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Ann Scott Tyson on Sino-American Relations

Saturday, October 24th, 2020

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Ann Scott Tyson, Beijing Bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, recently published an important in-depth reflective piece on the evolution of Sino-American relations, particularly the deep slide under China’s supreme leader Xi Jinping. Featured prominently in the story are the views of former National Security Adviser,  LTG H.R. McMaster.

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Fueling US-China clash, years of disconnects

….What is clear is that the current conflict has been exacerbated by profound misperceptions and misplaced expectations that go back decades, eliciting feelings of betrayal on the U.S. side and arrogance on China’s side.

All these dynamics were on the mind of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, as he rode the next day in the presidential motorcade toward the massive, Soviet-style facade of the Great Hall of the People, for another meeting with Chinese leaders. The three-star Army general was preparing to unveil a new U.S. national security strategy at home with an elevated focus on China. On his first trip to the country, he was soaking up “the symbolism, the zeitgeist” of Beijing, he recalls in an interview.  

As General McMaster settled into a black swivel chair at a conference table in the great hall, he and his team had one simple goal: to wrap up the meeting quickly so the president could prepare for the evening’s lavish dinner. Premier Li Keqiang began speaking, reading from 5-by-8 cards – as Chinese officials often do to stay on message. The general girded himself for more empty diplomatic speak.

But what came next surprised General McMaster. Despite Mr. Li’s reputation for being friendly to the West and relatively pro-reform, he spoke bluntly, echoing Chairman Xi’s assertive 3 1/2 hour speech at the October party conclave. His brusque message: China no longer needs the U.S. China has come into its own. Beijing would, however, help Washington solve its trade problem by importing U.S. raw materials for China’s emerging high-end manufacturing economy. 

What struck General McMaster was how Mr. Li’s monologue suggested an almost neocolonial relationship between a superior China and a servile U.S. It was “remarkable for the aura of confidence, you could almost say arrogance, and the degree to which he dismissed U.S. concerns about the nature of not only the economic relationship but the geostrategic relationship,” he recalls.

Such encounters helped convince General McMaster that a dramatic shift in China strategy was critical. “It reinforced the work we were doing and highlighted the urgency of it,” he says. 

Soon, it would be Beijing’s turn to be surprised.

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Imperious rhetoric was also a feature of Chinese Cold War diplomacy under Mao ZeDong and Zhou Enlai during the first twenty years after the 1949 declaration of the People’s Republic; first toward the United States and then increasingly toward the Soviet Union as the two Communist giants accelerated to the Sino-Soviet Split. Interestingly, during this time the PRC fought a ground war against US and UN forces in Korea and later clashed militarily with the USSR over some islands in the Ussuri river border area which nearly escalated to a nuclear war. Relations with Moscow had grown so hostile and the ideological convulsions of the Cultural Revolution so extreme that when Soviet premier Alexi Kosygin phoned Zhou Enlai in an attempt to defuse the order war, the Chinese operator screamed at Kosygin that she would not put through a call of “a revisionist”. Only after this near miss with WWIII, did Beijing’s rhetoric toward the United States soften at the Warsaw talks and warm in a series of diplomatic backchannels to the Nixon administration.

Mao has been something of a convenient lodestone for Xi in his drive to centralize power in his own hands, tighten the grip of the Party over the life of ordinary Chinese citizens and expand China’s influence in the world, echoing Mao’s prior ideological effort to contest for leadership of the Communist bloc, especially those “revolutionary” movements in the Third World struggling against “western imperialism”.

In December 2017, Washington released its new National Security Strategy. In sharp contrast to the 2015 blueprint, which welcomed China’s rise and hailed “unprecedented” cooperation, the new document labeled China a “strategic competitor” that seeks to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests” and “displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific.” 

Underlying this shift – ending the decades-old U.S. policy of engagement with China – was American disappointment that had been building for years. To be sure, U.S. engagement with China had multiple goals and had succeeded on many fronts. President Nixon reestablished ties with Beijing primarily to counter the Soviet Union, and the normalization of U.S.-China relations in 1979 ushered in decades of relative peace and rising prosperity in East Asia. 

….“Was it foolish or … misbegotten? I don’t believe it was,” says Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. Engagement was worth the chance, he says. At different junctures, Communist Party reformers seemed to gain the upper hand. But success was never guaranteed. Hard-line, anti-Western leaders won out, fearing a loss of control that would spell the party’s demise, he says.

What was naive, experts say, was the conviction among some Americans that opening China’s markets made political liberty inevitable – a misperception echoed in centuries of Western interactions with the country. 

Western engineers, soldiers, and other advisers brought expertise to China “as the wrapping around an ideological package,” seeking to entice the Chinese to accept both, writes historian Jonathan Spence in “To Change China,” a study of Western advisers in the country from 1620 to 1960. “It was this that the Chinese had refused to tolerate; even at their weakest, they sensed that acceptance of a foreign ideology on foreign terms must be a form of weakness.”

Similarly, when China opened up in the late 1970s, pragmatic leader Deng Xiaoping introduced market techniques to generate wealth and raise living standards, but without relinquishing state ownership or one-party rule.

“China saw that prosperity was related to capitalism, and Deng Xiaoping’s revolution basically adopted capitalism with socialist characteristics,” says Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, president of the U.S.-China Education Trust. “Things they saw in America were things they aspired to – not the values, not the political system, but the things, the prosperity. They wanted that.” 

….But as reforms stalled and then reversed after Mr. Xi took charge in 2012, disenchantment grew among Americans who had long championed change in China.

Some U.S. officials, in fact, felt deliberately misled. Looking back, General McMaster, who has a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sees deception. “The party officials with whom we engaged for so many years, in so many different dialogues, were just great at stringing us along and holding the carrot in front of our donkey noses,” he says.

U.S. engagement “underestimated the will of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to constrain the scope of economic and political reform,” concludes a White House report on China strategy published in May.

Read the rest here.

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Tyson does an excellent job reconstructing the rosy assumptions of US post-cold war policymakers regarding China “evolving” toward, if not liberal democracy, a mellower state increasingly incorporating western notions about liberal markets and rule of law domestically while becoming a responsible global citizen internationally. McMaster deserves plaudits for pushing a (very) long overdue strategic reassessment of China’s ambitions abroad and the nature of the regime at home. Ironically, McMaster’s difficult tenure at the NSC probably would have been far more successful in most regards in a “normal” Republican administration like that of Ford or either Bush but would never have succeeded in revising China policy with an establishment administration. While it is fashionable today to express bipartisan skepticism of China now, prior to Donald Trump taking office, the DC foreign policy consensus backed by corporate America was to ignore Beijing’s insults and provocations, no matter how outrageous, when not actively rewarding them. That’s an uncomfortable fact to discuss in a polarized campaign season, but a fact it remains.

Since McMaster left the administration, Xi’s regime has engaged in mass incarceration of the Uighurs, built the most advanced surveillance state in human history outside of Orwell, engaged in border disputes with most of its neighbors, including India, crushed Hong Kong, stretched it’s Party and secret police hands to university campuses in Western democracies and is currently threatening – loudly – to invade Taiwan. One would hope that regardless of the outcome of the presidential election that the new consensus to stand firm against Chinese belligerence will hold firm in Washington and that Xi’s regime will be measured by it’s actions as well as it’s chronically unfriendly words.

If not we will come to rue it sooner rather than later

Non-Nuclear vs Nuclear Adversaries: a “game changing” book?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick one, of strategy & game interest, from WOTR ]
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I thought this paragraph might interest ZP readers, since the book argues for a new concept in conflict between non-nuclear and nuclear adversaries> The para (or should I say, graph) that follows is taken from a review of Paul Avey, Tempting Fate: Why Nonnuclear States Confront Nuclear Opponents by Alexander Landszka in War on the Rocks:

Avey’s argument is straightforward: If the conventional military balance favors a nuclear-armed state to such an extent that it would not need to resort to nuclear weapons to defend itself and its vital interests, the non-nuclear state may challenge or resist it in a militarized dispute. A sort of “Goldilocks rule” is at play here. If the non-nuclear state is conventionally too strong vis-à-vis the nuclear state, then the latter may be tempted to use nuclear strikes to achieve favorable outcomes on the battlefield. The possibility of nuclear weapons use deters the non-nuclear state. If, however, the non-nuclear state is conventionally too weak vis-à-vis the nuclear state, then the former will not be able to initiate a military conflict in the first place. Avey claims that the non-nuclear state’s leaders do not abide by the nuclear taboo while challenging a nuclear-armed adversary. These leaders believe that amoral strategic reasons — and not moral misgivings — will constrain the adversary from launching nuclear weapons. To support his argument, Avey examines Iraq’s confrontational policies toward the United States in the 1990s, Israeli decision-making toward Egypt in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Beijing’s hostility toward the United States in the 1950s, and Soviet-American tensions in the early days of the Cold War.

Afrer posing some questions about Avey’s arguments, the review concludes:

This is yet another sign that Avey has written a very good book. It gives inspiration for fresh theorizing and more empirical scholarship. Notwithstanding my questions about the nuclear revolution and the Israeli-Egyptian case study, Avey wisely hews close to the evidence and never overstates his arguments. Tempting Fate is a must-read for anyone interested in nuclear politics.

Me, I’m going to think about smaller boys taunting big enough bullies that they can get away with it in (British) Public Schools (American “Prep Schools”).. a subject close to my heart.

Announcing The Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz!!

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — just too good to miss! ]
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I’m delighted to pass along this message from Caitlin Fitz Gerald, who to my mind (and eye and heart) has achieved her audacious goal of putting Clausewitz into verbal and pictorial language suitable for “bright ten-year-olds” and delightful, as well as hopefully informative, to adults — all this with intelligence, skill and wit..

Caitlin writes:

I know many of you already know this, but I wanted to spread the word that the Kickstarter for the Children’s Illustrated Clausewitz is now live! Thank you so much for all of your support over the years. It really means a lot, and I’m so excited to finally see this project in print thanks to my partnership with Nic Jenzen-Jones at Helios House Press!

If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to spread the word. The Kickstarter runs through the end of the month.

Love,
Caitlin

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I’m pleased to note that Caitlin and her publisher, Helios House, have raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter, with an initial goal of $7,500 — I’ve been waiting for Caitlin’s brilliant work to receive the recognition is so clearly deserves.

Act now to obtain the standard edition for a pledge of £25 or more! And pass the word!

New Small Wars Journal Book – China’s Securing, Shaping and Exploiting of Strategic Spaces

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

[Mark Safranski / zen]

Our friend, Dr. Robert Bunker at Small Wars Journal has a new natsec publication:

CHINA’s Securing, Shaping, and Exploitation of Strategic Spaces: Gray Zone Response and Counter-Shi Strategies: A Small Wars Journal Pocket Book  

Originally, this study was funded by USAWC SSI originally as a ERAP project. The work provides an analysis of the CCP regime’s use of gray zone activities to further its strategic imperatives as well as suggested US response.

Bunker writes in the introduction…

“….The ‘Gray Zone’ and Mary Kaldor’s ‘new wars’ construct – with success measured by those most able to avoid battle and control population – fit well with China’s desire to asymmetrically challenge the United States and not oppose it in traditional (and conventional) force on force engagement. This is not an unreasonable approach given the ‘Power Transition’ and ‘Thucydides Trap’ perspectives that exist, most specifically the dangers in inherent in an ascendant power (China) prematurely challenging an established great power (United States). The Chinese grand strategic initiative can thus be thought of as Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace writ large….

The book’s format is based on the following case studies:

1: South China Sea—Artificial Islands
2: Great Fire Wall of China—Golden Shield
3: Social Credit System—Population Control
4: Taiwan—Territorial and Ideological Unification
5: Uighur Muslims—Cultural Ethnocide & Han Colonization
6: Confucius Institutes—Ideological Subversion
7: Direct Foreign Investments—Resources, Trade, and Influence

You can find this timely addition to the strategic debate on China here.

Scotland, Wales, Ouroboroi and DoubleQuotes

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

[ By Charles Cameron — a sprinkling of intriguing pieces ]
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Wales:

That’s a comparison, by Chris Roberts — Brexit Party rally [left] vs Welsh independence rally [right].

A fine DoubleQuote in images, and rich food for thought.

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Scotland:

Advisers to the Scottish government recommended canceling protections enjoyed by wandering sand dunes in Aberdeenshire

Sand dunes as an endangered species? — again, food for thought!

Indeed:

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Wordage:

On the topic of words, these came up in a discussion on Twitter: fict, fact, fuct — the latter from Ali Minai, for a statement claimed to be factual by Trump — and fiction, faction, faketion — the latter from Cynthia, for a fiction Trump claims is true?

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Strategy:

“Even Frederick II of Prussia, who was in the enviable position of being strategic thinker, supreme decision maker and commander-in-chief in one, could not implement the Strategy of short, sharp wars that he himself thought most desirable.”

That’s from Beatrice Heuser, The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present, via PR Beckman posts it..

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Now, how about a couple of ouroboroi?

I hope a school child did this one, not a too-clever adult..

And:

That’s from the film Mississippi Grind. The character cries, “It’s a sign, it’s a sign.”

I told you ouroboroi were significant signifiers.


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