Stop hyping the Chinese threat
The ESCALADE strategic rivalry between the United States and China represents the greatest foreign policy challenge facing President Joe Biden’s government today. Growing confrontation in the South China Sea (SCS) and increasing threats from China to Taiwan have raised concerns that war could break out due to a miscalculation of the crisis. Experts warn, however, that the risk of war between the two powers will remain high, whether the situation in the SCS improves or not, due to structural tensions caused by China’s rise to power. This long-term rise in power could potentially trigger a global war for the domination of the international system.
The new Biden administration is therefore faced with two difficult tasks: to temper the immediate risk of conflict in the SCS and to reduce the likelihood of a hegemonic war unleashed by China’s rise to power.
IN HIS book Destined for warGraham Allison argues that the greatest threat of hegemonic warfare comes when rising powers attempt to overthrow an established world order. These challenges in turn trigger a “Thucydides trap” like the one that sparked twelve hegemonic wars over the past five hundred years. The increasingly heated confrontation between the United States and China, coupled with the growing sense that Beijing aspires to replace the United States at the pinnacle of world power, has led many academics to join Allison in arguing that the conflict between these two powers can also be inevitable.
However, from the industrial age onwards, not all hegemonic challenges led to war, even among rising powers eager to overthrow existing established orders. In the nineteenth century Britain faced fundamental challenges from the emerging and democratic United States determined to reform a world dominated by high powered aristocracies. From 1815 to 1900, the United States was one of the fastest developing countries in the world – a continental-sized country with vast resources, a rapidly growing population, and the champion of an economic and political model that , at the turn of the century, positioned it as the world’s leading economy and democratic inspiration. However, despite numerous diplomatic confrontations throughout the century, the two nations remained at peace.
The reason is that the United States has chosen not to threaten the main source of British hegemony, its naval and financial domination over the world. The United States would not become a challenger to the British until the 20th century, after the rise of Germany forced the United States to build an “unparalleled navy” as World War I left Great Britain behind. Brittany heavily indebted to American financiers, alarming London. of America’s growing influence. As nations remained rivals, the potential for confrontation was dampened by the economic upheaval of the Great Depression and the rekindled German threat under Adolf Hitler. Eventually, the United States would overtake Britain on the high seas during World War II and become the dominant power in the postwar New World.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Germany also managed to rise to power without starting a war with Britain, although the theory of the power transition would have suggested such an inevitable war. After the German Unification Wars, which culminated in the shocking victory of Prussia over France in 1871, Bismarck acted aggressively to establish the German Empire as the dominant power on the European continent, fundamentally reshaping the system of balance of power established by the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. Yet it did so while relying on Britain’s world leadership, arguing in 1889 that the Pax Britannica represented “the greatest force for peace in the world”. Rather, Bismarck predicted that Germany would become the most powerful “second-tier” state, a move that instead put it on a collision course with the United States. While Britain viewed the growth of German industrial capacities with growing suspicion and recognized the impact of German economic competition on British domination of the economic system, Bismarck’s Germany did not pose an existential threat to Britain. Brittany.
However, in the late 1880s a new generation of leaders emerged who believed that Bismarck’s restraint was preventing Germany from achieving its “place in the sun” and its rightful place as a world leader. They prompted the new, young and increasingly ambitious Kaiser Wilhelm II to abandon Bismarck’s moderation instead of a “new course” that saw Germany aggressively expand its influence in Asia, Africa and America. of the South well beyond the borders that the “continentalist” Bismarck had envisaged. The most famous of these new advisers, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, acknowledged that the new Weltpolitik demanded a powerful navy that could match British might and force London to recognize Berlin as its world equal.
Tirpitz’s massive shipbuilding embodied the very threat of centuries that British policymakers had sought to neutralize: a rival capable of invading or blocking the British Isles. The “Tirpitz Plan” posed an existential threat not only to Britain’s geopolitical supremacy, but to her survival as a nation. Britain responded with its own massive shipbuilding, including the creation of the Revolutionary Dreadnought battleship and InvincibleA class battle cruiser that made the world’s existing navies obsolete. Rather than forcing London to give in to its demands, Britain would triumph in the ensuing naval arms race while resolving its age-old rivalries with France and Russia, eventually joining the two powers in World War I. German rivalry would make the United States the dominant power in the world decades later.
In the aftermath of WWII, the newly created American hegemony faced two very different challenges to its world leadership: the Soviet Union, which aimed to replace American liberalism with Soviet Marxism, and Japan, whose the state-centered capitalist model unleashed one of the most dramatic economic ascents. in history, which has led many Americans to fear that Japan is destined to supplant the United States as the new leader of the post-war world order.
In 1945, the power of the United States was so vastly superior to any other nation that the world was much more unipolar than bipolar. The US economy accounted for nearly 50 percent of global GDP, US finances kept the global economy functioning, and US humanitarian aid fueled a war-torn world. America was in exclusive possession of the atomic bomb, and its global power projection capability enabled it to intervene in all corners of the world if necessary. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was a powerful but ultimately regional actor with large conventional forces which, because of its size, threatened three key theaters: Europe, the Middle East and Asia. This forced the United States to end its historic isolationism and create a system of global alliances to deter Soviet expansion.
While conventional Soviet military might and political warfare capabilities endangered American interests, they did not pose an existential threat to the new American ancestry. American strategists were convinced that these new alliances did not require the deployment of American military might overseas – in fact, the United States would demobilize most of its conventional capabilities soon after World War II. During his Senate testimony in defense of the NATO treaty, Secretary of State Dean Acheson has repeatedly assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the treaty does not require a permanent US military presence in Europe. Therefore, America did not need to expand its military capabilities after the creation of NATO in May 1949, nor even to establish a system of military command in Europe.
That changed, however, with the Kremlin’s acquisition of the atomic bomb in September, which gave the Soviet Union the ability to directly attack the continental United States. US strategic planners have warned that due to the country’s high concentrations of economic and military power, the Soviet Union could launch a successful nuclear first strike in the mid-1950s. The Soviet atomic bomb negated the once-decisive economic power of the United States. United States, which means they no longer had the luxury of waiting for war to mobilize their industries and rebuild their military.
The North Korean invasion confirmed the bellicose intentions of the Soviet Union, leading President Harry Truman to authorize a massive build-up of conventional and nuclear capabilities and to implement increasingly aggressive military and political warfare strategies to destabilize the Soviet system and prevent a Soviet nuclear first strike. The risk of war between the two powers came to a head as the Berlin Crisis intensified, which in turn led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Many analysts believed the nuclear arms race made war inevitable, arguing that the rapid increase in nuclear stocks prompted the first nuclear strikes. The United States’ test of a multi-megaton hydrogen bomb in 1952, nearly a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, amplified these fears: Everyone understood that when the Soviets developed their own bomb (which they did in 1955), the survival of the United States would be at stake.
The world survived this incredibly dangerous era. The expansion of surviving nuclear forces, including the dispersal of Strategic Air Command bomber bases and the construction of ballistic missile submarines, enhanced these first strike pressures, laying the groundwork for the nuclear revolution which in turn stabilized the global strategic environment. Deterrence was further reinforced by the ideological faith shared by both sides in the eventual demise of their opponent’s political and economic system, which ultimately occurred with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.