Thursday, August 24, 2006

American Power and Chinese Influence in The National Interest

Two further previews of what will be appearing in the September/October issue of The National Interest.

The Financial Times printed Christopher Layne's America cannot rely on power alone" while in the International Herald Tribune one can read Michael Fullilove's China starts to pull its weight at the UN.

America cannot rely on power alone… doh

It is hard to argue against much of what Professor Layne writes, other than to say, so what’s new? To be more specific…

Of course “the US is better at deterrence …than it is at "compellence (sic)." You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that it is easier to stop someone from doing one thing than to force him to do another.. But how does that explain the reason “why the US has been unsuccessful in persuading Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons programmes”?

There’s nothing wrong with his take on asymmetric warfare, except that it does not explain how the Sendero Luminoso was subdued, while the Viet Cong were not. (It is also interesting to note that, in the Vietnam War, there was a state combatant against whom the US did wage a conventional war.)

As for the Wilsonian ideological militancy, sometimes it works (Japan and, ultimately, South Korea) and sometimes it doesn’t. But wasn’t this what at least some of the Cold War was all about?

As for the unattainability of US objectives, see previous comment.

Yes, this US administration sucks, and not for the first time in your history. But that is no reason to rehash well-worn general arguments beyond their practical reach. In the historical hindsight (as of now), President Bush and his men/women look like so many fish in a barrel. Would that all our judgment calls benefit from this retroactive perspective.

(I trust Professor Layne will forgive me if he had made all these points before all unsuccessful US interventions, but not the successful ones.)
On the other hand, Mr. Fullilove ties togther many things about China that may not be all that unfamiliar, but does this n a way that creates a coherent whole that illuminates the way ahead. There is something of the "it's so obvious now that, but only because, you've explained it to me" feel that true insights have.
One small quibble I have with Mr. Fullilove over Taiwan:
After some bad stumbling in the 90s, I think China has been remarkably sophisticated in its interaction with Taiwan. Uncompromising resolve, yes; perceptions of amoral belligerence, well, the US has never been placed in a remotely analogous political situation, unless you insist on counting the Civil War.
The premise of Christopher Layne's artcile is wrong: namely US as a global hegemon.

The reason is the geography of the planet; 70% is covered with water which makes it impossible to project power consistently and continuosly across the globe.

For US to become a global hegemon it has to turn the world's oceans into a US lake (Rome & the Mediterranian Sea).

US does not have that power.
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