The Buzz

China’s ‘War by Algebra’ Strategy to Bury America

As U.S. defense expenditures dramatically rose during the 1980s, Reagan was repeatedly criticized for his hawkish gambit. However, in order to play such military spending poker with Reagan, the Soviets had to devote a far larger share of their GDP to defense—some analysts cite a figure as high as 40 percent!

It was this crushing defense burden, along with the collateral neglect of the other sectors of its economy, that ultimately bankrupted the Soviet Union and led to its economic surrender and breakup. In comparing this Soviet fall to China’s rise, Princeton professor Aaron Friedberg notes:

“China is a very different kind of military competitor than the Soviet Union was. The Soviet Union for ideological reasons cut itself off from the international trading system, cut itself off to a considerable degree from the global technological system, and tried to do everything on its own. . . . The Chinese are pursuing the inverse strategy. They are plugging themselves into the world economy and into the world technological and scientific systems as deeply as they possibly can. And that's a far smarter strategy and it's enabling them to move forward much more rapidly.”

The broader point here for the 2016 presidential debate and beyond is both simple and profound: While the United States still far outspends China on the military front, it seems to be only a matter of time until Clausewitz’s war by algebra tables will be turned. That’s why U.S. strategists must start planning today for a very different future—and a very different strategic approach to countering the power of what appears to be an increasingly aggressive and revisionist China.

Peter Navarro is a professor at the University of California-Irvine. He is the author of Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books) and director of the companion Crouching Tiger documentary film series.

Image: Flickr/Mitya Ku.