Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Balance That Did Not Bark

America really isn't so bad, realistically speaking.

This article notes how Japan and the Philippines are increasing their own military power and reaching out for alliances to balance China's rising (and threatening) military power. It's a natural thing to do:

International relations scholars of the Realist persuasion have long held that when faced with a security threat, states balance against it in two ways. The first way is through internal balancing; that is, by strengthening one’s own capabilities. This is the preferred balancing mechanism for states, according to realists, as it doesn’t force states to rely on allies’ goodwill in meeting their commitments, and doesn’t risk the state being dragged into others’ fights.

However, oftentimes the power disparity between a rising state and its adversaries means that internal balancing alone will not suffice in countering it. In these instances, realists contend, states will seek to align with third parties who also view the powerful state as a threat.

Manila is even rebuilding bases at our old naval base at Subic Bay and will make the facilities available to other countries (like Japan, says Manila, while they glance across the Pacific to America).

But you know what didn't happen according to realist theory? States didn't band together to balance America once the Soviet Union's empire collapsed in 1989 and we were left as the dominant power after the USSR itself collapsed in 1991 and then broke apart.

Sure, China stopped being our de facto ally. But that was a marriage of convenience in the face of the common Soviet threat. Once the USSR fragmented, China had no need for our help.

And Russia's move toward China was based on fear of China rather than the fear of America. Russia knows (intellectually, if not deep down in their paranoid Russian hearts) that we hardly think about them much except when our NSA employees flee to Russia, let alone plot their further destruction.

India, I should add, did not gravitate from the Soviet camp to the Chinese camp in an effort to oppose America. No, India has always worried about China (and Pakistan for many decades, although not now), and saw Soviet support as crucial. India still sees China as the main threat and has moved toward American friendship rather than gravitating to Chinese friendship because they viewed uniquely powerful post-Cold War America as the main threat to world peace.

Remember, the realist theory of power balancing is about reacting to perceived threats based on increased power--not the power increase itself. Clearly, we aren't seen as much of a threat by much of the world--even our enemies act as if we won't use our obvious power superiority to crush them--while China is provoking actions and talks meant to guard against a growing Chinese power and threat.