Is China about to catch up with the US, the world’s leading military and geopolitical power? Researchers at ETH’s Center for Security Studies and NATO’s Defense College say no. The growing complexity of military technology makes it difficult for modern weapon systems to be imitated.
Thirty years ago, when the Berlin Wall was brought down marking the end of the Cold War, the threat of conflict between two nuclear-armed, ideologically opposed superpowers receded, and my generation, which had grown up in the shadow of the bomb, breathed a sigh of relief. Although the nuclear threat did not vanish then, it certainly became subdued as the process of disarmament and control seemed to move forward along a clear path of no return.
Paul Dibb, in his recent Strategist post, writes that America’s strategic position in Asia would be fatally undermined if it didn’t go to war with China if China attacked Taiwan, and that Australia’s alliance with America would be fatally undermined if we didn’t then go to war with China too. The conclusion he draws is that, in the event of an unprovoked Chinese attack on Taiwan, America should go to war with China, and so should Australia.
In a recent speech in Hungary, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Europeans that using technology from Chinese telecommunications manufacturer Huawei could hurt their relationship with the United States. This warning follows a series of high-profile arm wrestling involving the U.S. government, Huawei, and countries like Canada and Australia. The Huawei saga has come to encapsulate a broader concern: Current efforts by Chinese state-led companies to access — and eventually dominate — global markets in key technologies, such as 5G or artificial intelligence, raise a number of privacy and competition-related questions. China’s disinterest in Western standards, coupled with lack of reciprocity and other barriers to foreign companies operating in the Chinese market, makes these challenges even more acute. As argued by other U.S. officials, the lack of a level playing field ultimately means that China could leverage global supply chains and infrastructure nodes and “game” the current international order against American power. In order to forestall this risk, the United States will need to work with allies. And the advanced economies of Western Europe and East Asia are particularly critical.
President Trump came into office with strong prior beliefs about the failure of US alliance policy and the need for allies to pay for US defense efforts on their behalf. Some feared that he presaged a rising isolationism among the American public that would support a president seeking to pull back from US commitments overseas. But Trump is failing to lay the groundwork for a new approach to the Indo-Pacific. Instead, the US is pursuing a two-track Asia policy, with Congress and the administration reading from different scripts. And the public is only on board with one of those approaches.