Thursday, May 12, 2005

Robert Kaplan's much-discussed Atlantic Monthlyarticle, How We Would Fight China, is a fascinating read, though the title isn't quite accurate. The article has very little speculation on what an armed conflict with China would look like. The only real attempt to divine a Chinese strategy looks like is this:

...the Chinese are putting their fiber-optic systems underground and moving defense capabilities deep into western China, out of naval missile range—all the while developing an offensive strategy based on missiles designed to be capable of striking that supreme icon of American wealth and power, the aircraft carrier. The effect of a single Chinese cruise missile's hitting a U.S. carrier, even if it did not sink the ship, would be politically and psychologically catastrophic, akin to al-Qaeda's attacks on the Twin Towers. China is focusing on missiles and submarines as a way to humiliate us in specific encounters.

But this is right out of Victor Davis Hanson, isn't it? The Hanson thesis, among other things, holds that non-Western warmakers place enormous emphasis on symbolism. For them, the goal is the coup, the military "grand gesture" that disheartens and terrifies the enemy. The Chinese anti-carrier missiles seem to be the modern equivalent of Hanson's

War paint, tattoos, bare-breasted women, ululation, and an assortment of iron collars, chains, spiked hair, and occasional human heads and body parts hanging from the war belt are the usual requisites in any Western description, from Roman legions to the Spanish conquistadors, of fighting the Other. (Carnage and Culture, p. 117)

A single cruise missile hit on an American carrier would be disastrous--for the Chinese.

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