The Cold War taught us that inefficient planned economies can execute priority projects well. Think Sputnik, the Moscow Olympics, and Russian nuclear physics. Although its output never reached half that of the U.S., the Soviet Union held us to rough military parity until the end of the Cold War.
China will choose a new leadership in 2012, culminating a power struggle between reformists and those who favor a return to neo-Maoism. If the latter group prevails, the level of hostilities with China will intensify beyond their current uneasy status quo.
China enjoys huge advantages over the former USSR that render it a more formidable military competitor than the USSR was:
The Chinese economy has been growing rapidly, while the Soviet economy suffered a lengthy “period of stagnation,” as Gorbachev called it. China is integrated into the world economy and, as such, has access to advanced technology. The Soviet Union remained isolated, was subject to restrictions on technology purchases, and had to rely on espionage to obtain military technology. During the Cold War, we thought twice about selling electric ranges or IBM computers to Russia. In 2012, we share GPS technology and assemble Dell Computers in China.
The list of countries potentially hostile to the United States – Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and Russia — is frighteningly long and could increase on moment’s notice to include Pakistan or any number of Arab Islamist states. We already compete with China for controlling military presence in the Pacific. China could decide to take Taiwan by force, or China’s fragile peace with India could break.
Future military conflict with China is likely to be of a conventional sort, rather than the hit-and-run terrorist engagement the Pentagon is preparing for. To counter China, we need substantial conventional forces and a large defense budget.
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