Andrew Erickson, a professor at Providence’s Naval War College and a specialist in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, has a new book coming out entitled Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles in which he explores and explicates the Chinese PLA’s goals, particularly with regard to its navy, and how this will effect Sino-US relations in the future. Andrew Erickson describes China’s military projective capability as being akin to a stone in a pond: big ripples at the point of impact, with lessening intensity as the ripples grow further from the impact site. His analogy is used to underline the problems with assuming Chinese military aims are akin to that of the Soviet Union, which they are not. His argument is that, while China’s military is rapidly modernizing, its projective capability or its ability to make its power manifest around the world still greatly lags behind that of the US. This is indeed refreshing news to hear given the media furore over Chinese aircraft carrier killing missiles and their desire to build their own aircraft carriers. Indeed, the narrative of the Soviet Union and the Cold War struggle has never really left the United States or its media outlook on foreign relations: everywhere one looks one can find a new breed of ‘communists’ that need to be handled and who’s very existence posits a challenge to the American way of life. This is a dangerous type of paranoia that presents the enemy as a malevolent other, bent on destruction and undermining the US’s very way of life. Andrew Erickson presents a more nuanced and realistic view of this situation, namely, that China is potent in the area around China but outside of that it is still relatively weak. The idea that the PRC is trying to replace the Soviet Union in a renewed global, ideological struggle is unwarranted and more reflective of the aims of realist theorists and paranoid Cold War holdouts. See, Putin isn’t the only one who wants the USSR to return, many Americans do too. It was a simpler time, the world divided into ‘good’ versus ‘evil,’ each side arming itself with enough atomic missiles to end existence many times over. ‘Terrorism’ also doesn’t have quite the ring to it that ‘red communism’ does. Indeed, the struggle to replace the communists with something new has led to the elevating of international terrorism to the grounds of ideology which does both a disservice to our intelligence as well as terrorism, since it is not a unified, coherent international movement. The USSR was organized and deadly, terrorism is spread out and nearly anything can be called terrorism thus its ideology is in a constant state of flux. If you will recall, the Soviet Union followed communism, an actual ideology, to its operable demise. One of my favorite theorists, Roland Bleiker, discusses securitization arguments in terms of defining oneself as well as one’s enemies or, in other words, the goals and values of the political community are increasingly defined by that which opposes it rather than that which comprises it. This was the modus operandi for much of Cold War international relations. To quote Andrew Erickson, “Counting all the beans by treating side-by-side comparison of all Chinese and U.S. forces as the key metric, as sometimes done by those who would minimize the PLA(N)’s significance, is only relevant if one assumes that the relevant scenario is a Cold War-style Sino-American global conflict — a virtual impossibility, fortunately.” The drive to label the Chinese as the successor’s to the Soviet Union and, indeed, as the eventual usurpers of American hegemony is more a goal of the paranoid within international relations who discard the increasingly integrated world economy as nothing more than an aberration from the realist desires of states to blow each other off the face of the Earth and occupy their land. The need to make China the next great enemy serves political and social purposes in the United States. By making the public paranoid of losing something they never really fully understood, politicians in the United States can use shorthand to explain international relations instead of having to perhaps delve deeply into history to rationally explain why the US, in order to oppose communism at every front, still keeps Cuba in poverty, has allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons regardless of its isolation, and who also armed and trained Osama bin Laden and the Taliban to fight against the Soviets in the 1970s. The nuance involved in explaining American ‘aims’ with such actions is too complicated for the electoral pulpit; instead, it is easier to label Islam as an enemy and China as the return of the red menace. Interestingly, the Soviet Union never owned close to 10% of the US’s sovereign debt. Why? Because it was actually communist, not the pseudo-socialism that occurs in China today. China is focused on growth and maintenance of the Community Party of China’s power. With over a billion people to fed and employ, the Chinese government does not have the time or resources to wage global imperialism as it currently stands. But that doesn’t sell magazines nor does it make for news on FauxNews. When the goal is demagoguery, truth and reality are always sacrificed at the altar for this blood-thirsty idol. Andrew Erickson lists the goals of Chinese weapons development as anti-access and area-denial weaponry. To combat this, Erickson advocates increasing reliance on drones, undersea capabilities and those technologies which minimize the need for manpower in order to reduce potential casualties from any attack. The goal should not be to attack and destroy China but rather deterrence.
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