Monday, December 19, 2011

Risk Theory

Once upon a time, a nation with great land power and an ever-expanding industrial base sought to broaden its horizons. Having a massive army with which to confront, or to protect itself against regional adversaries was not good enough, even though it had historically defeated powerful nations.

Unsatisfied with dominance in its region on land, it decided to put its efforts into developing its sea power as well.

This did not go unnoticed. A wealthy island nation nearby looked with concern as the land power started to construct ships that equaled others in its class in more historically established navies.

The land power targeted the most powerful navy of its time. Its leaders came up with the "risk theory." They figured that they could never build a navy as large, or larger than their assumed enemy. However, they could become large enough that a sea battle would be too costly for the rival. They would then have to appease the demands of the land power.

I am talking about Germany's push for world power a hundred years ago, but could just as easily be talking about China today. In the 1870s and 80s, Germans did not love the British, but trusted that fair policy and a massive fleet were enough to protect their interests. By 1900, Germany wanted to be the arbiter of sea power along with Britain. Germany made its interests know, they wanted colonies and other trappings of world power.

What does China want? Regional supremacy. Their plans also seem to resemble the growing will to power expressed by Japan in the 1930s. Oil, and other resources are part of their long term plans.

China famously plays the long game and it must feel that the time is ripe to move. Japan suffers from economic problems. The United States has a clear leadership gap. Europe seems determined to dive off a cliff to save the ill-fated Euro. And China has no fear of Russia.

They face containment on land. Vietnam, India, South Korea, and Russia block traditional avenues of influence expansion. All, including the Philippines and Japan, fear, or have good reason to fear, an awakening of Chinese ambitions.

Trouble is brewing. We must not await China's plans to become mature before figuring out if they are dangerous, and sending a stern message.

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