Saturday, January 14, 2006

Geography Matters

Every once in a while I will note some article that describes a Chinese weakness. Those who disregard China as a threat like to point these out, too, in order to discount China as a threat to us.

I point them out, note that I wouldn't want to trade places with China, and then note that it doesn't matter. Not that power comparisons are irrelevant but that geography must be considered, too. A China that is twice as strong as it is today could not threaten us here in the Western Hemisphere. A China twice as strong would be a force to be reckoned with in East Asia.

And that is what is important. We can project significant power globally. But when China can project significant power 500 miles from their shores, they will be a major threat to our interests, as I noted here:

In World War II, neither Japan nor Germany (and certainly not Italy) were global powers. Yet they were threatening enough, were they not? Get over the idea that a threat is only a threat if it can reach St. Louis. And really, if the Chinese get their way within 500 miles of China against our allies, the impact will reach St. Louis.

So it was with some interest that I read this report highlighted by Defense Industry Daily:

My thesis is that with certain new equipment and strategies, China can pose major problems for American security interests, and especially for Taiwan, without the slightest pretense of catching up with the United States by an overall measure of national military power or technology. Although I firmly agree with those who are skeptical about China=s prospects in significantly closing the gap with the United States, I believe that certain Chinese military capabilities combined with the political geography of East Asia pose significant security challenges for American security strategy in the region. As commonly defined, the basic elements of that U.S. strategy are: (a) deterring attacks on allies and friends; (b) maintaining East Asian bases for global power projection; and (c) preventing spirals of tension among regional actors whose relations are plagued by both historical legacies of mistrust and contemporary sovereignty disputes.

The debate over whether China will become a peer competitor or a near-peer competitor is certainly fascinating, but quite irrelevant to our near-term concerns. Because we must go half way around the globe and China needs to go a little over their horizon to reach regions of high importance to us, China is a threat long before they ever become a peer competitor. That is the wrong standard by which to judge China.