by Adam Yoshida
If the United States is to maintain its military supremacy into the 21st century, it is absolutely vital that the federal government ensure that its defense efforts are directed at preparing for the next war, rather than for re-fighting the wars of the past. Too often historically — and I fear in the future as well — America has been caught by surprise by global developments and forced to improvise a solution to challenges on the ground. While brilliant soldiers, diplomats, and politicians have often risen to this challenge, it may well turn out to be the case that the wars of this century will not allow us such latitude.
After both World Wars and the end of the Cold War, the United States has demobilized in a haphazard fashion that has left the nation ill-prepared to meet future challenges. Yet, as Donald Rumsfeld memorably and correctly reminded us vis-à-vis Iraq, “you go to war with the Army that you have.” A careless reduction in defense spending today, as advocated by the left and even accepted by some on the right, would be a penny wise, pound foolish solution that will cost future generations tremendous amounts of blood and treasure.
The tremendous costs of the War on Terrorism, however one feels about the events of the last decade, do not contain therein a justification for reduced spending going forward. On the contrary, the fighting of the last decade has redirected resources towards systems, equipment, and training that, while vital in overcoming the challenges of the post-9-11 decade, would be of minimal value in a great power confrontation. Indeed, deep down, all of us know which nation America and the Western world must be prepared to confront in the coming years: the People’s Republic of China.
The conflict between the United States and China is driven by mutually incompatible systems and ambitions. While economics is not a zero-sum game, power is. Our world can have only one hegemonic power at a time — only one power can effectively control global institutions, defend world sea lanes, regulate international trade, and respond to emergencies as they occur. The alternative to the existence of such a leader — a primus inter pares among the world’s nations — is a form of devastating global anarchy, where dictatorial regional powers conquer their neighbors and trade is disrupted by the whims of tyrants. In the end, either the United States will control such a system — at a vital time in history, as advances in science and technology allow us to both settle human beings off this planet and, through advances in bio-tech, change the nature of humanity itself — or it will be controlled by a vicious and dictatorial People’s Republic of China, whose leaders are absolutely willing to brutally crush any who oppose them and who murder and exploit without compunction.
Whatever disagreements we in the West may have amongst ourselves — and there are so very many — even the most committed adherent of the “Occupy” movement, were you to catch him in a moment of unguarded honesty — would admit that, from the perspective of an individual who values freedom, flawed American liberty is preferable to resolute Chinese despotism. If China is allowed to become the leading global power, it will not hesitate to oppress the rest of the world’s people with as much cruelty as its leaders presently show to their own people.