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Luttwak on the Australian Strategic Pivot

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

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.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007


President Carter, Fmr. President Nixon and Chinese General-Secretary Deng Xiaoping at a State reception for Deng at the White House.

Barnett: Nixon and Deng: architects of our globalized world ” by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett .

As someone who did extensive – verging on the tedious – research in grad school into the heart of darkness called the Nixon administration, I really enjoyed this piece; Tom wraps up some excellent historical analysis in the very limited (in terms of word count) format of a newspaper column. An excerpt:

“Nixon’s reaching out to both the Soviet Union and China in the early 1970s could not have been more surprising, given his pre-presidential history as a vicious anti-communist. But, by doing so, Nixon effectively ended the Cold War by the start of his second, deeply troubled term in 1973.

In forging a detente with the Soviets that included limitations on strategic arms, Nixon basically killed the worldwide socialist revolution. For once, Moscow – that movement’s leader – entered into such agreements with its capitalist archrival, it admitted to both itself and its empire of imprisoned satellite states that its model of socialist development suffered limited appeal.

…In short, Nixon revealed this emperor had no clothes

…By some definitions, China will possess the world’s largest national economy within a quarter-century’s time, and the man who set that all in motion was Deng.

Rarely in history has one dictator held in his hands such discretionary power to choose between further enslavement of his subjects and their rapid empowerment through economic liberation.

In disassembling Maoism, Deng chose the latter route, validating both Nixon’s previous strategy and discrediting Gorbachev’s later decision to pursue political glasnost before economic perestroika in the now-defunct Soviet Union.”

The story of Deng Xiapoing’s political career is far less well-known to Americans than is Richard Nixon’s, obscured as it is by partisan feelings stretching all the way back to the Hiss Case. Like Nixon, Deng was highly placed in politics for a half century ( more actually as Deng was a veteran of the Long March) and like Nixon, Deng suffered political disgrace and manuvered his way back to the apex of power. Unlike Nixon, the stakes for Deng were much higher; he could have easily met his death at the fickle hand of Mao as did numerous top leaders of the CCP. In the struggle to succeed Mao, the sinister Gang of Four certainly sought Deng’s death and Hua Goufeng his permanent retirement (or worse) from politics.

Another parallel with Nixon would be Deng’s pragmatic, if brutal, realism which expressed itself both in Deng’s relative indifference to Marxist dogma and a willingness to use force to preserve national “face” ( Nixon would have said ” credibility”). Deng’s punishment campaign against Vietnam in 1979 and his crushing of incipient Chinese democracy in 1989 flowed from the same line of reasoning. Moreover, unlike the Soviet Communist Party leadership where the Red Army was separate and subordinate to the Party, China’s Maoist guerilla legacy meant that for the first two generations of leaders that the Party was the Army and the Army the Party. Deng was a famous military leader and commanded the moral authority within the CCP to act as a “commander-in-chief” figure in a way only a few other aging seniors could match.

Naturally, the parallels are less significant than the differences between the two men. Richard Nixon was a master politician who loved power and had an enemies list but Nixon operated in a democratic system and an open society. Deng did not need to make any lists and his relatively benevolent treatment of fallen party rivals in his later years should not ( as with Nikita Khrushchev’s career under Stalin) be allowed to erase the bloody history of his service to the CCP under Mao ZeDong.

That being said, I believe Dr. Barnett has weighed both men on the scales of history with rough justice; Nixon and Deng had a global impact that was more to the good than to the bad.

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