The Rand Corporation’s analysts put low odds on a China-U.S. military conflict taking place, but still lay out danger scenarios where the U.S. and China face greater risks of stumbling into an unwanted war with one another. They point to the economic codependence of both countries as the best bet against open conflict, similar to how nuclear weapons ensured mutually assured destruction for the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“It is often said that a strong economy is the basis of a strong defense,” the Rand report says. “In the case of China, a strong U.S. economy is not just the basis for a strong defense, it is itself perhaps the best defense against an adventurous China.”
What you need to be worried about is a calculated move to war. While everyone is worried about misunderstandings, and the escalation of minor incidents into major wars, it is the calculated move to war that should concern you most. This is the precise scenario that most experts are writing off.
China’s Rise and the Road to War
Yet history suggests that Mr. Mearsheimer’s warnings should be heeded. Prior to World War I, Angell’s logic—that the disruption to the international credit and trading system would mean that everyone loses in the event of war—was irrefutable. Prior to 1914, annual trade volumes of Britain, Germany and France was 52%, 38% and 54% of GDP respectively, with much of the trade being between these great powers. By 1913, Britain had become the leading market for German exports, with both countries largely benefitting from the economic relationship. In the decade leading to the Great War, trade and capital flows between these great powers increased by an estimated 65% and 84%, respectively. Yet, economic interdependence was not enough to prevent the tragic escalation of events that followed the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Today, China’s self-proclaimed and widely accepted “peaceful development” similarly appears to be based on solid economic ground. China has re-emerged as a great trading nation but remains a poor country in terms of GDP per capita. China’s export sector is responsible for the creation of hundreds of millions of jobs, and the country still remains deeply dependent on outside technology and know-how. To continue the country’s rapid economic development, the Chinese Communist Party needs a peaceful and stable environment in Asia. On the U.S. side, no one in Washington wants to see a conflict with China erupt, especially at a time when America is fighting two wars and worries about Iran’s intentions.