HONOLULU, January 23, 2014 – In the ancient Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, author Luo Guanzhong writes “When one is born great, one cannot be patient for long under another person’s domination.” In the not-too-distant future, not only will China surpass the United States as an economic and military giant, but all of Asia will surge to challenge the West’s control of the international system.
As America prepares for an upcoming midterm election, voters – especially those in Hawaii – need to come to grips with the fact that the “Asia pivot” strategy their elected policymakers have sold them is a hollow, empty marketing slogan that will only hasten the decline of the United States. Here’s why the “Asia pivot” isn’t fooling anyone in Asia:
America’s government is in fiscal turmoil.
During the Cold War, the bipolar world split between the U.S. and Soviet superpowers represented more than differing ideologies but two distinct economic systems. The U.S. did not have to rely on a steady line of credit from the Soviet Union to finance America’s arms race. By contrast, the greatest irony of the Asia pivot strategy is that the U.S. government must borrow money from the very Asian powers it seeks to contain.
If America can’t pay for commissaries, how can it pay for stealth fighters and nuclear warships?
Since the first Bush Administration, the U.S. military has been shrinking in both numbers of bases and its inventories of conventional and strategic weapons. After the Cold War, America’s defense model shifted from overwhelming force and a secured second strike capability to a minimal force necessary to maintain commitments.
In spite of reducing the overall size of the military, the U.S. was unsuccessful in controlling military costs because of a combination of inflation, the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the massive ongoing Global War On Terror. The end result is that taxpayers are paying more money for less defense capability.
While Revolution in Military Affairs apologists are quick to argue that technological advances create force multiplication, one can only imagine generals of the People’s Liberation Army snickering over how a “superpower” that can’t pay for commissaries at home is supposedly ready for the logistical challenges of fighting a war half a world away in Asia.
Excessive insistence on technology as a strategy means that when gadgets are gone, America is powerless.
At the height of the Cold War, Richard Pipes famously wrote that the key distinction between the Soviet Union and the U.S. was that Russian military theorists rejected the notion that technology should drive strategy. “They perceive the relationship to be the reverse: strategic objectives determine the procurement and acquisition of weapons,” Pipes wrote in Why The Soviet Union Thinks It Can Fight & Win A Nuclear War.
By contrast, America is addicted to technology as a solution for everything – humanity and nature included. U.S. policymakers believe they are divesting risk from armed conflict by using armed drones, military planners think high tech surveillance gives them impunity over the battlefield and the public assumes that fancy weapon systems are invincible against the inferior tactics and platforms of their enemies. Technology is deceitful because it leads decision-makers to believe that everything can be controlled with just the right hardware or the perfect software. While there may be a kernel of truth to technology’s role in national power, ultimately excessive dependence on technology means the U.S., if ever deprived of its gadgets, will be powerless.
With China one of the world’s leading suppliers of rare earth elements and North Korea recently discovered to have 216 million tons of REEs, America’s technology bubble will become increasingly dependent on Asia in the years to come. The fact that the U.S. military’s “game changing” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which is meant to be a key platform in the “Asia pivot” contains magnets made in China underlines just how vulnerable America is.
Lack of understanding of nuclear power means the U.S. will steadily disarm while others arm.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s infrastructure was in shambles, with wide gaps in their early warning radar coverage and the military barely able to afford basic training operations. The new government approached external security from a deterrence model and announced that Russia would use nuclear weapons as its primary means of defense. The bluff worked.
By contrast, the U.S. is committed to de-alerting and dismantling its existing nuclear arsenal even as others proliferate new nuclear platforms. The last U.S. nuclear weapons were produced in the late 1980s, while China, Russia, India, Pakistan and others are actively developing new nuclear weapons, some of which may one day be deployed on hypersonic attack platforms.
The decline of U.S. nuclear power has diplomatic consequences: nuclear peer threats have the power to deter U.S. leaders and even demand concessions in overseas disputes.
The term “Asia pivot” almost suggests the image of a soldier, hearing the drill command, “Left, face” and casually pivoting to the side as he clicks his heels into a new position of attention. In reality, the “Asia pivot” should be named the “Asia shock” because U.S. policymakers were consumed by the belief that the future wars of the world would be a combination of low intensity conflicts, collective security operations, humanitarian/military operations other-than-war and battles against non-state actors.
In reality, nothing has changed since the Peace of Westphalia, states are still the most important entities on the planet and the protection of borders, ideology and spheres of influence though checked by technology and “globalization” are still supreme. While America expended itself fighting insurgents, China went on an arms race to modernize and procure traditional weapons systems. The result? America is burned out, broke and unable to fight terrorists or peer state threats.
The recent East China Sea dispute wasn’t a battle of drones, QRF helicopters, light infantry and terrorists in caves – it was a standoff that called into action so-called “Cold War” systems like strategic bombers, AWACS aircraft, fighterplanes and surface warships.
There is too much noise and too little common sense in U.S. policymaking.
One of the key flaws of a democratic system is, as suggested by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, that mediocrity triumphs because of the combination of hasty critics, reactionary voting groups and the general belief that whatever is popular must automatically be right.
U.S. policy is highly susceptible to dangerous excesses and knee-jerk foreign policy when political emotions are inflamed. The rise of the Internet and the 24/7 media worsens this, because now anyone with access to a computer can use viral hyperbole and memetic propaganda to force policymakers to make snap responses to crises that otherwise should require lengthy, discerning review. Last year’s Syrian “red line” remark by President Obama is a perfect example of this, as media voices pressured Obama to back up his gaffe, only to reverse course at the last minute, demanding Obama back away from war.
In places like Russia and China, policymakers procure tanks because they see that their enemies have tanks. In the U.S., it’s not enough to have a tank because the enemy has a tank; hyperbolic arguments and endless blogs must ensue debating whether or not tanks are needed in the 21st century. America’s enemies don’t ask questions like “do we really need an air force?” – they have an air force because they believe that as long as the enemy has planes, they need planes of their own … period.
Chinese policymakers don’t say “Oh no, the U.S. has ‘area denial’ missiles, what’s the point of building ships?” – they just build ships. In this regard, Western states will face increasing security challenges because while their leaders believe the 21st century is an era of fighting “new wars” their adversaries realize that war itself has not changed – it is still a contest between states for command of the earth.
A strong economy is the key to world leadership.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. The key to world leadership begins with economic strength. In the U.S., unemployment is rampant, debt is out of control and people are increasingly dependent on government for their individual livelihood. America, which was once a nation built on property ownership, is now seeing China buying up its properties and companies.
In every major war of preceding centuries, the U.S. has always triumphed even when in inferior military circumstances because it had the domestic economy to power its security interests. Today, America is collapsing at home – it’s only a question of time before she collapses abroad.
Sun Tzu wrote “Humble words and increased preparations are signs that the enemy is about to advance. Violent language and driving forward as if to the attack are signs that the enemy will retreat.” Is the “Asia pivot” really a workable solution? Sounds more like big talk.
While the rise of the Asian Century cannot be stopped, the decline of the West can certainly be delayed. The sooner voters recognize the flawed course of U.S. policy and elect informed policymakers to correct it, the sooner America can defer the economic and security disasters that come from a decline of world leadership.