Robert Kaplan’s books and articles meld insights about strategic geography with geopolitics, past, present, and future. This Kaplan article, from Foreign Policy, provides context for the military, economic, and geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China.
“That future has arrived, and it is nothing less than a new cold war: The constant, interminable Chinese computer hacks of American warships’ maintenance records, Pentagon personnel records, and so forth constitute war by other means. This situation will last decades and will only get worse, whatever this or that trade deal is struck between smiling Chinese and American presidents in a photo-op that sends financial markets momentarily skyward. The new cold war is permanent because of a host of factors that generals and strategists understand but that many, especially those in the business and financial community who populate Davos, still prefer to deny. …
“[W]hat really riles both the Trumpsters and the Democrats (moderates and progressives alike) is the very way China does business: stealing intellectual property, acquiring sensitive technology through business buyouts, fusing public and private sectors so that their companies have an unfair advantage (at least by the mores of a global capitalistic trading system), currency manipulation, and so on. Trade talks, however successful, will never be able to change those fundamentals. …
“Keep in mind that technology encourages this conflict rather than alleviates it. Because the United States and China now inhabit the same digital ecosystem, wars of integration—where the borders are not thousands of miles, but one computer click away—are possible for the first time in history: China can intrude into U.S. business and military networks as the United States can intrude into theirs. The great Pacific Ocean is no longer the barrier that it once was. …
“What kept the Cold War from going hot was the fear of hydrogen bombs. That applies much less to this new cold war. The use of nuclear weapons and the era of testing them in the atmosphere keeps receding from memory, making policymakers on both sides less terrified of such weapons than their predecessors were in the 1950s and 1960s, especially since nuclear arsenals have become smaller in terms of both size and yield, as well as increasingly tactical. Moreover, in this new era of precision-guided weaponry and potentially massive cyberattacks, the scope of nonnuclear warfare has widened considerably. Great-power war is now thinkable in a way that it wasn’t during the first Cold War.
“What we really have to fear is not a rising China but a declining one. A China whose economy is slowing, on the heels of the creation of a sizable middle class with a whole new category of needs and demands, is a China that may experience more social and political tensions in the following decade. … This will encourage China’s leadership to stoke nationalism even further as a means of social cohesion.”
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