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Luttwak on the Australian Strategic Pivot

Iconoclastic strategist Edward Luttwak has characteristically caustic words on an Australian -American strategic entente to contain an “autistic” rising China:

Australia counters Chinese threat 

AUSTRALIA has been quietly building a regional defence coalition to restrain China’s increasingly ”aggressive” and ”autistic” international behaviour, an influential adviser to the Pentagon says.

Edward Luttwak bluntly contradicts Australian and US denials that they see China as a threat or want to contain its rise. ”Australians view themselves as facing a strategic threat,” he writes in his coming book, The Rise of China v The Logic of Strategy.

The emerging latticework of regional defence arrangements augments ”the overall capacity of the US-Australian alliance to contain China”.

The book praises Australia’s strategic initiative in forging ties with countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India that lie beyond America’s natural security orbit, as well as broadening the defence networks of close US allies such as Japan.

”Each of these Australian initiatives derives from a prior and broader decision to take the initiative in building a structure of collective security piece by piece, and not just leave it all to the Americans,” it says.

….The Australian National University’s Hugh White has argued that the US needs to ”share power” with what is going to be ”the most formidable power the US has ever faced”. But for Mr Luttwak, the ”logic of strategy” dictates that neighbours will naturally coalesce against the new rising threat, thus preventing China from realising anything like the relative military power that has been projected.

”The rapid accession to prosperity has been a very common way for countries to lose their sanity,” Mr Luttwak told the Herald. He said China suffered from ancient and new foreign policy weaknesses.

”The Chinese are autistic in dealing with foreigners, they have no sense of the ‘other’,” he said. ”They think they are incredibly brilliant strategists as if they had been conquering other nations, when in fact it’s been the other way around for 1500 years.”


China’s political system is in the midst of a particularly edgy and uncertain generational transition of power, following the succession machinery designed by China’s last “paramount leader”, Deng Xiaoping, to retain harmony among the ruling Communist Party elite.  Deng’s successors are following his script, but their hearts no longer appear to be in it – 15 years after Deng’s death, cracks have appeared in the facade of unity. Not a fatal flaw, but lacking a leader of Deng’s stature who, even in retirement, remained the supreme arbiter of China’s political system, factions of China’s elite have more room to push conflicting agendas.

In foreign policy we see the effects in China’s erratically belligerent, then conciliatory behavior towards it’s East Asian neighbors and the United States. Strategically, it makes little sense for China to repeatedly generate friction over territorial claims to the entire South China Sea with Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States and push a separate dispute with Japan simultaneously, yet because of intra-elite, domestic politics, Beijing is unable or unwilling to restrain enthusiast Chinese officials from doing so.

One Response to “Luttwak on the Australian Strategic Pivot”

  1. Mr. X Says:

    Thanks to Luttwak, despite centuries of Papist and Western Roman triumphalist propaganda, I consider ‘Byzantine’ to be a complement meaning ‘strategerically shrewd’ rather than a put-down.

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