Make Money, Not War - By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Today in East Asia, China is rising -- peacefully so far. For understandable
reasons, China harbors resentment and even humiliation about some chapters of
its history. Nationalism is an important force, and there are serious grievances
regarding external issues, notably Taiwan. But conflict is not inevitable or
even likely. China's leadership is not inclined to challenge the United
States militarily, and its focus remains on economic development and winning
acceptance as a great power.
China is preoccupied, and almost fascinated, with the trajectory of its own
ascent. When I met with the top leadership not long ago, what struck me was
the frequency with which I was asked for predictions about the next 15 or 20
years. Not long ago, the Chinese Politburo invited two distinguished, Western-trained
professors to a special meeting. Their task was to analyze nine major powers
since the 15th century to see why they rose and fell. It's an interesting
exercise for the top leadership of a massive and complex country.
This focus on the experience of past great powers could lead to the conclusion
that the iron laws of political theory and history point to some inevitable
collision or conflict. But there are other political realities. In the next
five years, China will host several events that will restrain the conduct of
its foreign policy. The 2008 Olympic Games is the most important, of course.
The scale of the economic and psychological investment in the Beijing games
is staggering. My expectation is that they will be magnificently organized.
And make no mistake, China intends to win at the Olympics. A second date is
2010, when China will hold the World Expo in Shanghai. Successfully organizing
these international gatherings is important to China and suggests that a cautious
foreign policy will prevail.
More broadly, China is determined to sustain its economic growth. A confrontational
foreign policy could disrupt that growth, harm hundreds of millions of Chinese,
and threaten the Communist Party's hold on power. China's leadership
appears rational, calculating, and conscious not only of China's rise
but also of its continued weakness.
There will be inevitable frictions as China's regional role increases
and as a Chinese "sphere of influence" develops. U.S. power may
recede gradually in the coming years, and the unavoidable decline in Japan's
influence will heighten the sense of China's regional preeminence. But
to have a real collision, China needs a military that is capable of going toe-to-toe
with the United States. At the strategic level, China maintains a posture of
minimum deterrence. Forty years after acquiring nuclear-weapons technology,
China has just 24 ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States. Even
beyond the realm of strategic warfare, a country must have the capacity to attain
its political objectives before it will engage in limited war. It is hard to
envisage how China could promote its objectives when it is acutely vulnerable
to a blockade and isolation enforced by the United States. In a conflict, Chinese
maritime trade would stop entirely. The flow of oil would cease, and the Chinese
economy would be paralyzed.
I have the sense that the Chinese are cautious about Taiwan, their fierce talk
notwithstanding. Last March, a Communist Party magazine noted that "we
have basically contained the overt threat of Taiwanese independence since [President]
Chen [Shuibian] took office, avoiding a worst-case scenario and maintaining
the status of Taiwan as part of China." A public opinion poll taken in
Beijing at the same time found that 58 percent thought military action was unnecessary.
Only 15 percent supported military action to "liberate" Taiwan.
Of course, stability today does not ensure peace tomorrow. If China were to
succumb to internal violence, for example, all bets are off.
If sociopolitical tensions or social inequality becomes unmanageable, the leadership
might be tempted to exploit nationalist passions. But the small possibility
of this type of catastrophe does not weaken my belief that we can avoid the
negative consequences that often accompany the rise of new powers. China is
clearly assimilating into the international system. Its leadership appears to
realize that attempting to dislodge the United States would be futile, and that
the cautious spread of Chinese influence is the surest path to global preeminence.
Better to Be Godzilla than Bambi - By John J. Mearsheimer
China cannot rise peacefully, and if it continues its dramatic economic growth
over the next few decades, the United States and China are likely to engage
in an intense security competition with considerable potential for war. Most
of China's neighbors, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea,
Russia, and Vietnam, will likely join with the United States to contain China's
To predict the future in Asia, one needs a theory that explains how rising
powers are likely to act and how other states will react to them. My theory
of international politics says that the mightiest states attempt to establish
hegemony in their own region while making sure that no rival great power dominates
another region. The ultimate goal of every great power is to maximize its share
of world power and eventually dominate the system.
The international system has several defining characteristics. The main actors
are states that operate in anarchy -- which simply means that there is no
higher authority above them. All great powers have some offensive military capability,
which means that they can hurt each other. Finally, no state can know the future
intentions of other states with certainty. The best way to survive in such a
system is to be as powerful as possible, relative to potential rivals. The mightier
a state is, the less likely it is that another state will attack it.
The great powers do not merely strive to be the strongest great power, although
that is a welcome outcome. Their ultimate aim is to be the hegemon -- the
only great power in the system. But it is almost impossible for any state to
achieve global hegemony in the modern world, because it is too hard to project
and sustain power around the globe. Even the United States is a regional but
not a global hegemon. The best outcome that a state can hope for is to dominate
its own backyard.
States that gain regional hegemony have a further aim: to prevent other geographical
areas from being dominated by other great powers. Regional hegemons, in other
words, do not want peer competitors. Instead, they want to keep other regions
divided among several great powers so that these states will compete with each
other. In 1991, shortly after the Cold War ended, the first Bush administration
boldly stated that the United States was now the most powerful state in the
world and planned to remain so. That same message appeared in the famous National
Security Strategy issued by the second Bush administration in September 2002.
This document's stance on preemptive war generated harsh criticism, but
hardly a word of protest greeted the assertion that the United States should
check rising powers and maintain its commanding position in the global balance
China is likely to try to dominate Asia the way the United States dominates
the Western Hemisphere. Specifically, China will strive to maximize the power
gap between itself and its neighbors, especially Japan and Russia, and to ensure
that no state in Asia can threaten it.
It is unlikely that China will go on a rampage and conquer other Asian countries.
Instead, China will want to dictate the boundaries of acceptable behavior to
neighboring countries, much the way the United States does in the Americas.
An increasingly powerful China is also likely to try to push the United States
out of Asia, much the way the United States pushed the European great powers
out of the Western Hemisphere. Not incidentally, gaining regional hegemony is
probably the only way that China will get back Taiwan.
Why should we expect China to act differently than the United States? U.S.
policymakers, after all, react harshly when other great powers send military
forces into the Western Hemisphere. These foreign forces are invariably seen
as a potential threat to American security. Are the Chinese more principled,
more ethical, less nationalistic, or less concerned about their survival than
Westerners? They are none of these things, which is why China is likely to imitate
the United States and attempt to become a regional hegemon. China's leadership
and people remember what happened in the last century, when Japan was powerful
and China was weak. In the anarchic world of international politics, it is better
to be Godzilla than Bambi.
It is clear from the historical record how American policymakers will react
if China attempts to dominate Asia. The United States does not tolerate peer
competitors. As it demonstrated in the 20th century, it is determined to remain
the world's only regional hegemon. Therefore, the United States will seek
to contain China and ultimately weaken it to the point where it is no longer
capable of dominating Asia. In essence, the United States is likely to behave
toward China much the way it behaved toward the Soviet Union during the Cold
Nukes Change Everything - Zbigniew Brzezinski responds.
As an occasional scholar, I am impressed by the power of theory. But theory -- at
least in international relations -- is essentially retrospective. When something
happens that does not fit the theory, it gets revised. And I suspect that will
happen in the U.S.-China relationship.
We live in a very different world than the one in which hegemonic powers could
go to war without erasing each other as societies. The nuclear age has altered
power politics in a way that was already evident in the U.S.-Soviet competition.
The avoidance of direct conflict in that standoff owed much to weaponry that
makes the total elimination of societies part of the escalating dynamic of war.
It tells you something that the Chinese are not trying to acquire the military
capabilities to take on the United States.
How great powers behave is not predetermined. If the Germans and the Japanese
had not conducted themselves the way they did, their regimes might not have
been destroyed. Germany was not required to adopt the policy it did in 1914
(indeed, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck followed a very different path).
The Japanese in 1941 could have directed their expansionism toward Russia rather
than Britain and the United States. For its part, the Chinese leadership appears
much more flexible and sophisticated than many previous aspirants to great power
Showing the United States the Door - John J. Mearsheimer
The dichotomy that you raised between theory and political reality is an important
one. The reason that we have to privilege theory over political reality is that
we cannot know what political reality is going to look like in the year 2025.
You mentioned that you traveled to China recently and talked to Chinese leaders
who appear to be much more prudent about Taiwan than the conventional wisdom
has it. That may be true, but it's largely irrelevant. The key issue is,
What are the Chinese leaders and people going to think about Taiwan in 2025?
We have no way of knowing. So today's political realities get washed out
of the equation, and what really matters is the theory that one employs to predict
You also argue that China's desire for continued economic growth makes
conflict with the United States unlikely. One of the principal reasons that
China has been so successful economically over the past 20 years is that it
has not picked a fight with the United States. But that logic should have applied
to Germany before World War I and to Germany and Japan before World War II.
By 1939, the German economy was growing strongly, yet Hitler started World War
II. Japan started conflict in Asia despite its impressive economic growth. Clearly
there are factors that sometimes override economic considerations and cause
great powers to start wars -- even when it hurts them economically.
It is also true that China does not have the military wherewithal to take on
the United States. That's absolutely correct -- for now. But again,
what we are talking about is the situation in 2025 or 2030, when China has the
military muscle to take on the United States. What happens then, when China
has a much larger gross national product and a much more formidable military
than it has today? The history of great powers offers a straightforward answer:
China will try to push the Americans out of Asia and dominate the region. And
if it succeeds, it will be in an ideal situation to deal with Taiwan.
America's Staying Power - Zbigniew Brzezinski responds.
How can China push the United States out of East Asia? Or, more pointedly,
how can China push the United States out of Japan? And if the United States
were somehow pushed out of Japan or decided to leave on its own, what would
the Japanese do? Japan has an impressive military program and, in a matter of
months, it could have a significant nuclear deterrent. Frankly, I doubt that
China could push the United States out of Asia. But even if it could, I don't
think it would want to live with the consequences: a powerful, nationalistic,
and nuclear-armed Japan.
Of course, tensions over Taiwan are the most worrisome strategic danger. But
any Chinese military planner has to take into account the likelihood that even
if China could overrun Taiwan, the United States would enter the conflict. That
prospect vitiates any political calculus justifying a military operation until
and unless the United States is out of the picture. And the United States will
not be out of the picture for a long, long time.
It's Not a Pretty Picture - John J. Mearsheimer
If the Chinese are smart, they will not pick a fight over Taiwan now. This
is not the time. What they should do is concentrate on building their economy
to the point where it is bigger than the U.S. economy. Then they can translate
that economic strength into military might and create a situation where they
are in a position to dictate terms to states in the region and to give the United
States all sorts of trouble.
From China's point of view, it would be ideal to dominate Asia, and for
Brazil, Argentina, or Mexico to became a great power and force the United States
to concentrate on its own region. The great advantage the United States has
at the moment is that no state in the Western Hemisphere can threaten its survival
or security interests. So the United States is free to roam the world causing
trouble in other people's backyards. Other states, including China of
course, have a vested interest in causing trouble in the United States'
backyard to keep it focused there. The picture I have painted is not a pretty
one. I wish I could tell a more optimistic story about the future, but international
politics is a nasty and dangerous business. No amount of good will can ameliorate
the intense security competition that will set in as an aspiring hegemon appears