Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Austin Bay explains that other countries have to base their preparations on China's military capabilities and not on their stated intentions, because intentions can change overnight.

He notes that China has no intention of launching a war right now:

A war in Asia, with Japan, the U.S. or India, even one with Taiwan, puts the Chinese economy at risk. China's leaders claim their biggest problem is creating 25 million new jobs a year. China's economy depends on global trade. Which leads to another line of analysis: China does not seek a war, but it wants to guarantee its own maritime trade security and does not want to rely on the U.S. Navy to protect it. Hence, the increase in capabilities.

But it is worse than Bay's commentary on intentions. Yes, intentions can change what China wants, and if their capabilities allow for it, they may try to achieve that objective. But the people whose intentions count could change, too. The people in charge now may not want war. But there are others in China who may think their intentions should follow their capabilities. That's another way intentions could change overnight.

There's yet another way things could go bad. China can want to avoid war and still provoke a war as they pursue their goals. Did Hitler want a world war when he invaded Poland in September 1939? Of course not. He wanted half of Poland. He thought that was all that was happening. But he got World War II and the utter destruction of his Third Reich.

China has many wants that it probably doesn't think would result in war:

China's high-profile feuds with the United States, along with territorial spats with Southeast Asian neighbors and Japan, showed a more muscular foreign policy in 2010 that called into question Beijing's promise of a "peaceful rise."

China would be more than happy if their peaceful rise led their neighbors and America to simply give in to China's objectives that are the center of these territorial spats. Which one might China pursue in the belief that it is natural for them to want it, and nobody--especially America or Japan--would want to fight them over it?

Capabilities take years or decades to develop. Intentions can change overnight. Mistakes can happen in a split second.

You can't always gets what you want--or what you need, either--when others don't think you should have it.