Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Bureaucratic Lines Don't Lie

China and Russia could be allies--the Nazis and Soviets had a brief fling, after all--but there are forces that drive them apart. And China's new military commands seem to reflect China's advantage.

China and Russia have difficulties to overcome notwithstanding their common opposition to America.

They are close to each other and far from us, for one thing:

Despite these converging interests, geography and history keep China and Russia from becoming meaningful allies, or enemies for that matter.

So ... what, then?

I don't get that. Proximity to other countries will provide a high correlation for fighting between countries. Having a common land border makes it easier for countries to fight, you must admit.

I would like to point out that China and Russia did fight during the Cold War. Russia once had a formidable military in the Far East. Military scenarios assumed a big Russian armored pincer offensive into Manchuria.

So by what measure to geography and history keep these countries from being meaningful enemies?

Sure, Russia's center of population and industry is in the west while China's is in the east. So geography means neither country is poised to go for the jugular.

But they can go for the peripheries. Russia could aim for parts of Manchuria (for a buffer zone) while China could go for parts of Siberia (raw materials) or Central Asia (raw materials and markets).

That might actually make it easier for the two power to go to war by making escalation to nuclear warfare in theory less likely since neither can go for the jugular of the other.

I will dispute the notion in the article that the Russians and Chinese settled their border disputes. China's core interests have a way of expanding when Chinese power increases. And the loss of a lot of territory to Russia in the 19th century has to be a prime candidate for that development.

Nor do I think the 2001 treaty is more than a pause in addressing the territory issue.

In fact, as you read the article, the author raises points of history and geography that I would have thought would argue against this point. Odd, that is.

Also odd is the idea that Russia and China can't do much to help each other, meaning being allies doesn't make sense. I disagree heartily. Each can provide the other with the invaluable help of tying down forces of America that could otherwise be used against the other.

Indeed, I think Russia was deliberately trying to make China more of a problem for us with their past arms sales.

So I'm not sure what to make of this article. I don't think history or geography preclude alliance or conflict. Unless one is clearly subordinate to the other (as Russia is subordinate right now), I think the balance tips to potential conflict.

So let me just look at China's changing perceptions with one map--the map of Chinese military districts from The Economist:

The Cold War era map shows a defensive mindset. One region was focused on India. Going clockwise, another on Soviet forces in Central Asia. Another could oppose a Soviet push from Mongolia and--more importantly defend the capital region from a major Soviet drive into Manchuria by supporting the region that protects China from the concentration of Soviet ground forces in the Pacific provinces (or from American forces in South Korea, in theory). Then a region faces Japan. Another faces Taiwan. And another faces Vietnam and the South China Sea.

The new map seems to be one not of facing threats to be absorbed and defeated as the old regions were designed (although the southern Cold War region certainly saw China's forces on offense against India and Vietnam).

Chinese power is strong enough to merge all of the west into a single district.

The Russian threat from Mongolia and the Pacific region is so low that this can be merged.

A larger region faces South Korea and Japan which have greater power projection capabilities that China can now meet at sea.

Another faces Taiwan as it did before, but now with a greater chance of actually invading Taiwan rather than resisting an American-assisted Taiwan invasion to renew the Chinese Civil War.

And the last one faces the South China Sea which China is trying to absorb into "historical" Chinese territory.

To me, this new design of Chinese military districts demonstrates increased Chinese confidence and a commitment to taking a war outside of China's borders.

Which any country would want to do if it can--did the USSR really enjoy a war on their own soil against Nazi Germany in World War II?

But that doesn't mean it doesn't have effects on us or our allies, or that we should like it.

Although I admit I do draw some satisfaction (hedged with dread) that the Russians may soon realize that China's changes will affect them in bad ways.

UPDATE: The latest Department of Defense report on Chinese military power is out. It doesn't have a lot to say about the reorganization of the military districts, but it does include an assessment about the administrative changes that include the reorganization, saying they are intended to "improve its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland."

So at least the offensive nature as opposed to the past defensive nature is evident.