November 6, 2004


China rocks the geopolitical boat (Asia Times, 11/5/2004)

[A] mega-gas deal between Beijing and Tehran worth $100 billion [was signed last week]. Billed as the "deal of century" by various commentators, this agreement is likely to increase by another $50 billion to $100 billion, bringing the total close to $200 billion, when a similar oil agreement, currently being negotiated, is inked not too far from now....

[T]his stunning development [is] widely considered a major blow to the Bush administration's economic sanctions on Iran ...

The strategic situation as I see it:
1. The end of the cold war saw the remaining totalitarian states -- Communist states including China, North Korea, and Cuba, and Mideast dictatorships that had been Soviet clients including Iran, Syria, and Libya, joined by Pakistan -- form a loose alliance.
2. After Tiananmen, the "End of History" was recognized as a threat to China and other dictatorships, and under Jiang Zemin, China became actively hostile to the United States. Meanwhile, terrorism became recognized by these allied countries as the most effective method of war against democracies, and they increasingly cultivated terror networks.
3. At some point in the 1990s, China developed an active strategy of nuclear proliferation. First, it gave nuclear weapons to Pakistan and missile technology to North Korea. Then it had North Korea and Pakistan swap technologies. Then Pakistan, in a move now blamed on A. Q. Khan, began to give nuclear technology to Iran, Syria, and Libya. When Pakistan turned after 9/11, North Korea took over its role as technical advisor and arms supplier to Iran, Syria, and Libya. Now Libya has turned and the alliance is down to China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Cuba, with relations to countries like Venezuela and France, and Pakistan perhaps trying to remain friendly with both sides.
4. The strategic point to this nuclear proliferation is that it prepares the way for nuclear terrorism. In the Soviet era, if a nuclear bomb had gone off, we would have known who was responsible. In ten years, if nuclear proliferation continues, we will have no idea. It would be easy (especially for a President Kerry or the like), with no evidence tying any specific state to the loss of a major city, to find excuses to avoid war with massively armed nuclear powers like China, North Korea, or Iran.

It is critical for the United States to deter the early steps in this strategy -- especially nuclear proliferation -- while hastening the shift to democracy and freedom. Unlike the Cold War deterrence through Mutual Assured Destruction, it will be impossible to deter nuclear terrorism once nuclear weapons have proliferated to multiple terror-sponsoring nations. Indeed, widespread nuclear arsenals may create an incentive for the nations least suspected of terrorism -- China, for instance -- to engage in it themselves, knowing that if the U.S. did go to war in response, it would likely be with Iran or Syria, and that such a nuclear war would further damage the U.S. and strengthen China's position in the world.

The challenge for the Bush administration is to remain aggressive at a time when it is important domestically to make progress on domestic reforms, and when aggression will be much more dangerous than in the first term. Very likely Russia, working secretly with the Bush administration, guided Saddam toward his no-WMD strategy and oversaw the removal of WMD, guaranteeing that the Iraq War would not produce significant casualties (as a loose-lipped Bush may have indicated pre-war to Pat Robertson). There will be no such pre-war surrender of horrific weaponry from Iran or Syria; and Iran may well have nuclear weapons already, on loan from North Korea if not created in Iran.

Nevertheless, I think that if China decides that peace is better than war, we can deal with Iran, Syria, and North Korea. There is hope for a change in Chinese strategy now that Hu Jintao has replaced the militaristic Jiang Zemin. We will need effective diplomacy more than ever in the next four years. But, if diplomacy fails, we must be willing to go to war to stop nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. The reality is that the Cold War wasn't won -- it was half-won: and the half that wasn't defeated is rapidly becoming stronger than the half that was. I am with Spengler: better a war that comes too soon than one that comes too late. Good luck, President Bush. May God bless America.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at November 6, 2004 8:56 AM

If your scenario is correct should we not declare that in the event we are struck with a sophisticated nuclear weapon our response will be to counterstrike all members of the so called alliance? Detente all over again?

Posted by: genecis at November 6, 2004 10:57 AM

The PRC is desperate for energy supplies wherever it can find them. They have Muslim terrorist issues all across the country particularly in Sinkiang.

We are their biggest customer. If they tick us off, they know that they can be made to suffer real fast. So, it is in their interest to go lightly.

Why should China disrupt their economy in order to challenge the US when they are pretty much getting everything they could reasonably want under the current state of affairs? It just doesn't make sense. Now, I understand about all that Chinese chauvinism, which is very reminiscent of French gloire, but at the end of the day the realists will take control, because the alternative is just too stark to consider. China has had rulers in the past who have in fits of egomania destroyed everything before them so they understand the downside of chaos.

Posted by: Bart at November 6, 2004 11:05 AM

Bart - Yes, I think China will be friendly to us in the long run, as long as we don't give them the impression we are so soft that we can be defeated at no cost to them. We gave Osama the impression we were too soft to reply. Possibly Jiang Zemin had it too. Let's keep on removing their doubts.

Posted by: pj at November 6, 2004 12:00 PM

Possibly? They attack our plane and Bush rewards them with $3 million in cash?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at November 6, 2004 2:07 PM

Harry - What disturbs me is that the public isn't aware that we're fighting a new Cold War (or a continuation of the old one which wasn't finished), so there's not much public pressure on politicians to be tough. And as we've seen in the Iraq aftermath, there can be a heavy toll on politicians if they take tough actions for which the public doesn't understand the necessity. The hostility of the media to forthright action doesn't help. In Iraq, most knew the necessity, and it still came close to costing Bush re-election. It will take a great deal of courage on the part of our leaders to bring us safely through this.

Posted by: pj at November 6, 2004 2:44 PM

We accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Beograd, so why can't we "accidentally" take out Harbin during our response if something nasty happens to Providence?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 6, 2004 3:04 PM

pj, I think you're exactly right.


Much as it pains me to say so, we were in the wrong. How would we react if the PRC had spyplanes violating our 12 mile limit? The long-term reality is that we have far more in common with China than we have differences. Even Taiwan is not going to be an issue for much longer, given the degree to which their economies are interconnected. I can take you to a section of Shanghai known as Little Taiwan because of the number of Taiwanese businessmen and the people who service them.

The problem the Yellow Peril crowd has is pointing out where specifically our interest and that of the PRC diverge in a way that is unreconcilable.

Posted by: Bart at November 6, 2004 5:32 PM