Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Friday, October 21, 2005


A while after I finished Wednesday's final post, I thought of something I completely forgot to add in, which I had intended on putting in there.

When looking at US-China relations, and problems that exist between the two, specifically military buildup and spending, one must be careful to avoid the pitfall of deriving capabilities from intentions.

You might be asking, "what is he talking about?" Or you might be asking, "why is "Lost" not on for 3 weeks?!" I can't answer the second question, but I can answer the first.

When evaluating an enemy's capabilities, one danger people often run into is thinking their enemy's capabilities are better than their current estimates, since it would invariably be in said enemy's best interests to keep as much of their operations as covert as possible. This is what happened in the Cold War, US estimates of Russian capabilities were questioned (the CIA was questioned even then), so "Team B" was put together to take another look at what the Soviets were doing. Team B determined that the CIA estimates were way too small, and issued their own estimates which were much higher than the previous CIA estimates (around twice the capabilities, from what I've seen). The effect of Team B's work was massive increases in US defense spending. While some people say it lead to the fall of the USSR (the Soviet economy couldn't keep up with the spending their military complex was doing, in a perceived effort to match the US), nobody can say for sure that it even contributed to the collapse; all that can be said for sure is that it lead to extremely high defense spending and multiple budget deficits. For a primer on what I'm talking about, check out this blog post.

In the case of China, the situation is very similar to that of the Cold War; a communist country going up against the US, looking to expand their influence, having hostile relations with a country they think belongs within their own, and running into the US every time they turn around. Unlike the Cold War, the Chinese economy right now is very strong and looks to continue to be strong for some time to come. So this would lead to evidence to support the idea that since they're making more money, then they must be spending more money on their military in an effort to keep the US at bay, right?


The problem is, the Chinese are definitely a status quo state, meaning they want to keep things the way they are (peace is always good, and a booming economy is great). So while it would make sense that the Chinese are looking to expand their military (which is not in question), what is in question is how much and whether or not they're trying to do it in a covert manner (potentially for some doomsday assault or something), or as Rumsfeld put it, a "rapid, non-transparent" buildup.

Because China is a status-quo state, we know that it is not in their best interests to start a war with their best customers, the US and associated NATO countries. Knowing that, we have to be able to gauge what is the right level of military spending. We want to keep our position as the top military, but we have to put money into other things too. This is where capabilities from intentions becomes so important. We know that China is growing their military, but we don't really know what they're doing, when, or why. Another problem one could argue the US has is that Paul Wolfowitz was involved in much of US evaluations of Iraq and China, and was also heavily involved in the Team B work. So this puts us in the position of essentially having to guess at what's happening, opening up the possibilities for a lot of mistakes.

If we think that the Chinese are bent on our destruction, so as to cement their place as the sole new superpower, then we would want to build a strong military to counter them, and thus put inordinate amounts of money into our defense complex. But what happens if they don't care about us at all, and are much more concerned about potential Russian aggression? That's what happened in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein refused to admit Iraq had no WMD, for fear it would empower Iran into attacking either Iraq or Saddam himself. So poor US intelligence, and a lack of understanding Saddam's intentions, led to the belief that Saddam was readying nukes to attack the West. In reality, it was a regional conflict he was trying to avoid. What if that's China's only interest, and deep down they really wish the West could just understand them? Ok, it's a stretch, but the logic is there!

Don't get me wrong in all of this, I am not convinced that China is NOT expanding their military so as to be able to project their might on others and expand. However, that being said, I also think that before we jump to the conclusion that China is a threat to us, we must have better knowledge of what their intentions are. How do we do that? HUMINT. While having the coolest toys is always a lot of fun, the most important thing is to have the best intel. Iraq showed us that while electronic surveillance has its place, reliable human intelligence is the most important thing we can have, and without it, we can get ourselves in a lot of trouble.

In the case of China, we know there has been successes for them against the US in terms of intelligence. There was: the spy plane downing, nuclear technology leaks, and the above-referenced Aegis technology theft (which is crazy that it was allowed to happen, by the way). US gains against China don't often hit the news wires, which makes a comparison tough to make. What we do know is that counterintelligence has become a concern of the Bush Administration, and that keeping secrets is extremely important.

So what to do right now with China? Relations with China right now are for the most part alright. I don't think that anyone really thinks China is going to cross over to Taiwan tomorrow, and I don't think that too many people take rogue general's threats of nuking the US too seriously either (though that is something to be worried about for sure). To ask for more transparency is a good thing, as is the idea of inter-military cooperation, which is something President Bush himself supports. I also support taking a containment strategy with China, which is something many people have gotten to the point of questioning the viability of (and I agree that it will be tough to do). I argue that working to improve relations with other countries (specifically those within China's sphere of influence), working to aggressively take ownership of natural resources (specifically oil, but not exclusively), and working to diplomatically slow their military expansion (such as eliminating intelligence leaks and maintaining arms embargos, such as the EU's) are all viable and intelligent ways to maintain US superiority in not just the military but in the international relations sphere.

"Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts." - Mao Tse-Tung, 1938


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