After spending the last six months immersed in the world of The Third World War – and with the recent release of A Land War in Asia - I have a few thoughts that I’ve developed over that period of time.
1) China’s economic rise rests upon an insecure foundation:
China has severe demographic problems. First, there’s the obvious problem that the Chinese have a severe gender imbalance in its rising population as a result of the widespread practice of sex-selective abortions. This means that China has many more young men than it does young women, a proposition that always leads to political instability.
Second, China’s population is rapidly aging. Mark Steyn, as I am fond of quoting, likes to remind us that at current rates China will “grow old before it grows rich.”
Third, these factors mean that the existence of the present Chinese regime is dependent upon continued rapid economic growth. If the People’s Republic of China cannot generate the wealth to satisfy large cohorts of young men on one side and a growing population of geriatrics on the other then it will not be able to ensure the survival of the current government.
The government of the People’s Republic of China, having long ago abandoned any pretense of being founded upon any more solid ideological foundation than its ability to provide prosperity in exchange for freedom, is absolutely dependent upon continued economic expansion. When economic growth slows, stops, or reverses – as it must at some point – it will be a very dangerous moment for the world as the Chinese leaders must make a choice between attempting to sustain their own position through external aggression, internal repression, or some mix of the two.
In The Blast of War and A Land War in Asia it is China’s challenges that ultimately plunge the world into war. Faced with the choice between diving into the abyss of internal anarchy or hazarding the risks of war, China’s leaders choose the latter. I think that’s a reasonable calculation to expect that they would make under such conditions.
2) America’s greatest vulnerabilities are political:
Much as China’s greatest problems are demographic-economic-political, so are the vulnerabilities of the United States. Put simply, the American political system is broken. Not only in the endless deadlock between the parties in Washington, but in a deeper sense that the American people themselves are now very deeply divided by culture. The political chasm between Republican and Democrat, between Red and Blue, is increasingly divorced from ideology and instead resembles the partisan divisions between the Blues and Greens of the Eastern Roman Empire.
In terms of the Third World War, this has several deep implications. First, that the divisions within America weaken the United States in the eyes of the world and make it more likely that a potentially-aggressive power such as the People’s Republic of China will risk war with the United States under the assumption that America’s political leadership and the American people will be unable to sustain the level of unity necessary to fight a major conflict.
Even if, as in the Third World War, the nation were to have a President with the skill and the will to guide the nation into such a conflict, that means that the underlying divisions within the nation would create chasms that any foreign enemy would seek to exploit. Hence, in The Blast of War, the nation is kept from taking early action to avoid war by its own domestic distractions and in A Land War in Asia, the Chinese seek to exploit American disunity for military advantage.
The United States of today resembles less the end-stage of the Roman Empire than it does the late Roman Republic. The nation possess tremendous reserves of power that, for purely political reasons, it cannot fully access.
Is America’s spending addiction a problem? Absolutely. However, it’s something that could be addressed by a sufficiently resolute leader. Alone among the world’s nations, the United States possesses the technological capability to revolutionize warfare – which I have argued, both within the scope of my novels and elsewhere, is the best way to defeat the Chinese.
If the United States returns to its founding principles, than a limited-but-strong Federal Government in the Hamiltonian mode could ensure that this is a second American Century. If, on the other hand, the American Republic remains mired in bickering of the sort that is necessitated by the welfare state, then not only the United States but, indeed, the world itself is doomed.
3) Europe is irrelevant.
For some reason, when I look at Europe today, I recall the words of Stephen Vincent Benet in a very different context, “it is over, but they will not let it be over.”
As General MacArthur very wisely saw when he addressed the Congress some sixty-one years ago, the axis of the world has shifted to the Pacific and it will not be turning back anytime soon, if ever. Europe is incapable of seriously projecting power and the long project of European unification has turned the continent into an insular backwater. If China has a demographic problem, Europe has a demographic disaster. More than one European nation has fallen into a death spiral due to its tiny birth rates. If we accept that old bromide that the children are our future than the sad reality is that most of Europe has no real future. Instead, its a place where tiny bands of youngsters are going to expend their lives in the impossible task of attempting to care for an ever-increasing number of dependents. With one notable exception, I doubt if we will ever see Europe play a major role in global affairs in any of our lifetimes. Instead, perhaps, instead Europe will suffer the fate of the colonies that is surrendered and become a battlefield for other, stronger nations.
The sole exception I envision is Great Britain. This is, both for me and in practice, more a matter of sentiment than anything else. As the only European nation to have turned its colonies into something of real value, it seems possible that Britain will be able to survive the collapse of Europe by the residual goodwill that she holds among her former dominions, her position as a gateway to the rest of Europe, and the fact that she is the home of the global language. My hope – as laid out in the books – is that, once the European Union is dispensed with, a new union based upon shared heritage and language may be forged among the English-speaking peoples that would allow Britain to recover some of its former glory.
4) The Middle East can mess up your day:
One can make the case that the last ten years of war in the Middle East have distracted the United States from what may very well be an inevitable showdown with China. That is not my opinion, but I believe that it is one for which strong arguments can be marshaled.
However, as much as some days it is tempting to wish that entire region of the world out of our minds – a wish shared by almost every empire throughout history – the reality is that, while prolonged engagement there seems to only bring misery, to disengage from activity there seems to be to only invite the arrival of what Donald Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns” – those sudden and utterly unexpected events that can really mess up your day.
I believe – and this will be explored further in book three – A Thousand Points of Light – and perhaps in a non-fiction companion work, that the best way to avoid a Third World War – and to win it quickly should it come – is for the United States to get the sort of political leadership that will allow it to bridge its domestic divisions and to access some of its latent power. This, of course, is a subject that merits its own essay and then some (I’m toying with writing a book on this subject alone), but what I will say is this: if we are to avoid disaster then we must be prepared to overcome our own prejudices and accept some historic truths about humanity. We need to accept the need to make military preparations in order to avoid war and, further, to internalize the basic truth that the destiny of man is forged by force. Further, we need to study and understand how a century of social engineering on a massive scale have created the social and demographic trends, both at home and abroad, that are driving us towards disaster. Though, as I’ve said, that’s going to be a subject for another day.