Blogs: The Skeptics

America's Hypocrisy on Foreign 'Provocations'

Why America and China Today Are Like Pre–World War I Europe

The Skeptics

A system based on trials of strength, finally, is perilously unstable. This is even truer in complex systems divided into alliance blocs, as was prewar Europe. This is what historian Paul Schroeder meant by picturing prewar Europe as “Galloping Gertie,” a reference to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which in 1940 collapsed in an orgy of “aeroelastic flutter.” In the prewar era, traditional Concert of Europe diplomacy was being replaced by prestige contests in which someone had to back down, the Great Powers were increasingly unwilling to respect each other’s vital interests, and the leaders of Europe were more concerned with the strength of their alliance blocs than with the peace of Europe. War was avoided in November 1912, but the very nature of Great-Power politics led to new crises in the spring of 1913 (over Scutari) and October 1913 (over Albania’s northern borders). These, too, were eventually resolved, but by the time July 1914 rolled around, Europe, like Galloping Gertie, was fluttering, and a sharp burst of wind—the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—was able to bring the whole system down with a crash. The lesson is that systems based on trials of strength and alliance solidarity are unlikely to last, a fact unaltered by the resolution of a few crises.

Happily, this is the twenty-first century, and constructed crises, prestige and alliance blocs don’t define the contemporary international system. Right?

Wrong. Prestige today typically goes by the moniker “honor” or “credibility,” and it is certainly still extant. As for alliances, since the end of the Cold War they have never been so in vogue. Here at the National Interest, a veritable campaign has been waged by advocates of a newly empowered “get tough on China” school. The school’s argument is simple. The United States should internally balance against China by rebalancing its assets to East Asia, by increasing military investments and by openly planning for war with China. The United States should externally balance against China by forming anti-China blocs—the Quad is a common such suggestion—and strengthening current allies like Japan and the Philippines. The United States, furthermore, should be more willing to intervene—to invest its prestige—in East Asian disputes: old questions like Taiwan, yes, but particularly the new questions of the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea.

These latter two are indeed new questions. It was not until 1996 that the United States publicly indicated that the Senkakus fell within the U.S.-Japan Treaty, and it was not until 2010 that a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) ever verified the claim. As for the South China Sea, in 1974 and in 1988, China fought actual battles with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in which hundreds died, but indifference was America’s only response. In 2010, Secretary Clinton (again) shifted U.S. policy by inserting the nation into the region’s territorial disputes as a prelude to her pivot strategy.

Today, the Washington Consensus is that the United States should lead Asia by creating blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that exclude China, by “shaming” China when it acts against the contemporary wishes of Washington (but, incidentally, as America historically has acted), and by investing American prestige in East Asia’s conflicts.

Pages

Should America Be More Willing to Go to War?

The Skeptics

A system based on trials of strength, finally, is perilously unstable. This is even truer in complex systems divided into alliance blocs, as was prewar Europe. This is what historian Paul Schroeder meant by picturing prewar Europe as “Galloping Gertie,” a reference to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which in 1940 collapsed in an orgy of “aeroelastic flutter.” In the prewar era, traditional Concert of Europe diplomacy was being replaced by prestige contests in which someone had to back down, the Great Powers were increasingly unwilling to respect each other’s vital interests, and the leaders of Europe were more concerned with the strength of their alliance blocs than with the peace of Europe. War was avoided in November 1912, but the very nature of Great-Power politics led to new crises in the spring of 1913 (over Scutari) and October 1913 (over Albania’s northern borders). These, too, were eventually resolved, but by the time July 1914 rolled around, Europe, like Galloping Gertie, was fluttering, and a sharp burst of wind—the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—was able to bring the whole system down with a crash. The lesson is that systems based on trials of strength and alliance solidarity are unlikely to last, a fact unaltered by the resolution of a few crises.

Happily, this is the twenty-first century, and constructed crises, prestige and alliance blocs don’t define the contemporary international system. Right?

Wrong. Prestige today typically goes by the moniker “honor” or “credibility,” and it is certainly still extant. As for alliances, since the end of the Cold War they have never been so in vogue. Here at the National Interest, a veritable campaign has been waged by advocates of a newly empowered “get tough on China” school. The school’s argument is simple. The United States should internally balance against China by rebalancing its assets to East Asia, by increasing military investments and by openly planning for war with China. The United States should externally balance against China by forming anti-China blocs—the Quad is a common such suggestion—and strengthening current allies like Japan and the Philippines. The United States, furthermore, should be more willing to intervene—to invest its prestige—in East Asian disputes: old questions like Taiwan, yes, but particularly the new questions of the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea.

These latter two are indeed new questions. It was not until 1996 that the United States publicly indicated that the Senkakus fell within the U.S.-Japan Treaty, and it was not until 2010 that a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) ever verified the claim. As for the South China Sea, in 1974 and in 1988, China fought actual battles with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in which hundreds died, but indifference was America’s only response. In 2010, Secretary Clinton (again) shifted U.S. policy by inserting the nation into the region’s territorial disputes as a prelude to her pivot strategy.

Today, the Washington Consensus is that the United States should lead Asia by creating blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that exclude China, by “shaming” China when it acts against the contemporary wishes of Washington (but, incidentally, as America historically has acted), and by investing American prestige in East Asia’s conflicts.

Pages

The Domestic Side of International Relations: Is the United States an “Indispensable Nation?”

The Skeptics

A system based on trials of strength, finally, is perilously unstable. This is even truer in complex systems divided into alliance blocs, as was prewar Europe. This is what historian Paul Schroeder meant by picturing prewar Europe as “Galloping Gertie,” a reference to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which in 1940 collapsed in an orgy of “aeroelastic flutter.” In the prewar era, traditional Concert of Europe diplomacy was being replaced by prestige contests in which someone had to back down, the Great Powers were increasingly unwilling to respect each other’s vital interests, and the leaders of Europe were more concerned with the strength of their alliance blocs than with the peace of Europe. War was avoided in November 1912, but the very nature of Great-Power politics led to new crises in the spring of 1913 (over Scutari) and October 1913 (over Albania’s northern borders). These, too, were eventually resolved, but by the time July 1914 rolled around, Europe, like Galloping Gertie, was fluttering, and a sharp burst of wind—the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—was able to bring the whole system down with a crash. The lesson is that systems based on trials of strength and alliance solidarity are unlikely to last, a fact unaltered by the resolution of a few crises.

Happily, this is the twenty-first century, and constructed crises, prestige and alliance blocs don’t define the contemporary international system. Right?

Wrong. Prestige today typically goes by the moniker “honor” or “credibility,” and it is certainly still extant. As for alliances, since the end of the Cold War they have never been so in vogue. Here at the National Interest, a veritable campaign has been waged by advocates of a newly empowered “get tough on China” school. The school’s argument is simple. The United States should internally balance against China by rebalancing its assets to East Asia, by increasing military investments and by openly planning for war with China. The United States should externally balance against China by forming anti-China blocs—the Quad is a common such suggestion—and strengthening current allies like Japan and the Philippines. The United States, furthermore, should be more willing to intervene—to invest its prestige—in East Asian disputes: old questions like Taiwan, yes, but particularly the new questions of the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea.

These latter two are indeed new questions. It was not until 1996 that the United States publicly indicated that the Senkakus fell within the U.S.-Japan Treaty, and it was not until 2010 that a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) ever verified the claim. As for the South China Sea, in 1974 and in 1988, China fought actual battles with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in which hundreds died, but indifference was America’s only response. In 2010, Secretary Clinton (again) shifted U.S. policy by inserting the nation into the region’s territorial disputes as a prelude to her pivot strategy.

Today, the Washington Consensus is that the United States should lead Asia by creating blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that exclude China, by “shaming” China when it acts against the contemporary wishes of Washington (but, incidentally, as America historically has acted), and by investing American prestige in East Asia’s conflicts.

Pages

Coming Soon: A European Union Army?

The Skeptics

A system based on trials of strength, finally, is perilously unstable. This is even truer in complex systems divided into alliance blocs, as was prewar Europe. This is what historian Paul Schroeder meant by picturing prewar Europe as “Galloping Gertie,” a reference to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which in 1940 collapsed in an orgy of “aeroelastic flutter.” In the prewar era, traditional Concert of Europe diplomacy was being replaced by prestige contests in which someone had to back down, the Great Powers were increasingly unwilling to respect each other’s vital interests, and the leaders of Europe were more concerned with the strength of their alliance blocs than with the peace of Europe. War was avoided in November 1912, but the very nature of Great-Power politics led to new crises in the spring of 1913 (over Scutari) and October 1913 (over Albania’s northern borders). These, too, were eventually resolved, but by the time July 1914 rolled around, Europe, like Galloping Gertie, was fluttering, and a sharp burst of wind—the assassination of Franz Ferdinand—was able to bring the whole system down with a crash. The lesson is that systems based on trials of strength and alliance solidarity are unlikely to last, a fact unaltered by the resolution of a few crises.

Happily, this is the twenty-first century, and constructed crises, prestige and alliance blocs don’t define the contemporary international system. Right?

Wrong. Prestige today typically goes by the moniker “honor” or “credibility,” and it is certainly still extant. As for alliances, since the end of the Cold War they have never been so in vogue. Here at the National Interest, a veritable campaign has been waged by advocates of a newly empowered “get tough on China” school. The school’s argument is simple. The United States should internally balance against China by rebalancing its assets to East Asia, by increasing military investments and by openly planning for war with China. The United States should externally balance against China by forming anti-China blocs—the Quad is a common such suggestion—and strengthening current allies like Japan and the Philippines. The United States, furthermore, should be more willing to intervene—to invest its prestige—in East Asian disputes: old questions like Taiwan, yes, but particularly the new questions of the Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea.

These latter two are indeed new questions. It was not until 1996 that the United States publicly indicated that the Senkakus fell within the U.S.-Japan Treaty, and it was not until 2010 that a U.S. Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) ever verified the claim. As for the South China Sea, in 1974 and in 1988, China fought actual battles with Vietnam over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, in which hundreds died, but indifference was America’s only response. In 2010, Secretary Clinton (again) shifted U.S. policy by inserting the nation into the region’s territorial disputes as a prelude to her pivot strategy.

Today, the Washington Consensus is that the United States should lead Asia by creating blocs like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that exclude China, by “shaming” China when it acts against the contemporary wishes of Washington (but, incidentally, as America historically has acted), and by investing American prestige in East Asia’s conflicts.

Pages

Pages