“The Vietnam Solution“
Robert D. Kaplan
Blick auf Hanoi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Robert D. Kaplan
Robert Kaplan has spent the last two decades on the ground of the world’s trouble spots, hunting for the untold stories of the conflicts that happen on the edges of globalization and what the US defense establishment calls “The Long War.” His worldview is divorced from both the Pentagon and the Ivory Tower, cleaving more closely to a ground-level perspective that we hear and read all too little.
Kaplan began his post-9/11 writings focused on failed states and non-state actors and how those two created not just an opening but a need for the U.S. to step in and change things. With his recent book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, Kaplan began to shift his attention to the emerging great power politics in Asia, and in the June edition of The Atlantic, Kaplan turns full-face toward China.
Coming just as China is starting to flex some muscle in the South China Sea off of Vietnam’s shores, Kaplan’s article offers a view of the Middle Kingdom from Hanoi. It is not a nice view, given China’s growing diplomatic aggression, but it is for Vietnam not a new one: the Vietnamese, Kaplan points out, have been maneuvering against the Dragon to maintain their independence for a millennium.
They have done this because they have become adept at playing regional power politics to keep the Chinese from squashing their country out of existence. Kaplan dubs Vietnam “The Prussia of Asia,” and as I am halfway through Christopher Clark’s superb Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, the point rings true. Vietnam has learned to play a Clausewitzian game as well as anyone in the region.
The article is excellent, and my only quibble is that Kaplan did not ask the hardest question: whether Vietnam’s domestic politics and the direction its economy is taking will allow it to resist being drawn into China’s orbit. This is a non-trivial question for those of us watching the South China Sea. Vietnam remains the wild-card for both sides. But, reading this article, it is clear that this is exactly how Hanoi would like to keep things.
“Population Aging and Economic Progress in Asia: A Bumpy Road Ahead?”
Andrew Mason and Sang Hyop Lee
Andrew Mason and Sang Hyop Lee explain that countries in both developed and developing Asia face a triple threat of an aging population, declining family support for aging family members, and the lack of government programs to support the aging, and tell us why and how that is going to put an end to Asia’s economic miracle. That is, unless the region’s leaders can figure out how to change policy and economic direction to address the issue.
The Swiss Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Strategic Trends 2012
Andreas Wegner and Daniel Möckli, eds.
Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, 126pp.
Each year, the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology takes an unselfconsciously Eurocentric look at the major issues in international affairs. For those of us fed on American and Australian security analyses, it is a help to get an occasional viewpoint-check from a transatlantic source.
This year is of particular interest, as China is front-and-center. The first chapter of the work is “China’s Uncertain Peaceful Rise,” written by CSS scholar Prem Mahadevan. While Dr. Mahadevan does not specialize in China, there is some brain-tickling thinking happening here. Specifically, he describes China as being divided betwen the “Core” and the “Frontiers,” and the way he divides the nation is fascinating. According to his analysis, less than half of China – the traditionally Han regions – are part of the nation’s core. There are profound implications of his analysis, and it is worth understanding and debating.
Other issues covered are Europe’s “strategic weakening” (a fascinating read after the NATO success in Libya), regional conflicts in the Horn of Africa, the shifting geopolitics of energy (with a heavy focus on China, naturally), and a fascinating look at how the world of cybersecurity is being taken over by the military.
In all, a superb read with fewer pages than your average issue of Foreign Affairs. Download at the link above.
Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, greets People’s Liberation Army (Photo credit: #PACOM)
In “Embracing the Moon in the Sky or Fishing the Moon in the Water” in the July-August 2012 issue of Air & Space Power Journal, Senior Colonel Xu Weidi at the PLA‘s National Defense University Institute of Strategic Studies offers his thoughts on the effectiveness and limitations of deterrence.
Col. Xu points out (correctly, I think) that the deterrence implicit in the strategic arms race conducted between the USSR and the US between 1945 and 1989 way have prevented nuclear war, but at great cost. Further, Xu reads the history through Sun Tzu’s lenses and finds our current understanding of deterrence as a strategic concept needs more nuance.
While anything published internationally by Chinese military officers is suspect (the notion of “academic independence” is, to say the least, rather underdeveloped under the Party’s watchful eye), there is at the end a veiled question aimed straight at the PLA: “how, to whom, and under what circumstances should a developing nation [i.e., China] demonstrate its deterring might?”
A fascinating read indeed.