumps (BlueGov – State, Treasury) who just want to be friendly and play nice with everyone.  The Americans was everybody to love them while their inner Clark keeps pining hopelessly over that bitch Lois Lane who won’t even give him the time of day.  Ok, metaphor beyond exhausted.

Americans, on the other hand, they see as especially native, also as strong and perhaps violent, but easily manipulated.

… Given this estimate of American discernment, it could well be thought in Beijing that the simplest form of deception – mere concealment, as in the familiar injunction Tao guang yang hui “Hide one’s capacities and bide one’s time” – could be quite sufficient.

Regrettable, it would appear that this assessment has so far proved to be largely correct.  Over the years it was triumphantly confirmed as the Chinese watched with increasing incredulity the absence of any American attempt to impede the rise of China, and to the contrary, the many and varied U.S. contribution to China’s rapid economic growth, starting with the unilateral opening of the U.S. market to Chinese exports, and then the energetic promotion of China’s membership in the World Trade Organization, and all without demanding anything resembling full reciprocity.

Indeed, Chinese unfriendly to the United States have never ceased to spin theories to explain the apparent benevolence of the United States as actually malevolent, in a projection of their own propensity for strategic deception.

… Even Chinese who bear no hostility to Americans may still give credence to one of the malevolent explanations, simply because nothing else makes sense to them – why else would the U.S. government go out of its way to accelerate China’s rise?

Themselves, newly emancipated from dogmatic ideology [it’s impossible to suppress Chinese hard-nosed pragmatism permanently] not many Chinese appreciate even now how rigidly ideological is the framework of U.S. economic policy, especially when is comes to “free trade” – this is an ideology within which protection is viewed as a mortal sin rather than as a policy option …

It is indeed very hard to understand what America does sometimes, even for Americans.

But the US is still very much in the last days of its enthusiastic, naive, hopeful and ideological teenage phase.  The American view is that of the unidirectional and irreversible progress of Whig History.  This is especially true because, unlike during the founders’ generation in which the entire educated class studied obsessively over the rise and fall of dozens of Ancient states, current American elites are practically totally disconnected from what Nock called “The Grand Tradition”

China, on the other hand, with it’s extremely ancient History, understands the cyclic nature of History, and the mechanisms whereby one historical condition leads to another kind of circumstance until the process comes full circle in eternal recurrence of the same.  This leads to a certain cynicism and fatalism akin to ‘this too will pass’.  With that kind of attitude, it’s very hard to prevent people from grabbin’ everything they can while the grabbin’s good, an attitude that itself leads to the behaviors that set off the vicious cycle:

What also emerges from the historical evidence is the recurrent cycle that weakened dynasties and prepared the way for their destruction.  A strong dynasty resulted in internal peace, law and order.  Peace, in turn, resulted in economic growth, and therefore greater income and wealth differentiation, the rich of the local rich.  Wealth differentiation in turn resulted in the transfer of land-ownership from small-holders to richer landlords.  Having become sharecroppers and landless field laborers, the ex-peasants became bandits when harvests failed.  Bandits in turn become local rebels, and local rebellions merged into large revolts when charismatic leaders emerged.  None ws more so that Zhu Yuanzhang, who started off as a landless laborer, became a rebel against the Yuan dynasty of the Mongols, rose in rebel leadership ranks, and finally founded the Ming dynasty in 1368 as the Hongwu emperor.

Along the way, there is an inner cycle of decay that starts with wealth differentiation, which leads to the rise of local oligarchs who increasingly control local government, which allows them to accumulate yet more wealth.  And within that, there is the innermost cycle of officialdom itself, which starts with scholar-officials who take Confucianism and its obligations seriously, thereby ensuring law and order, which leads to wealth differentiation, which allows the rich to support their children through the examination system until they become official in turn, who then use their power to further enrich their families, until the system breaks down.  Current social realities are probably not coincidental.

VII.  The Emerging Anti-China Coalition

  1. Australia:
    1. Australia, member of the Anglosphone Five Eyes Alliance and an extremely close security partner of the United States, is the main Western power to be located in East Asia’s geo-economic sphere.  It is primarily interested in keeping the United States (whose competence they now question but capability they require) pivoted to the Asian theater and building a regional, multilateral coalition o security cooperation capable of containing a rising China.
    2. It has been the main nation to strongly resist China’s preference of dealing bilaterally with other, smaller, less powerful nations one at a time – where it tries to leverage its huge advantage in size – and instead Australia insists that any Chinese negotiation with any nation in the region occur on as multilateral a basis as possible.  It has, over recent years, been largely successful in this effort
  2. Japan:
    1. Japan recently toyed with the idea of a Chinese detente, reconciliation, and rapprochement.   It thought itself in the position of a small giant having to choose between two larger giants, and for various reasons the men in charge at the time, mostly those around Ozawa Ichiro [Japan BlueGov], were enthusiastic about switching alleigance from the US to China.  It didn’t work out, mostly because China couldn’t be gracious towards Japan and seize the opportunity, and instead ended up pushing Japan away back into the loving arms of the US.  Beyond a superiority complex in general, the animosity and antagonism towards the Japanese in particular is, for better or worse, an integral part of the way Chinese culture works.  The CCP seems to know how to summon the nationalist dragon and ride it to popularity, but not how to put it back in Pandora’s box when it’s become inconvenient.
    2. At the end of the day, the Japanese concluded they just couldn’t trust the secretive and scowling Chinese at all.  Trust is, in some respects, generated by a track record of irrational altruism.  A truly realpolitick world would be highly unstable with regards to alliances unless the dominant power tends to sincerely adhere to some kind of state religion that makes it treat its allies well even to a fault and at great personal cost [cough, Israel, cough].  But when a great power is at the head of a very large and diverse global alliance, then one should not underestimate the symbolic value and deep influence that displays of irrational amounts of loyalty has on other leery allies.
    3. The Japanese turn back to the US necessarily coincided with a defensive posture against China.  The Defense Ministry [Japan RedGov] assessed that China has unambiguously become the “main threat” to Japanese security, and that Japan needed to:
      1. increase is own military strength
      2. safeguard the U.S. alliance by overcoming longstanding controversies
      3. broaden the basis of its own security by participating in the effort to build a collective security framework for East Asia as a whole
    4. The Chinese lost whatever opportunity they may have had altogether when the situation went South on 07-SEP-2010 with the Senkaku fishing intrusion incident.  Reckless Chinese reactions including attacks on Japanese-affiliated shops, arrests, interruption of rare-earth shipments, and provocative demands for official public apologies has the effect of crystallizing the underlying Japanese anxieties about China’s intentions.
    5. Furthermore, similar to what has been happening in the U.S. for a long time, the Japanese public’s trust and confidence in its various public institutions is deteriorating; except for the military.  Reminiscent of the U.S. experience with Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese armed forces were almost the only effective instruments of the state in coping with the successive disasters unleashed by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 11-MAR-2011.
      1. “Indeed, Japan’s armed forces visibly performed much more than adequately, acting compassionately (in conducting dignified burials), heroically (hosing water on reactors emitting dangerous levels of radiation), efficiently (in distributing food), uncomplainingly (in difficult, often dangerous conditions), and on the largest scale with ground, air, and naval elements – 100,000 personnel (40 percent of the total) were committed immediately.”
      2. This experience has cause an attitudinal shift in Japanese public opinion, generating greatly increased pride in, and support for, the Armed Services, including, most importantly, a revived willingness to expand the military budget even in a time of severe fiscal difficulty.  It also tends to align public attitudes with the preferences, policies, and positions of the Ministry of Defense, which are resolutely anti-China.
      3. In the modern era, whenever the RedGov of a competent country is allowed to demonstrate its capabilities in non-insane endeavors [cough, Iraq and Afghansitan wars, cough], it generates a lot of respect and support for the Red side of politics and personality.  BlueGov knows this, and it is a kind of dirty open secret that the BlueGov strategy is to refuse to allow RedGov to showcase its capabilities, or to try and hamstring its effectiveness when employed by means of operational constraints.  As an example of this phenomena, Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi, the first and only Socialist prime minister, refused to order the armed forces he has long opposed into action for the January 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake near Kobe.
      4. Japanese perceptions towards the U.S. were also radically shifted because the U.S.’s immediate display of irrational altruism.  The U.S. is very good at disaster-relief military P.R., but the P.R. is a incidental benefit and not the primary motivation.  Americans are born do-gooders, they can’t help themselves, even when they only think they’re helping but not actually doing any good.  It’s part of what makes America the genuine inheritors of the originally British tradition of Palmerstonian activism and interventionism; though, alas, the U.S. is distinctly lacking in Palmerstons these days.
      5. The U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Chancellorsville, and the USS Preble right away to serve as air and resupply bases for rescue and relief helicopters.  The Navy wont even let ‘alien’ U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force helicopters ever land on its ships, but it made an exception and provided the Japanese with the only usable airstrips anywhere near the disaster zone.
        1. “The sailors aboard the Ronald Reagana and its escorts were knowingly exposed to radiation at a rate of one month’s worth of naturally occurring radiation per hour … Itself very sensitive to radiation dangers, the Japenese at large were profoundly moved by television imagery of American Sailors being decontaminated (with freezing water) while hard at work on the carrier’s deck in support of Japanese rescue helicopters.  It is symtomatic that a very popular Japanese multivideo blog ont he rescue operations as a whole actually began with several videos of Ronald Reagan operations.
    6. Since the cooperation of Russia is indispensable to the success of any potential embargo-style trade action of the coalition against China (because, with Russia, China could purchase all the fuel and raw materials it would need), Japan could win such cooperation for the coalition by finally abandoning its justified, but hopeless claims in territorial disputes with Russia.  “It follows that if a China/anti-China world does emerge … Moscow will be its strategic pivot, conferring much leverage to its rulers, who would certainly use it to the full.”
  3. Vietnam
    1. Few Westerners even know about the many wars fought between China and Vietnam, especially the one shortly following the American-Vietnamese war.  But, to put it as concisely as possible, Despite the inherent compatibility of their Maoist political systems, the Vietnamese just hate the Chinese and are absolutely determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent even coming under Chinese domination, even if it means fighting in the jungles to the very last man.  They are the Afghans of Southeast Asia.  Don’t fight them; they’ll wear you out and you’ll lose; even if you’re as powerful as the U.S. or China.
    2. The aftermath of the 1979 fighting included:
      1. Ethnic antipathy
      2. Historic resentment because of many centuries of Chinese domination
      3. New bitterness caused by the war
      4. Competition for regional influence in greater Indochina, starting with Cambodia (the invasion of which precipitate the Chinese response)
      5. Borders disputed at many points
      6. Incompatible maritime claims
    3. All of this yielded a period of extremely cold relations without meaningful high-level contacts or resolution of disputes.
    4. Vietnam also expelled as many Hoa (Vietnamese of ethnic Chinese extraction) as possible, who became ‘the boat people’, many of whom were resettled in the U.S.   The Hoa were an Assimilated ‘Market Dominant Minority” that spoke Vietnamese, ate their cuisine, and even used Vietnamese names (after a lot of coercive encouragement).  But the most successful and intelligent ‘Vietnamese’ immigrants to the U.S. are almost all Hoa.  Remarkably, especially in the context of their adoptive Western country, they really do stick to their concocted Vietnamese identity and have nothing to do with the members of the local Chinese community.  That’s what happens when you pursue an assimilation policy that forces people to forget their distinctive past and ancestry – which is, if you think about it, the exact polar opposite of multiculturalism.
    5. But Vietnam needs a Great Power ally to be able to confront China, and the U.S. is the obvious candidate.  The U.S. was quick to oblige.  Hillary Clinton, no timid, shrinking violet, went to Hanoi in 2010 and asserted that freedom of navigation in the seas surrounding Vietnam is a U.S. “national interest” and furthermore declared:
      1. “‘legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features’ a new position that undermines China’s claims to the entire ocean area, while supporting Vietnam’s.”
    6. This contrasts with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s angry response, “It is all ours, there is nothing to discuss.” Damn, that’s pretty bold, but also not any way to win friends.
    7. To make the point, On 10-AUG-2010, the US destroyer John S. McCain [heh] docked in central Vietnam and with the carrier USS George Washington conducted joint military exercises with the Vietnamese Navy, which, predictably, outraged the Chinese.  Chinese media insisted that Vietnam “send a powerful message of friendly to China to balance the effect of the exercise” and I can just imagine the Vietnamese response.
    8. The Bottom line is, again consistent with their Autism, the Chinese underestimate the fanatical attachment of the defiant Vietnamese to the jealously-guarded independence.  They make pragmatic economic arguments to the Vietnamese which inevitably fall on deaf ears.  Luttwak:
      1. “Such exaggerated faith in (nondialectical) materialism is just as naive as its opposite would be – if government habitually subordinated security and power concerns to moneymaking, human history would have evolved very differently, in an altogether better fashion, with fewer follies perhaps, and certainly with fewer crimes.  Alas, it is only in Homer’s version of the Trojan Wat that heroic warriors, sensibly enough, fight for pretty captives, silver, and well-wrought armor, instead of the much uglier ideologies and political compulsions or ever personal dictatorial ambitions that actually cause modern wars.”
  4. South Korea: Don’t bother with South Korea in the coalition; they’ll just undermine your will and weaken the collective resolve.  They’re the ‘toughest pussies in the world’, geopolitically speaking.  They’ll never stand up to North Korea or China, need China to maintain a reliable leash on the North, and for cultural and historical reasons, would be perfectly find fitting into the new Chinese Tianxia.  Anyway, instead of standing up for itself when it actually counts, South Korea is too busy being completely obsessed with hating the Japanese and is eager to pursue quarrels that are entirely devoid of strategic significance.  That’s when they aren’t contemplating divorcing the longstanding but semi-humiliating one-sided alliance with the U.S.  Forget them.
  5. Mongolia:  Not much more that a huge buffer state between China and Russia with vast coal reserves.  Mongolia has their own ‘Choose between two giants’ game to play, and they’ve been playing it for decades, siding mostly the Russians.  Mongolia knows that, without Russian support, that should their Southern neighbor ever get the desire, China would crush them instantly.  It is also key to bringing the Russians onside, especially if the Russian government feels it needs to “preserve its control of [resource rich] eastern Siberia in the long run] (not a crazy thing about which to be paranoid – see #10).  To bring poor, economically undeveloped Mongolia into the coalition shouldn’t require much more than the promise of significant new injections of foreign investment to include advisers and resource development companies.
  6. Indonesia: Far away and mostly only concerned with the ‘dual loyalty’ of the local, market-dominant Chinese population, and, of course for a hugely populated nation of a thousand islands stretched over a continent’s worth of space, all those maritime disputes.  Indonesia, unlike Vietnam, prefers vague avoidance to concrete defiance, and would probably maintain a kind of ambiguous neutrality with regards to China today has China not, yet again, pushed Indonesia away with it’s alarming, abrasive, and aggressive behaviors.  They continues to make maximal maritime claims, and, as they typically do with the boats of many other neighboring countries, conducted all sorts of harassment operations.  Luttwak says, “There is no audible, ‘who lost Indonesia’ debate in Beijing, but there should be.”
  7. The Philippines:
    1. A huge failure of the George Bush Sr. administration occurred on 16-SEP-1991 when the Philippine Senate votes 12 to 11 to reject extending the 45 year old treaty with the U.S. that would have leased Subic Bay Naval Station and to the U.S. for another decade and justified the repair of Clark Air Force Base, which has been damaged by a volcanic eruption.  Clark and Subic had, until then, been the major American logistics and power-projection forward facilities in the whole Western Pacific.  Except for some occasional Special Forces training and counter-terrorism assistance, almost the entirely of US Forces left the islands.
    2. And the Philippines, being major commodity exporters to China, had spent the next two decades growing gradually close to China both commercially and diplomatically.
    3. But, can you guess what the Chinese did next?  Sure you can.  Same old story – overbearing and threatening conduct with regards to island and marine territorials disputes and harassment of Philippine shippers and fisherman.  This has pushed the Philippines away and back into a protective relationship with the U.S.
    4. With enemies like China, The U.S. almost can’t screw the coalition-building up no matter how hard it tries.  It can just sit back and let the pissed-off countries come to it.  If any push is needed at all, the U.S. merely has to argue, “Hey, take a lot at what they’re doing, what do you think that’s about?  Duh, they want your island, your waters, your oil and gas.  They want complete control and Naval dominance of all the marine Lines Of Communication that are critical to you.  They will use that control to help themselves at your expense and extort every concession from you, but more importantly, to make sure no one can come in to help you even when you’ve realized you’ve made a mistake allowing them to achieve that much control without resistance”.  This argument, apparently, has been extremely persuasive with the Filipinos.  But, fundamentally, it’s China’s actions that make it persuasive.
    5. The generous and ally-courting U.S. thought it would help the Filipinos out with regards to their problem with boats being harasses by medium-sized Chinese patrol boats.  While direct military-to-military Vessel sales to the Philippine Navy were not authorized at the time, on 13-MAY-2011, it nonetheless received shipment of a Hamilton-class “Weather High Endurance Cutter” from the U.S. Coast Guard (under DHS, not DoD) under a Foreign Military Sales credit.  (i.e. we gave it to them).  One boat?  Is that a big deal? What kind of boat are we talking about? Luttwak:
      1. “The designation ‘cutter’ hardly describes accurately a substantial warship of 3,250 tons that will be by far the largest patrol ship in the Philippine Navy with a crew of 167, exceptional endurance (14,000 miles unrefueled, or in the alternative, extremely long periods on station), modern armament (including the 20-mm Phalanx), and a helicopter hangar and deck. … The transfer was described as “an expression of America’s commitment to help the Philippines protect its maritime domain.”
  8. Norway (Norway? Norway!):  Some Norwegians over which the government of Norway has no control gave the Noble Peace prize to a Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.  That pissed China off, which couldn’t understand how the government of Norway couldn’t just make it not happen, and thus retaliated commercially by spoiling the importation of delicious Norwegian refrigerated smoked salmon.  China also tried to lobby all the diplomats from all the other countries to protest the award and withhold their ambassadors from the ceremony, which, surprise!, ended up just pissing everyone off and making the Chinese diplomats laughing stocks that looked like utter amateurs.

VIII.  The Three China Policies of the United States.

One of the major problem with the U.S. democracy structure and the internal organization of the government bureaucracy is a distinct inability to coordinate the activities of various agencies under a single coherent strategy to advance ‘the national interest’.  From an insider’s perspective, one often starts to think that there is no single coherent strategy, and no single metric or philosophy of what, in fact, ‘the national interest’ even is.  The judgment and reasonableness necessary for sophisticated statecraft requires an understanding of the reality of trade-offs and a concept of how to balance opposing forces and optimally allocate efforts and resources.  Good leadership involves having a clear vision of the overall objective and communicating that consistent, coherent vision clearly to subordinates so that they don’t work at cross-purposes.  Good management requires the authority to make it happen.

And the U.S. system, while full of competent, talented professional, and which even has plenty of excellent leaders, lacks this sort of good leadership and good management where it really counts – at the top.  Part of the problem is not really the fault of any administration.  The design of the bureaucracies, the incomprehensibility of their tasks to all but expert specialists, and the practical independence from political control that has been solidified over time makes the whole scheme effectively unmanageable.

But another part of the problem is that the democratic political environment is such that the act of trading-off one value for another is exploitable rhetorically by one’s opponents and thus politically risky.  The government is not at all a rational maximizer of utility, equalizing the marginal rates of transformation of budgets to citizen benefit across all domains (there’s a great table to this effect in ‘The Economics of Health and Health Care’ by Folland, S., A.C. Goodman and M. Stano – 2012).  Combine this with a desire to keep certain aspects of the real national strategy secret not just from foreigners, but from the opposition public at large, and the inevitability of leaks, and top leadership find it impossible to clearly communicate directions to all his subordinates.

So, what happens is that the bureaucracy usually runs on autopilot, and there’s nothing the politicians can or want to do about that.  The problem then is that each bureaucracy tends to focus obsessively on its narrow range of missions and authorities, and to pursue actions within its own bailiwick vigorously and with an unreasonable rigorousness.  And occasionally such disparate efforts overlap and the agencies find themselves in contest and competition with one another, contradicting and often cancelling out each others’ efforts.  It’s a gigantic mess.  To see how it works, let’s explore the three China policies.

  1. Treasury: Vigorous Promotion of China’s Economic Growth
    1. The Treasury wants cheap, trade-surplus-recycled, savings-glut capital for both it’s regulatory-capturers on Wall Street and the deficit-addicted government.  This is not to mention all those sweet government-finance, revolving-door, lucrative employment opportunities.  Everybody gets to be a VP with a high six-figure (at least) salary at some too-big-to-fail Investment Bank is they happen to do what’s helpful to the banks in the course of their public employment.  Which they’re especially likely to do if they actually believe in the ideology most useful to the banks.
    2. The Treasury looks the other way at Chinese currency manipulation which keeps the Yuan chronically undervalued, and in general is indifferent to the damaging effects to the condition of U.S. industry or the manufacturing sector.
    3. US properity and competitiveness are due in large part to being able to remain on the cutting edge technological frontier which is absolutely dependent on ensuring the security of proprietary information that represents billions in sunk costs.  But, “No part of the U.S. government is charged with safeguarding [non military] U.S. technology from diffusion to China …”  “… there is no U.S. policy to control the diffusion of non-military aerospace technology, or even to monitor the process.”
    4. The Chinese are highly motivated to do whatever is necessary, legal or illegal, to encourage American companies to sell (or just steal) the long-term national commercial advantage away for short-term gain, and the U.S. government, and certainly not the free-trade idolizing Treasury Department, isn’t doing anything to prevent it.  On the contrary, Treasury works to encourage it, going out of its way to facilitate the process.  It didn’t help that former Secretary Geithner was once a student in China and former China specialist at the profitable firm of … Kissinger Associates Inc.  We are doomed.
  2. State: Confronting China (But keep in mind, this was the Clinton State Department.  You know she’s got what it takes to sell real estate.)  The State department has been working feverishly to implement the ‘Pivot to Asia‘ (and away from MENA, which is, insanely, not yet accomplished but should have been completed years ago).  It is doing this in a manner similar to the British prior to WWI, to be very generous to build as broad and strong a potential anti-China coalition as possible.  The new U.S. base in Darwin Australia is certainly reflective of the new focus on containment in the region.  It has also been continuing the Bush administrations Herculean efforts to build a friendly relationship with natural China-rival India.  But India is a mess and everything happens at the most glacial pace imaginable.
  3. DoD: It’s always best when talking about the Department of Defense to be consistent with the military mentality and just outline DoD tasks in brief bullet points.
    1. China is certainly designated as the new prospective “Main Enemy”.  That helps communicate priorities to planners and intelligence officers.
    2. Defend against Chinese cyber operations.
    3. Support Containment Throughout the Region
    4. Annual Joint Exercises, training, support, and military equipment sales to anti-China coalition members.  Constant engagement and exposure.
    5. Enter into Mutual Defense Security Cooperation Agreements.
    6. Carrier Diplomacy with ship visits.
    7. New Bases with employment of locals.
    8. Military Officer Exchanges to build lifelong personal bonds.

IX. Threats To The Persistence of the CCP

  1. Increasing social tensions generated by extreme income and wealth inequality in a country inconveniently stuck with an egalitarian official ideology [sounds vaguely familiar somehow …]
  2. The frequent riots against local government authorities provoked by land expropriations above all, among other varieties of misconduct.
  3. Ethnic unrest with a national and political character amongst Mongolians, Tibetans, or Muslims.
  4. The broader threat to morale and cohesion within the CCP that arises from ideological bankruptcy of a nominally Communist regime very largely dedicated to the advancement of capitalism.
  5. The ever-increasingly disaffection of the better educated in the population, who aspire to the freedoms of their global peers made familiar by new and old forms of communication … “they can censor boks that address politics directly, but they cannot possibly keep out the ultimately more deeply subversive novels of Conrad, Dickens, or Manzoni, to name a few…”

Luttwak expounds on social instability:

China’s rulers and their security officials are themselves far from confident in the stability of their rule, judging by their hysterical overreaction to the faint threat of a social media “Jasmine revolution” in the spring of 2011.  Perhaps they are just being prudently overcautious, but perhaps they are better informed about the fragility of their rule than outside observers.

CCP leadership apparently has concerns over another threat to their fragile power base:

Unsurprisingly, U.S. military services … are inclined … to exaggerate greatly the strength of the PLA’s forces already in being.  For one thing, they still do not have a joint forces command above the military region level, that is, no unity of command at the national level, no instantaneous ability to concentrate the forces of different military regimes, or even to coordinate their actions.  This makes no sense at all operationally, but it is a very sensible arrangement for the unelected leaders of the CCP, who want to command the soldiers instead of being dominated by them.

It would hilarious if some CCP officials actually continued to retain this increasingly unnecessary and obsolete practice in part because they read Luttwak’s Coup d’Etat.

X. The Peaceful Rise Guarantees and Conclusion

Before abruptly changing course in 2008, China attempted to calm everyone’s nerves by issuing forth a policy document in 2005 that attempted to communicate their non-threatening intentions about what they planned on doing with their rapidly expanding power.  China would:

  1. Not Seek to create its own world system, but would rather join in the existing system.
  2. Not Seek regional, let alone global, hegemony, hence military forces will not threaten or deliberately intimidate other countries.
  3. Not Use force over territorial and maritime disputes, but resolve them diplomatically.
  4. Not Use the economy to accumulate military strength as the Soviet Union has done.
  5. Not Disrupt the economies of other countries for its own benefit.  It would seek to repress the theft of intellectual property while respecting the common rules on international trade.
  6. Peacefully reabsorb Hong Kong and Macau, and moreover, so long as Taiwan’s identity as a province of China was not challenged, no force would be used against the island.

Luttwak comments:

“… these reassuring promises were presented by successive Chinese leaders in credible ways, and – more important – because actual Chinese conduct kept faith with these promises in the years 2005-2008, there was no ‘natural’ reaction to China’s extremely rapid rise: no elements, even tacit, of any anti-Chinese alliance emerged on its periphery, and there was not even any speculation about the attempt to deliberately slow China’s economic growth.”

“Until 2009 the credibility of the Peaceful Rise grant strategy was reaffirmed by actual Chinese conduct.  But that is no longer true of course …”

Future Historians will certainly try and look back and discover the sequence of events and decisions that led to China’s shift in behavior.  Perhaps it was the financial crisis and the feeling that the moment of leapfrogging over a peaked and declining West was finally on the horizon.  Perhaps it was an internal squabble amongst political elites or wealthy families.  Perhaps leftist-nationalist popular fervor took over and the temptation towards aggressiveness could not be resisted, or that having been compelled by circumstance to issue guarantees now seemed more ‘humiliating’ than crafty.

It will be interesting to read what those Historians uncover.  Nevertheless, Luttwak makes a good case that Alea iacta est, and, short of an unexpected dramatic slowing of the growth of the Chinese economy, some new form of East Asian Cold War is coming upon us all.

The coming years will definitely bring some very interesting times.  The Chinese proverb goes, “寧為太平犬,不做亂世人”: “It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period.”  Let us hope that it remains better to be men.

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36 Responses to Review of “The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy” by Edward Luttwak

  1. spandrell says:

    Talk out there these days is that Zhou Yongkang (recently apprehended evil boss of the security forces) was the mastermind behind last year’s over-the-top anti-Japanese riots, themselves a cover up to try to force the state of emergency and prevent Xi Jinping from assuming the presidency. Xi did disappear suddenly 2 weeks last September, rumors he was hiding, or hurt during an assassination attempt.

    Jiang Zemin is the boss of that faction, and widely known as the root of all evil in China. He was also who pushed for anti-Japanese propaganda to become an integral part of the education and entertainment system. With Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang gone, his faction won’t last much longer, one thoroughly purged China might perhaps slow down with the aggressiveness.

    Some points are quite inaccurate: there’s no issue with ethnic Mongolians in China. Zilch. Tibetans and Uyghurs certainly are. And the idea of Tianxia precedes the Han dynasty for some time. It starts with the old Zhou kings, who brought Tian worship.

    Luttwak is a better historian than prophet. China has Korea in their hand, nice relations with Russia, and the only neighbors actually willing to confront them are Japan and Vietnam. Vietnam sucks, as does most SEA, who just doesn’t have the resources to avoid being drawn into the Chinese economic sphere. Japan should dig deep trenches and wait until the Chinese economy unravels, which it very well might.

    I’d say the actual pivot is the American State Department. China wants to sell G2, is it that bad of a deal?

    • Matt says:

      Good point about Korea, spandrell.

      Most Western analysts can be quite myopic when it comes to Korea. They always seem surprised that the South Koreans might not despise and have contempt for North Korea and China like they themselves do. They don’t seem to understand that North Koreans are the same people as the South Koreans, and that Korea has had relatively good relations with China for a while, as in centuries. The Chinese even helped them beat back a Japanese invasion. Also, Korea is a direct neighbor of China and has an obvious incentive to have friendly relations with China.

    • Handle says:

      In Re Mongolians: Luttwak puts this oddly negligible instance as an exemplary anecdote in his notes, “Concurrently, ethnic riots continue in the Inner Mongolians Autonomous Region: the killing of a traditional herder has opened a wider contention over Mongol control of Mongol lands. (Southern Mongolian Information Center, “Herders take to the streets, four arrested,”) story link here.

    • Richard says:

      You’re seriously lacking in insight. You’re following this Luttwack guy but all he’s saying was already summed up by the researchers who studied the Zero Determinant solutions to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Specifically the part where the reactionary Prisoner’s Dilemma turns into an Ultimatum Game with rational negotiation if both sides try to manipulate the others’ behaviour using ZD solutions. Does this sound familiar? The … hmm I suppose the rest hasn’t been published yet. But the rest of what you’re saying is that Narcissistic (ie, neo-con) solutions don’t work in the real work because they’re not universalizable. Whereas Moralist solutions (friendship, cooperation, harmony, these are Moralist values) do work because they’re universalizable. Though there are two other families of solutions that work just as well, any family of solution that’s universalizable will beat one that doesn’t since the latter artificially creates entropy. Meaning: it fucks you over.

      Now I’m using tedious intellectual language for this but the basic concepts are so simple they’re taught to every 12 year old. And for that reason, they’re scorned by you pompous “serious” people. You treat as complicated and advanced concepts which every non-retarded adolescent (“don’t be an asshole, don’t be a jerk”) manages to assimilate. But I suppose you belong in the retarded 30% who just doesn’t get it.

      • Handle says:

        Thank you for your very civil input.
        Yes, me, and everyone running strategy policy in all of these countries are all well trained in and aware of all these game theoretical considerations.
        But when you actually look at collective human behavior, it turns out you simply can’t ignore certain particular irrational and cultural human inputs into the equation. You also can’t ignore the fact of massive amounts of uncertainty which itself expands rapidly the further out you forecast.
        Have a great day, you ass.

        • Richard says:

          You talk about the “massive amounts of uncertainty which itself expands rapidly the further out you forecast” and when you do I imagine you looking upon it with a horrified wide-eyed stare and mounting dread. You sound to me like a right-wing authoritarian obsessed with stasis and stability, obsessed with obsession itself, with filing and categorizing and classifying. And neatness.

          That massive amount of uncertainty is the free will of great men. And I can easily imagine you wanting nothing better than to crush all free will everywhere in order to make the world predictable, uniform and orderly. But guess what? 😀 You’re not going to get your way.

          And in fact, from your point of view, the world will only become MORE and MORE unpredictable and uncertain and wildly unstable. And definitely unlike the past. Because free will is mounting across the world. It has been increasing over the last century or two according to empirical metrics.

          Free will has a rhyme and reason and song which is totally alien to you. But its rhythm and language while alien to you is something that I love and cherish. It’s something I value. It’s something I UNDERSTAND and yes, by understanding it I can predict it. And so … I’m winning. Over you. 😀

          You can keep your stupid blog posts and you can keep your stupid life. The fight is out there in the real world and you, a representative of the forces of stasis and predictability and subservience to overwhelming institutional forces, are losing. Your whole side is losing.

          Speaking of your predictability horizon, I am reminded of Frank Herbert’s Dune when Paul Atreides spoke to the Bene Gesserits.

          * Try looking into that place where you dare not look! You’ll find me there, staring out at you!

          and here’s another good one:

          * The eye that looks ahead to the safe course is closed forever.

          Your precious institutions … gone forever. They will be wiped out from history. That’s what lies beyond the predictability horizon you so dread. Don’t let it keep you up at night. 🙂

        • Richard says:

          Your site ate part 1 of my reply when I posted part 2 so I rewrote all of it here:

  2. Magus Janus says:

    This was excellent, well done Handle, one of your best. I already have Coup on my reading list, I’m going to add both Grand Strategy books as well.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    One thing that has changed since 2008 or so is the new attitude that oil or gas might be found anywhere, so it’s a good idea to have as much territory as possible because who knows when it will be profitable to frack the seabed around some rocks you prudently claimed back in the day.

    • Handle says:

      Willkommen Steve Sailer, and thanks for the link. I know you will make good use of my meager contribution to your panhandling. Keep up the great work!

      You make a good point about the new optimism about hydrocarbons. However, the argument cuts both ways. The question is always whether the expected benefits of acquiring or fighting over some god-forsaken rock are worth the costs in terms of damaged foreign relations. But the nation the rock is being taken from also has the same reasons to value that rock even more than they did before the innovations in extractive technology. So, since the winner’s gain is the loser’s loss, then the greater the incentive, the greater the provocation and response. It seems to me to cancel out.

      All additional territory is always potentially valuable in some way, if even as mere military outposts for surveillance, power projection, logistics, and rapid response. All those tiny South Pacific atolls are still very useful for the U.S., even without oil and gas.

      The Naval portion of the Chinese long-term ‘Domains’ strategy is to exclusively dominate the Western Pacific, intimidating all other regional nations to disassociate with American, and thus pushing the U.S. 7th Fleet out to Hawaii so that the Pacific has to be shared between two great powers once more. Last time that didn’t work out so well.

  4. Orthodox says:

    There are rumors that the CCP wants to remove Maoist thought, in which case it needs nationalism. They are trying to push the “spirit of Lei Feng” as a replacement for religion, but it is mainly viewed as a joke by the public.

    Zhou was Bo’s patron and the Communist Youth faction (which provided the former and current premier) is systematically taking them (the reds) out. The recent investigation into the state-owned oil companies is part of it: the companies are controlled by the red faction and used to advance red party members. Maoist websites and papers have been shuttered as well. Maybe they will stage a comeback, but it looks like the Maoists are on the way out. And even though the public generally dislikes the CCP, the public was more disturbed by Bo Xilai’s Maoist nostalgia, so removing Mao would probably increase the popularity of the CCP.

    Anti-Japanese propaganda is off the charts. Chinese protesters beat a Chinese man into a coma for driving a Japanese car as part of riots over the Japanese government purchase of the Diaoyu Islands. There’s a lot of hate for the CCP too though, and it’s hard to guess what would happen if a more serious incident turn protests into riots.

    • Handle says:

      Following the machinations and speculating upon the intrigues of the Chinese court is enough to make anyone’s head spin. I think Luttwak would argue, however, that it all pales in significance to the material base of economic, political, and military power, and the expectation (on all sides) of the growth of future power imbalances.

      Nevertheless, where internal politics do matter is in terms of elevating wise statesmen who understand the nature of foreign relations and will take care to avoid unnecessary provocations. If ‘the inevitable analogy’ to Germany has much validity, then the turn towards nationalism combined with an overly-easy ability to marshal clearly intense and violent public hatred for members of particular ethnic groups does not bode well.

  5. Matt says:

    The Chinese, in fact, through large parts of their History, resemble the Jews in their impressive ability to survive culturally and preserve their unique civilization and traditions even when frequently under the rule of antagonistic conquerors. It also helps if your people tend to be Market Dominant Minorities when they’re outnumbered

    They don’t really resemble the Jews at all. As Luttwak writes, the Chinese been isolated and localized for most of their history. Their interactions have been mainly with relatively small barbarian tribes that they’ve vastly outnumbered. The Jews on the other hand have been international and migratory, and have been outnumbered by their various hosts, and they’ve had to deal diplomatically, so to speak, with their hosts’ states which were themselves in diplomatic relations with other states.

    • Janessa says:

      Are you talking about MJ? I think I saw that and the shyt was funny as hell! Not that big of a Chris Rock fan but I’d deftiniely pay money to see him and Dave

    • jetsons car says:

      Coronel (31/12/2007)Simon Bolívar disse, com propriedade:”Do heróico ao ridículo não há mais do que um passo. “E o Coronel completa:”O passo foi dado”. E eu pergunto: è bruxo, não è Coronel? Não será parente de Nostredamus?

  6. Matt says:

    Likewise, Luttwak contends that at the higher levels of Grand Strategy the logic of ‘get big or get stomped‘ reverses paradoxically. If you pursue military agrandizement so monomaniacally and consistently with realpolitick that you start to seriously threaten your neighbors and competitors then, if they are smart enough and act in time, you will provoke them into forming an alliance of resistance dedicated to doing whatever is necessary short of nuclear war, but including crushing your economy, to prevent you from getting big enough to dominate. Luttwak says that the ‘realists’ are in fact fooling themselves with a delusion in regards to imagining themselves as actors with ‘free will‘ and that the sequence of international power politics is much more deterministic as all the actors are in fact, “… trapped by the paradoxes of the logic of strategy, which imposes its own imperatives …”

    Luttwak either misunderstands or misrepresents realism and the logic of “get or get stomped.” It’s either because he’s getting on in years, or because he’s deliberately being manipulative.

    The logic of realism does not “reverse paradoxically.” Just because you don’t pursue military aggrandizement doesn’t mean your neighbors and competitors won’t try to crush you and form alliances and so forth. That’s the logic of realism: the world is anarchic and there’s ultimately really no telling what people will do.

    Luttwak’s view is actually more “deterministic” than the realism he criticizes here since he assumes certain determined responses are given that realism doesn’t assume.

    • peppermint says:

      Neither Kissinger’s Realpolitick or its negation are good strategies to follow all the time. This should be obvious.

      Like Moldbug said, reason is reason, and foregoing reason for a formula is not a good idea. Carlyle said it first (part VIII of The Latter-day Pamphlets), of course.

      At least when leftists lobotimize themselves for a formula, that formula gets concrete benefits for them personally.

  7. Pingback: On The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

  8. VXXC says:

    On the subject of the Confederacy nothing was pre-determined. They had no national leadership and there was never Unified Command until Feb 1865. At several points they might have inflicted such damage as to get the North to make peace.

    On the subjects above: why is any of this our – Americas – Problem?

    As if you’d even fight us competently – which you do not and apparently cannot – if it was our interests.

    Some of us don’t define “our interests” as intellectuals playing game of thrones with others lives.

  9. VXXC says:

    Ah ..and what I should have said first…Brilliant post, merry Christmas. It is Brilliant.


    We should shoulder no more burdens. They cannot fight us competently if they wished, and they wish and are openly on both sides, all sides. Even when we are dying. This would be highly inadvisiable even from a ammoral point of view if it could be kept secret, and it isn’t. More incompetence. What happens when you think High Treason is a Birthright.

    No, I don’t mean Handle BTW. But he knows as well as I who and what we have served.

    Petreaus for instance was doomed the instant he pulled a victory over AQIZ out of the Hat by Bullshitting the Progs with his magic charts. They just waited.

    As noted above, they can’t run anything anymore. Let the Chinese and their neighbors sort it.
    The only people we should protect with more blood are AU and NZ. Easily done.

    Time to say goodbye to Hegemony.

  10. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Join the Dots

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  12. Dan says:

    A huge and detailed post. The level of discourse is many notches higher in the reactosphere than among public ‘intellectuals.’ Sad.

    I wonder if it doesn’t matter in what order China plays its cards as far as the US is concerned. Our leadership and our country seems so determined to ignore reality in all areas that maybe China doesn’t need to worry about how it looks in the realm of reality. The China narrative is already written and the ‘work’ of policymakers is just to copy and paste what policies are already there.

    The adverse selection problem for Obamacare could have been understood by a middle schooler. The fact that the Arab ‘spring’ from Libya to Egypt to Syria is a largely movement of Islamist radicals was obvious. That gender is written into a person’s DNA is elementary science. That American demographics are shifting in a way that ruins our leaders’ beloved tax foundation (among other things) is plain. Guess what — our leadership cares not one iota what reality is, per se. Would such a leadership be willing to (a) carefully analyze what China is doing, and (b) take proactive steps that bring no immediate political benefit and perhaps some political cost?

    • Handle says:

      ‘Would such a leadership be willing to (a) carefully analyze what China is doing, and (b) take proactive steps that bring no immediate political benefit and perhaps some political cost?’

      We don’t have those kinds of wise and selfless statesmen and we can’t – democracy weeds them out of the process. Milton Friedman said that the role of public intellectuals in a democracy was to make it easier for politicians to do the necessary thing – that is – try and mold and influence public perceptions such that there is a political gain instead of a cost.

      But also, it’s tough for Presidents to go against the deeply-ingrained cultures and ideologies of the Departments. They have many ways of resisting White House directives that they don’t want to implement. Presidents avoid doing this at all costs to avoid upsetting relationships, even though the diversity of opinion as to what constitutes ‘the national interest’ necessarily implies the agencies are working at cross-purposes. The Departments are also full of subject matter experts and deep industry/academic relationships, and to the extent one is reliant on the best advice from the field, one has a hard time taking a bold stand against their guidance.

      These are the issues that Luttwak is trying to address. He thinks the U.S. should be organizing a coalition to choke off China’s growth via economic means. To do this, he has to 1. Make anti-China thinking more popular (not resulting in electoral defeat), and 2. Strengthen a President’s will to confront the ruinous free-trade-dogmatism of the Treasury (and the financial sector which owns it).

      Think about this rent-seeking mechanism. If you are a big investment bank, it would really be useful for you if you could acquire control over the U.S. Treasury by three means. 1. Hanging the prospect of extremely lucrative employment over the heads of government employees. 2. Enabling the ‘revolving door’ hiring practices within those departments so that they hire ‘temporary public servants’ from within financial industry who expect to go back (and have to answer to the CEO for what they did while ‘in office’), and most subtly of all 3. Indoctrinating all those people, and especially the politically appointed chiefs, into the ideology of free trade.

      Now, as an aside, I am in general a proponent of free markets and favor a presumption against regulation and for laissez faire, in the domestic context. A presumption, however, is rebbutable, and not a crazy religious dogma that can never be balanced against equally legitimate concerns. And I also favor the presumption of fair, balanced, and secure free trade, but the nature of the international context and issues of geopolitics greatly diminishes the valence of that bias.

      Currently, the nature of the U.S. trade relationship with China is ‘unfair’ (via manipulated currency) leading to it being unbalanced (the trade surplus), and it is profoundly insecure (because they are buying away, or outright stealing, the intellectual property (of corporations and the military), which constitutes the basis of the national competitive advantage in both the civilian economy and national security.

      This means that is is pretty clearly not in the national interest to passively allow this to go on, and it borders on betrayal to actively attempt to accelerate the process on purpose.

      But, if a company has investments in China, then helping China grow and steal means your investments will have a higher rate of return. The more you can get Treasury to get USG to help China, then the better your Chinese investments will perform. Again, like Lenin said, “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” This is especially true if some of the capitalists think they are only selling out their other compatriots, and that they’ll do fine when the hangman comes round. Pure folly.

  13. Sam says:

    Thank you for writing this post.

  14. guest says:

    I would also recommend the following video interview with Luttwak himself!

    Conversations with History, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

  15. Daniel says:

    Very interesting post, I ran into this on ycombinator news and after trying to skim your conclusion ended up reading the whole thing.

    Except for whichever part you forgot to include after:

    “It also helps if your people tend to be Market Dominant Minorities when they’re outnumbered, especially when”

  16. Paolo Marino says:

    Just a little nitpick: you wrote “Cout d’Etat: A Practical Handbook” – it should be “Coup d’Etat”…

  17. Howard says:

    The problem is that Luttwak is assuming that the guns will be used. In the age of nuclear weapons, it is not unreasonable to assume that expensive weapons systems will never be used.

    In that case, it is a reasonable to spend some money on guns so all your potential enemies will spend MORE money on guns. They will have less money on butter. The strategy of spending all your money on butter will be a loser if your competitors are growing faster.

  18. duggi says:

    i’m sorry – when you write at this length and appeal to points this detailed and highbrow; you simply cannot misspell (typo?) “agrandizement” (sic)

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