Peace is boring. How else to explain the US' seemingly incessant search for a new enemy?
After the Cold War the US' foreign policy establishment could have accepted peace, stopped meddling around the globe, and demobilized the US' oversized military. Instead, it found other enemies.
Former president Saddam Hussein's Iraq proved to be easy prey. Now Iran is getting the most attention.
But the Pentagon has just issued its latest alarmist assessment of Chinese military spending. Former Australian diplomat Gregory Clark writes of a "China threat lobby."
In fact, had there been no Sept. 11, which yielded both an enemy ("Islamofascism") and a conflict ("Global War on Terrorism"), China might have ended up in Washington's gunsites early in President George W. Bush's term. Years before former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz authored a Pentagon paper that advocated preventing "potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."
However, after Sept. 11 Bush officials understood that they were unlikely to browbeat the PRC into compliance with their demands. But hostility towards China never disappeared.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission contends that "China's methodical and accelerating military modernization presents a growing threat to US security interests in the Pacific."
Clinton Whitehurst, writes for the Strom Thurmond Institute: "For the second time in half a century the US is engaged in a `cold war' with a powerful adversary -- the People's Republic of China."
The latest "China as enemy" book to hit the US market is Jed Babbin's and Edward Timperlake's Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States.
Last year Roger Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic: History suggests "the result is likely to be the defining military conflict of the twenty-first century: if not a big war with China, then a series of Cold War-style standoffs that stretch out over years and decades."
These hysterical warnings look silly. China today is more prosperous, accessible, and responsible than ever before.
Although Beijing is not a close ally, it is not hostile either.
Rather, it is a significant power with a range of interests which, unsurprisingly, do not always match those of the US. The situation calls for thoughtful, nuanced diplomacy, not self-righteous scare-mongering.
Unfortunately, China critics routinely overstate Chinese capabilities and misstate US interests.
For instance, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently suggested that "Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?"
In fact, that question would be better asked by Chinese officials to Rumsfeld. The US' increase in military outlays over the last few years alone equals China's entire defense budget. Washington spends upwards of seven times as much as the PRC, is allied with every leading industrial state around the globe, and has allies ringing China.
Former US senator Fred Thompson, a Republican, contended that "They don't have to be a threat sufficient to invade the United States. They just have to be a threat sufficient to go against our interests."
That is, the Chinese "threat" is primarily a threat to the US empire, not the US republic.
The basic issue is Washington's predominance in East Asia.
The ultimate threat, in the view of analyst Ross Munro, is that Beijing's "grand strategy is to dominate Asia. And that puts the US and China on a collision course."
But the US is not alone. India also is a rising power, Russia maintains a sizable nuclear deterrent, Japan fields a capable military, South Korea is growing in influence, Australia is a regional leader, Taiwan is an important friend, the ASEAN states are developing new cooperative ties and more. The US can play the role of a traditional off-shore balancer, wary and watchful, but aloof from conflicts that do not concern it.
The principal US goal should be to accommodate the rise of a likely great power, promoting mutually-beneficial cooperation and regional stability while ensuring US security. Unfortunately, Washington's attempt to engage in containment encourages conflict.
Pushing nations to choose sides may not redound to the US' benefit. Most importantly, treating China as hostile is more likely to turn it hostile.That would be in no one's interest, including that of Washington's friends, such as Taiwan.
The US should encourage private economic and cultural ties with the PRC, depoliticizing much of the relationship.
Washington should seek China's cooperation on issues of shared interest, such as stability on the Korean peninsula. US officials should speak frankly about issues of proliferation and human rights, but should do their most contentious work behind the scenes.
There will be no more important bilateral relationship over the next century than that between the US and China. Much depends on the ability of the two nations to overcome cultural and political differences to cooperate peacefully. The first step in doing so is not to go to Asia in search of enemies to fight.
Doug Bandow served as a special assistant to former US president Ronald Reagan.
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