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Thread: Washington Cries Wolf

  1. #1

    Default Washington Cries Wolf

    A Newsweek article by Andrew Moravcsik

    As always with China, the numbers look scary. So it wasn't surprising that, when Beijing announced its new military spending figures earlier this month, the Pentagon reacted with alarm. China announced a 17.6% increase in its 2008 defense budget, up to $58.8 billion. This followed a 17.8% increase last year, for a country that already has a 2.3 million person military - the world's largest.

    The US Defense Department, in its annual report to Congress on China's military power on Mar 3, cast the news in the darkest of ways. The Pentagon painted a portrait of a secretive society seeking to become a superpower by the "acquisition of advanced foreign weapons", "high rates of investment in defense, science and technology", "improved nuclear and missile technologies" and rapid "military transformation" - Pentagon speak for the adoption of US style high-tech warfare. The report described Chinese cyberterrorism and Beijing blowing satellites out of the sky. And it warned ominously that, while China is needlessly, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous about its strategic goals, its growing capabilities have "implications beyond the Asia-Pacific region."

    But hold on. Look more closely at the numbers, and China - while hardly benign - starts to look a lot less sinister. The fact is that China's military modernisation is not accelerating - it's been slowing for decades. China's military means are not excessive; they're appropriate to its geopolitical situation. And Beijing's intentions are relatively clear.

    Start with its total defense budget. Beijing's new tally, $58.8 billion is high - but it pales in comparison with the US total, which is $515 billion, or about half of the world's military spending. Even if, as many experts think, China (like the US) actually spends more than its official stats indicate, it's still far behind America. And Washington has been spending like this for generations - which is why the US aircraft carriers and submarines can sail right up to the Chinese coast, while the Chinese cannot come close to the US. At best, China is generations away from catching up with America - if it ever can.

    As for Beijing's intentions, the best way to gauge them is to measure China's military spending as a % of national income. This year's increase may look high, but with China's economy growing at about 10% and inflation close to 8%, the 17.7% hike is barely enough to keep the share of defense spending constant. And this share has fallen over the years, from more than 6% during the Cultural Revolution to 2.3% during the 1980s, to 1.4% in the 1990s to near 1% at the beginning of this decade. It's since gone up a few tenths of a percent, yet even if China's true budget is twice what it says, Beijing's expenditures are still well below the 4% of GDP spent by the US.

    Nor is the quality of China's military impressive or threatening. The DoD report speaks of the "accelerating" quality of Chinese weapons systems, pointing to high-tech purchases from abroad. But Singapore-based defense analyst Richard Bitzinger argues that China's acquisitions are actually mundane: "Forget transformation or leap-frogging," he writes; "the Chinese are simply engaged in a frantic game of 'catch-up'." According to the DoD's own stats, 70% of China's Army vehicles, 60% of its submarines and 80% of its fighters are old. There is little evidence that it has pre-emptive strike capability based on aircraft carriers and advanced fighters (despite past DoD predictions that China was acquiring one). Arms purchases from Russia have actually declined tenfold over the past few years, and large naval acquisitions seem to have stalled.

    China also has legitimate reasons for spending what it does - a judgement shared by no less an authority than Mike McConnell, the US director of National Intelligence,. who recently told Congress that China's military buildup is appropriate to its circumstances (he also reportedly tried to block publication of the Pentagon's alarmist summary). To the dismay of conservatives, McConnell said that "any Chinese regime, even a democratic one, would have similar goals".

    This makes sense. If China hopes to attract educated soldiers of the sort necessary for high-tech warfare, or to merely placate its troops, it's going to have to start paying them more, for salaries and benefits haven't kept up with the country's boom. "Two decades ago, a military man was an attractive spouse," one Chinese researcher told me last week. "But today no one in a city like Shanghai lets their daughter marry one. They just don't earn enough."

    The Middle Kingdom, moreover, sits in the middle of a tough neighbourhood. It's not only the US fleet off its shores Beijing must contend with. Of China's 4 nuclear neighbours - Russia, India, Pakistan and North Korea - two (Russia and India) spend almost as much on defense as China does (so does nonnuclear Japan), and at least two (Pakistan and North Korea) are potentially unstable. Just a generation ago, China was defeated in war by tiny Vietnam.

    The Pentagon report suggests that there is some uncertainty about China's intentions towards its neighbours. Yet in recent years, Beijing's local behaviour has been fairly benign: it has settled border disputes with 6 neighbours, joined and sponsored multilateral institutions and become the hub of a booming network of Asian trade and investment. Far from uncertain, China's strategic intentions seem relatively clear and stable : to promote peace and prosperity.

    Beijing has one other pressing local concern - Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province. China's government has said that it seeks peaceful reunification with the island, but Beijing reserves the right to use force in response if Taipei declares independence. China also disputes the sovereignty of some resource-rich islands in the surrounding seas, but it has shown a willingness to compromise on such claims. China sees these issues as domestic, so National People's Congress spokesman Jiang Enzhu was surely sincere when he stated on Mar 4 that "China's limited armed forces are totally for the purpose of safeguarding independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity." In recent years, it has been Taiwan, not China, that has threatened the status quo.

    To sum up: Beijing's strategic priorities today are to maintain missile bases across the Taiwan Strait, build a substantial short-range naval presence, improve its anti-satellite technology and seek other means to balance US power in the event of a regional conflict. There's little evidence China has greater strategic ambitions - let alone any desire for the sort of global hegemony that American alarmists sometimes warn of.

    Given all this, what explains the Pentagon's position? Former assistant secretary of Defense Charles Freeman, who was President Nixon's interpreter at his epochal meeting with Mao Zedong in 1972, argues that the US military's hype is motivated by a need to justify R&D and procurement. Freeman, who has participated in behind-the-scenes "track two" sessions with Chinese miliary brass, also believes US officials often "blame the Chinese for a lack of transparency that [actually] reflects only our own intellectual laziness, linguistic incompetence and complacent ignorance." Perhaps. But it also a means to promote deeper military-to-military links and information exchanges with China - a controversial course for Beijing (and also some in Washington), but one that is already underway. On Feb 29, for example, the 2 countries agreed to establish a telephone link between their respective defense departments. Military talks are also planned. These are hopeful signs.

    Still, the Pentagon's insinuations could inflame bilateral relations and distract Washington from the more limited but real threats posed by China's modest buildup - and the possibility that a Taiwan crisis could spiral out of control. The Bush administration, which began its tenure with a hostile view of Beijing similar to the Pentagon's, has since changed course dramatically, recently working closely with China to avoid conflict. Seems that almost everyone in Washington has finally gotten the message - except the Pentagon.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    mods, please feel free to remove or lock the thread if you think this topic is not suitable for discussion here.

    fully understand if you do so. cheers.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Sion's Avatar
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    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by night86mare View Post
    Washington Cries Wolf


    I've been waiting for this sort of thread for a long time.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by Sion View Post
    I've been waiting for this sort of thread for a long time.
    to discuss the issue or to post that picture?

    i tried to clarify if it was ok to post it up first, because this is potentially a firebrand topic..

    but i guess the mods are busy, so we'll see how it goes; if it becomes too heated before they can step it , i'll close it.

    unfortunately though, it seems that people would rather discuss such issues in others' pictures thread. what a pity.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Sion's Avatar
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    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by night86mare View Post
    to discuss the issue or to post that picture?
    I like threads that have wolves in them.


  6. #6

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by Sion View Post
    I like threads that have wolves in them.
    alamak, then shouldn't you be stalking er, nightwolf75's or snowywolf's threads?

  7. #7

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    there obviously aren't many diplomats in the pentagon.

    i think that in general the major powers of the world are moving away from a gun-slinging and tough-talking culture. many americans are no doubt concerned about the rise of china, especially in terms of the economy, which is of course giving china a lot of weight with regards to multi-lateral relations.

    so it does not come as a surprise that there are those within the upper echelons of american leadership who, in their 'patriotic interests', will scrutinise every move that china makes, hoping to uncover something that will justify a reaction to what they perceive as a 'threat' to the american interests.

    thankfully, the folks in the white house are far-sighted enough to see that the military option is not feasible in the current state of affairs, and that a head-on conflict with china will do no one any good. thus the option of diplomacy and cooperation is exercised, and i think that this will remain the way forward.
    Last edited by changster; 7th May 2008 at 09:10 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by changster View Post

    thankfully, the folks in the white house are far-sighted enough to see that the military option is not feasible in the current state of affairs, and that a head-on conflict with china will do no one any good. thus the option of diplomacy and cooperation is exercised, and i think that this will remain the way forward.
    hard to say, if the next leader is even more idiotic than bush (looking at the options and popularity polls it's not impossible). i once came across this blog - in fact there are many of them.. whenever bloggers post up anything on the american elections they are almost bound to get a troll or two coming in and leaving rubbish as a display of disagreement.

    well, one of the particular trolls was talking about the iraq war, etc. not sure how that came in, but in any case, he made very retarded statements like "oh, why attack iraq? we have much more pressing problems like china or pakistan that we should nuke immediately."

    i could understand the latter, but the former? what was even more worrying was that he got a roar of agreement.. from the other trolls. oh well.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    don't know about you, but i think that folks have less of a tendency to self-censor in the blogosphere, as compared to on the streets, where they wouldn't be caught making 'let's nuke 'em' comments. but i suppose that such sentiments are genuine in some cases.

    i hope that the next president will not be as idiotic as bush of course. the 3 fore-runners seem moderate enough in their positions on american military presence in places where they shouldn't be.

    the iraq war has long been proven a farce, and i think the majority of americans have come to see as such. of course you will have those who take the words of bush and his war-mongering cronies as the righteous truth, and allow themselves to be led on by irrational fears, such as in the case of pakistan and china. but that's the beauty of american society, isn't it? you believe whatever you want, you say whatever you want.
    Last edited by changster; 7th May 2008 at 09:28 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    on a lighter note they didnt point out if all that 51.8billion went into defence..50% might have went into the pockets of the officials
    if i am not wrong there is wolfgang on cs too..haha

    sorry if ot but dowan to be too serious after attempting so many revision qns..need to relac

  11. #11

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    Quote Originally Posted by changster View Post
    don't know about you, but i think that folks have less of a tendency to self-censor in the blogosphere, as compared to on the streets, where they wouldn't be caught making 'let's nuke 'em' comments. but i suppose that such sentiments are genuine in some cases.

    i hope that the next president will not be as idiotic as bush of course. the 3 fore-runners seem moderate enough in their positions on american military presence in places where they shouldn't be.

    the iraq war has long been proven a farce, and i think the majority of americans have come to see as such. of course you will have those who take the words of bush and his war-mongering cronies as the righteous truth, and allow themselves to be led on by irrational fears, such as in the case of pakistan and china. but that's the beauty of american society, isn't it? you believe whatever you want, you say whatever you want.
    oh yes, of course, the indignity of the internet posters. nothing like that in real life, though i suspect this will eventually spill over into real life before long. sociology anyone?

    heh. actually i don't like one of the particular candidates but i don't think this is the place or time to mention names to go down that line of discussion - i'm sure you don't want clubsnap invaded by a sudden influx of supporters posting nonsensical rants about anything under the sun here.

    as for the iraq war, well - maybe it was a farce, maybe it's a quagmire that america's been entrenched in, maybe it was all a big fat lie, maybe; but the action has been taken, frankly complaining about it serves no purpose, no positivity. and you couldn't say that it didn't do any good at all.

    i think there are a lot of comparisons to be made between america and europe, actually. but i can't really say for sure, all i know about the former is what i've seen on the news and heard from friends. for the latter, well, i get to see it almost everyday.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Washington Cries Wolf

    the thing is that alot of this is internal politics for local consumption in the US... the people involved want to a) justify support for arms sale to Taiwan (ie. support their local industry), b) justify their own military expenditure... read that way, its mostly harmless on a global scale... its just that because of the influence of the US, plus the fact that their local news when published in American magazines seem to become global news very quickly... we just have to keep things in perspective and remember the target audience of the US defence department report... these things happen everywhere (local news being read out of context when internationalized)...

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