Rough China seas ahead.
Relatedly, Washington should undertake a review of its basing arrangements in the region. In particular, it should put the bases in South Korea at the top of the list for potential closure. It also should use the endless protests from various Japanese political factions as justification for beginning to remove the Marines stationed in Japan.
There are three main objections to the approach described above. One says that, while U.S. allies in the region would try to balance Chinese power themselves, they simply could not keep up; the growth in Chinese economic and military power is too much for them to match. Another argument is that if the U.S. were to create distance between itself and its allies, they would not balance against Chinese power, but instead would "bandwagon" with China. The third contention admits that Asian countries can--and would--balance against Chinese power, but that in doing so they would create dangerous arms races that threaten to result in war.
These objections are dealt with below, showing that Asian countries could place significant obstacles in the way of Chinese hegemony in the region, that they likely would do so, and that the risk of war under that scenario is not grave.
Some scholars argue that America's Asian allies are too weak to balance against China effectively. For instance, John J. Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, claims that even a balancing coalition including Japan, Russia, India, South Korea, and Vietnam would be unable to contain Chinese military power. Since military might ultimately rests on economic power and demographics, dealing with this argument involves examining the economic, demographic, and military realities in Asia.
While accurately predicting economic output is notoriously difficult, basic assumptions about future economic trends are required to formulate policy. Economic forecasts for Asia vary wildly, but there is general agreement that Asia---and particularly China and India--will continue to grow in economic clout in the coming decades.
Them are estimates indicating that, although China is likely to make up approximately 23% of the world's gross domestic product in 2030, the other countries in Asia will constitute 22% of world GDP, with the U.S. comprising 17%. This should allow a significant amount of burden shifting, given the geography of Asia and China's own demographic, economic, and domestic political problems.
Economic growth in the countries of Asia merely will provide the foundations on which these nations can build national power, but economic growth is determined by gains in productivity (which are extraordinarily difficult to predict) as well as demographics (much easier to predict). In order for states to use that growth to play a larger role in international security, they are likely to develop more powerful militaries.
Demographics play an important role in international politics in two main ways. First, countries need significant numbers of young people to serve in militaries. Old men do not win wars. Secondly, the shape of the age distribution affects how much money is available for military spending. If, for instance, a country overwhelmingly is young and productive, that means the state have an easier time paying the nation's pensioners, as well as offering large numbers of young people to fight the nation's wars.
Today, most developed countries have seen advances in medical technology combine with shifting cultural mores to produce increased life expectancy and fewer babies--the productive workers of tomorrow. This combination of aging and lower birth rates has posed important problems for fiscal programs instituted under earlier, different demographic distributions. Additionally, military-aged men are shrinking as a proportion of overall population in several countries in Asia, which bears on those states' ability to generate military power without enervating their economies. Countries have dealt with these difficulties in different ways. Some have attempted to provide financial incentives for families to have children, while others have allowed for increased immigration to import workers in order to prop up welfare states.
Individual nations in Asia face different demographic challenges. Russia, for example, confronts remarkably low life expectancy, a net decrease in population, and a generally bleak demographic picture overall. As political economist Nicholas Eberstadt points out, Russia's population has shrunk by more than 7,000,000 people since 1992, and the life expectancy of a Russian boy born today is lower than it was in the 1950s. This creates potential problems in terms of future economic growth as well as military readiness.
In contrast, countries like Japan and South Korea have populations that are living exceptionally long by world standards, with smaller percentages of their overall populations comprised of working-age citizens. Japan, particularly, faces a challenging combination of aging and depopulation. By 2040, 14% of the Japanese population is projected to be 80 years of age or older, with every five-year (i.e., 10-14, 15-19, etc.) age cohort under 65 shrinking dramatically as compared with the same age group in 2010. Japan is likely to have 40% fewer citizens under 15 and almost a 30% drop in working age population by 2040, placing significant stress on its economy and its pension and health systems. South Korea faces the similar prospect of depopulation--although less rapid than Japan's--combined with aging. By 2050, the entire working age population of South Korea will barely be larger than its over-60 population.
Even China and India, which at present appear fairly similar to each other demographically, will change positions in profound ways over the coming decades. These countries, in fact, face very different projections in terms of where their bulges lie on the age distribution.
In China, the net effect of Beijing's "one-child" policy, combined with increasing life expectancy in the country, has been the creation of a population bubble that currently is middle-aged but, by 2040, will decrease the working age population by over 110,000,000, or 11% of its overall population. China's aging has produced, among other things, a ballooning eldercare industry that appears likely to consume increasing shares of Chinese economic output in the coming decades.
Further, many Chinese families' preference to have their "one" child be a boy has created significant potential for social strife in that there are tens of millions of young men with little prospect of marriage. This phenomenon has led Beijing to allow significant immigration of young women from states like Vietnam, the Philippines, and North Korea.
China's age bubble and the complications that have resulted from the one-child policy could pose significant constraints on Chinese economic and foreign policies in the decades ahead. A growing elderly population that continually is living longer will swain both the elderly's savings and potentially government funds to pay their pensions and health care. Small cohorts at the bottom of the age distribution foretell a shortage of workers to pay into those programs and threaten future economic growth, as well as a sharper tradeoff between the marginal Chinese citizen's employment in the economy or in the People's Liberation Army. The gender imbalance among children today could threaten social instability in the future. These only are a few of the demographic difficulties that could appear in China in the coming decades.
India has its highest concentration of population in a younger cohort, which should allow it more room for maneuver in its policy choices. It also is more balanced by gender. In 2040 roughly 68% of India's population will be made up of working age men and women, an increase of over 300,000,000 when compared to today. This means that the gap between India and China in terms of working-age populations will be roughly 400,000,000 in India's favor by 2040. By 2030, there will be roughly 100,000,000 young men with at least a high school education in India, compared to 75,000,000 such people in China. These demographic realities should allow India to play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific in terms of security.
Scholars have begun to wonder about the implications of aging for the future of world politics. For example, Mark Haas, a professor in the political science department of Duquesne University, has drawn on the literature discussing a democratic peace, wondering whether global demographic trends do not hold the prospect of a geriatric peace. In short, his contention is that aging among the great powers will create a number of constraints. It will depress overall economic output (absent significant productivity growth) and put severe pressure on national budgets to pay for the swelling numbers of elderly at the expense of military budgets, and within military budgets force states to allocate a greater share of expenditures to personnel as opposed to weapons development and procurement. The implication of this argument is that, for states that are aging, war becomes less feasible.
Obviously, having a larger population is better for military power, holding all other factors equal. All other factors rarely are equal, however. Japan's, China's, and South Korea's increasing proportion of elderly population and shrinking youth shares create economic tradeoffs (pensions vs. arms) as well as fewer young people to work and serve in militaries. As a RAND Corporation report notes, demographic realities make clear that, if the U.S. seeks to keep its alliance system intact in the coming decades, it will need to "become an even more dominant partner" in the alliances than it is today. When viewed in light of China's growing power, this implies both a larger overall cost, and a larger share of that larger cost accruing to Washington.
This outcome is not inevitable. America's allies and clients could--and likely would--begin making different decisions about their defense postures, intra-Asian alliance relationships, and government spending priorities if the U.S. made clear today that it did not intend to subsidize their defense indefinitely. Conversely, the longer Washington persists in infantilizing its Asian allies and clients, the more likely the RAND scenario becomes.
Will Japan step up?
Countries like Japan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam all cart--and should--be expected to play a larger role. While Japan faces significant economic and demographic challenges over the coming decades, it possesses advanced military technology, favorable geography, and, in extremis, the option of pursuing a "porcupine" strategy with a nuclear deterrent at its core. Japan's lack of land warfare capability and severe fiscal and demographic constraints should lessen fears that it would use such a posture as a shield for an offensive strategy. In addition, Japan may wish to work in concert with other, more demographically vital states in order to marry Japanese technology with manpower from these other states.
The second potential objection to a more standoffish U.S. policy on Asian security is that, regardless of their capabilities, current American allies would not increase their own efforts to balance against Chinese power but, instead, would appease China, leaving their security at the mercy of the Chinese leadership. This is one side of a longstanding debate in the academy over whether states tend to balance against, or bandwagon with, power.
States tend to balance against potential rivals, although not always efficiently enough to prevent wars. The reason they do so is to ensure their control over their own destinies, or, in extreme cases, their survival as political units. While these views sometimes are hard for Americans to understand--the U.S.'s survival as an autonomous political unit has not been threatened in at least 200 year--they are easier to understand abroad.
Were the U.S. to create distance between itself and its Asian allies and clients, several things likely would occur. First, those states probably would increase their own efforts to balance against China's growing power. Indeed, in the 1970s, when the Soviet Union was increasing its military buildup in East Asia and Japan worried that the U.S. was not keeping pace, Tokyo began boosting its own military efforts.
In recent months, news reports have indicated growing anxiety about Chinese behavior, and those countries' diplomacy has reflected that concern. Examples include the joint statement issued by the Philippines and Japan marking a new "strategic partnership" and expressing "common strategic interests" such as "ensuring the safety of sea lines of communication." More recently, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared that his nation's security environment had grown "increasingly murky due to China's stepped-up activities in local waters and its rapid military expansion." A recent review of Australia's defense posture sounded similarly wary notes.
The head of the Indian navy remarked that, in the face of Chinese provocations there, "the South China Sea is an area of significant concern" for India. Japan, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam all have expressed their intentions to step up military efforts, with thinly veiled references to China as the justification. These merely are the most recent indications that other countries in the region would hardly shrug at Chinese power in the absence of U.S. security guarantees. They see China as potentially threatening. Instead, Washington's constant repetition of its commitment to its allies' security allows these countries to avoid the necessary domestic debates about their security environments and what to do about them.
In particular, states like Japan and India should be expected to play central roles. Notably, even China hawks, like Aaron Friedberg, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, admit that it is unclear how greater distance between Washington and Tokyo, for example, would produce anything other than a more assertive Japan and possibly a Japan-led Asian coalition to constrain China. As Lyle Goldstein, associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College, notes: "China is rising in a thicket of strong-willed and suspicious competitors in Asia."
For wealthy and technologically advanced Asian states with Mooning retired populations and shrinking workforces, such as Japan, a reduced American commitment would create powerful pressures to pursue nuclear weapons programs. To be sure, the Fukushima nuclear disaster would make the politics of a nuclear deterrent even touchier in Japan, but the powerful logic of substituting capital for labor and securing its territory with the ultimate deterrent likely would weigh heavily on the minds of Japanese--and possibly South Korean and Taiwanese--policymakers.
Importantly, however, the time it would take Japan, for instance, to go nuclear almost certainly is longer than the conventional wisdom, which generally has hovered around six months. There is little indication that Japan has prepared for such a rapid time frame. Not only would Japan need to produce weapons-grade fissile material, but a significant amount of more work would need to be done in developing delivery systems. A number of sizable technical hurdles would put Japan's time frame in the realm of years, not months, to become a bona fide nuclear-weapons state. If Washington were to insist that Japan carry a heavier share of the burden for providing for its own defense, Tokyo may look into how it would overcome these hurdles.
The relative costs of balancing and aggression affect states' decisions to do either. When geography and military technology favor offense, aggression becomes more appealing. When those factors favor defense, balancing becomes relatively cheaper and more doable. In this case, the mostly maritime geography of Asia and the military technology in question means that balancing would be relatively cheap and aggression would be relatively difficult.
Germany's Adolf Hitler won easy victories on the European continent at the beginning of World War II, but just as geography, technology, and doctrine produced those victories, those same factors spelled disaster for Hitler on the Eastern Front. In Asia-Pacific, large bodies of water separating many of the potential antagonists (and mountains in the case of India), combined with the difficulty of projecting power across those obstacles, favor defense.
A final objection to restraint in the Asia-Pacific region allows that the U.S.'s Asian allies could--and likely would--choose to balance against China, but argues that their doing so would cause dangerous arms racing in the region and a greater chance of war, neither of which would happen if America continues to shelter its allies. Such naval conflict could disrupt trade in East Asia and, with it, the global economy, and therefore it is better to have the U.S. pay a disproportionate share of the cost, but control the response to growing Chinese power and keep a lid on security competition.
It certainly is conceivable that some sort of naval skirmish could happen but, with or without forward-deployed U.S. forces, the costs of escalation would be very high for the prospective combatants. More importantly, this argument gets the relationship between trade and war backwards. Trade and globalization have made it easier to avoid problematic reliance on any single country. AS the most comprehensive recent study of the economic effects of war on neutral countries concluded, it is less difficult than usually assumed for neutral parties to avoid high costs from wars. Because scholars and policymakers frequently confuse interdependence for vulnerability, they fail to see that, in today's globalized marketplace, the costs to combatants are dramatically higher than they are to neutral states. What this means for U.S.-China policy is that a war between China and a neighbor, absent the U.S., would be very costly for China and not nearly so costly for America.
In addition to the arms racing/instability argument, supporters of the status quo claim that maintaining the U.S.'s forward presence and commitments to its allies and clients is important for America's credibility.
Robert Art, professor of international relations at Brandeis University, states that the U.S.-Japan alliance must be maintained because it is the most important alliance in Asia and, if the alliance began to dissolve, it would call into question Washington's commitment to other allies in the region--but if the U.S.-Japan alliance is the most important of them all, the concern with its potential dissolution cannot be the implications for other, lesser alliances.
Yay or nay to nukes?
The final worry about countries defending themselves is that the allure of a nuclear deterrent would be extremely powerful for a country like Japan, and proliferation in Asia would damage the global nonproliferation regime. However, the impact of proliferation on a country like Japan or South Korea likely would be more limited than is commonly asserted. Proliferation to countries like Pakistan and North Korea has been more limited than anticipated, so those predicting the end of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty should Japan acquire a deterrent ought to explain why Japan is different from North Korea. Analysts have predicted nuclear cascades, waves, dominoes, and tipping points for decades, but those things have yet to materialize.
Moreover, any prospective Japanese nuclear deterrent could serve only as a deterrent, since Japan lacks any meaningful ground warfare capability and faces severe demographic pressures that would make even a nuclear-armed Japan terrifically unlikely to attempt to replay the 1930s. Nuclear weapons would not help Japan attempt to conquer Manchuria or even a chunk of Korea. Japan cannot invade its neighbors today, and a nuclear deterrent would not help it do so tomorrow.
Naval arms races themselves do not cause wars, and security competition or even limited skirmishes in China's near seas do not promise economic catastrophe for the U.S. Preparing to fight China in order to protect American alliances, or the credibility of our alliances, is foolish. If Washington policymakers decide that the survival of this or that ally is absolutely vital to the U.S.'s own security, they should make that case clearly and openly.
Finally, there is some prospect of nuclear proliferation to America's friends in Asia, but this does not pose as great a threat of instability or war as is commonly assumed. Adversaries like North Korea went nuclear without catastrophic consequences. This is because nuclear weapons are very useful to ensure a state's survival, but do little to aid in power projection or force favorable resolution of maritime disputes. The fact that the states frequently mentioned as possible proliferators have little ability to project power abroad makes the prospect of a given state attempting to use its nuclear arsenal to enable aggression even more unlikely.
Optimists (liberals who support China's economic growth), pessimists (conservatives who fear China's military prowess), and the Beltway foreign policy establishment all have flawed views on the rise of China and U.S.-China policy. Optimists elide the zero-sum nature of military questions, hang too much on faith that political liberalization will occur and thus resign China to American military dominance, and similarly place too much faith in the power of international institutions. Pessimists have not shown how Washington could squash Chinese economic growth at an acceptable cost, and do not demonstrate directly how even a much more powerful China would threaten the national security of the U.S. The Beltway policy establishment supports an inherently contradictory approach, "congagement"--a combination of engagement and containment--that borrows problems from both schools of thought and creates a new problem: free riding.
Acting as the balancer of first resort in Asia is costly, and it threatens to become more costly as economic engagement makes China relatively wealthier. Washington should stop infantilizing its allies and instead demand that they defend themselves. Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam, the Philippines and other nations can cooperate to prevent the worst potential forms of Chinese aggression without the U.S. doing it for them. The longer Washington takes to initiate this policy shift, the harder it will become.
America ought to pivot home. The Administration should revisit formal and informal U.S. security commitments in Asia with a clear eye trained on what it actually would be willing to fight a war with China over, and just how likely those scenarios are. U.S. policymakers should work to lessen--and ultimately remove--the forward-deployed U.S. military presence in the region, helping establish more powerful national militaries in like-minded states. The Administration should encourage Asian nations to work together on security issues without the U.S. leading the way.
If the U.S. persists in its policy of congagement, it likely will see its allies unable to play a larger role, and a larger share of America's national income dedicated to containing China on their behalf. The time to put the "offshore" back into offshore balancing is now. The alternative is persisting in a dangerous Sino-U.S. security competition, on terms increasingly favorable to Beijing.
[THIS IS THE FOURTH AND FINAL INSTALLMENT OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES CONCERNING U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS.]
Justin Logan is director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Washington, D. C
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|Title Annotation:||The World Today|
|Publication:||USA Today (Magazine)|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2013|
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