China-Japan tensions are likely to drag the US into a nuclear war

Washington is betting that “cooler heads will prevail” so the building China-Japan tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands do not drag the US into a nuclear war with China. But there are signs that cooler heads just might not prevail this time. To make matters worse, China has a habit of launching bolt out of the blue preemptive strikes.

Look at some of the events over the last year:

  1. A Chinese vessels locks its firing radar onto a Japanese ship.
  2. China sends a drone near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Japan threatens to shoot down Chinese drones.
  3. If Japan shoots down its drone, then that would be considered an act of war, says Beijing.
  4. Japan asserts that it will not accept a change in status quo by force. U.S. won’t tolerate changed status quo change in Senkakus as well.
  5. Abe says Japan ready to counter China’s power.
  6. Japan states that China is threatening the peace in the region.

To get more background information about the conflict watch the following video (subtitles are in English):

What’s at Stake for China and Japan in the Diaoyu Island Dispute?

Clearly, the building of tension is serious. The chance of a military conflict between China and Japan is high. One analyst in the above video said that on a scale of 1 to 10 the chance of a military conflict between China and Japan rates from 4 to 6. But will it lead to a nuclear war with the US?

The above video reports that the PLA has recently been instructed to “prepare for war”. In this case it is against Japan. Below is an article excerpt on this topic.

It has been revealed that the General Staff Department which commands the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has instructed the entire army that the army’s mission for 2013 is to ‘prepare for war’. This was reported in the January 14 edition of the military bulletin, the PLA Daily, among other places. Furthermore, state-sponsored media, such as China Central Television (CCTV) has recently broadcast special programmes on successive days that envision war with Japan, creating a sense of military tension.

Chinese Military Instructed to ‘Prepare For War’ With Japan | 1913 Intel 

China says the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are a “core interest.” A core interest of China means it is willing to wage war.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Barack Obama during their recent talks in California that the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are a “core interest” of China, a source close to U.S.-China ties said Tuesday.

Japan’s Abe says Japan will not back down on Senkakus issue with China – “not budge an inch.”

As the campaign for the Upper House elections intensifies, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid a visit to an island near the disputed Senkaku Isles to check on the Japan Coast Guard, the ones who are designated to protect Japan’s sovereignty over the territory, which is also being claimed by China and Taiwan. He stated that the country will “not budge an inch,” even as China continues to press the issue.

Surely someone will back down. The vast majority of experts say that “cooler heads will prevail.” This implies to the US and Japan that China will back down because it is the aggressor. But there is a problem. China can’t really back down. And Japan won’t back down.

Simmering Chinese Anger at Japan Is Now on the Boil – NYTimes.com

“Japan has never sincerely admitted its past sins of aggression and still clings to the notion of one day retracing its past error of militarism,” the paper wrote. “It’s wrong and risky to continue playing with the Diaoyu Islands by naively relying on strengthening its military alliance with the United States.”

Anti-Japanese feelings are ever-present in China, with the bitterness linked directly to World War II: The brutality of Japanese soldiers is a significant historical refrain in school curricula in China, notably the 1937 Nanking Massacre and the sexual enslavement of the so-called “comfort women” by Japanese imperial troops all across Asia.

Even now the Chinese Communist Party stakes a good bit of its legitimacy to its defeat of Japanese occupying forces, and there’s a steady (if usually muffled) anti-Japanese drumbeat in the state-controlled media.

Backing down to the Japanese is going to be very difficult for Chinese leaders. It could even push the regime to the brink of collapse as a revolution.

Threat of Revolution

In an article I wrote this year titled, “A System Collapse Framework for Societies“, I argue that long periods of stability are actually dangerous for societies. That long period gives societies time for all kinds of problems to grow. In a very rigid society, like China, that time pushes the regime to the brink of collapse. And a regime very worried about its own survival, the threat of revolution may push it in the direction of war.

China’s government is approaching an age that has often proven fatal for other single-party regimes. Will Xi Jinping make the necessary reforms to avoid a crisis?

Chinese Communism and the 70-Year [Revolution] Itch – Larry Diamond – The Atlantic | 1913 Intel

Don’t blow off this type of warning. Length of relative stability is hugely important in determining when a society might run into problems, or a wall for that matter. Now we look to other signs as confirmation that there really is a problem.

Two China experts predict that China could be in for a rough time, and the threat of revolution is increasing.

The country risks turning into a “giant North Korea”, held down by repression alone. “People are losing faith in their ability to engineer a (political) soft landing. The likelihood of a revolutionary event is increasing”, said Minxin.

China turning into ‘giant North Korea’ say panda pundits – Telegraph Blogs

Talk of the collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is happening right now inside and outside of China.

As the economy slows and middle-class discontent grows, it is the question that’s now being asked not only outside but inside the country. Even at the Central Party School there is talk of the unthinkable: the collapse of Chinese communism

How long can the Communist party survive in China? – FT.com

The list of articles discussing the threat of revolution in China goes on and on. You can find more articles on topic here.

It is not the Chinese people who decide whether to go to war. It is the leaders. If they are very worried about a revolution, and their own deaths, then war with Japan and the US might be a better option.

A Superpower in Crisis – What it Means

The building of tension is not an accident. It is a consequence of China’s growing economic power approaching that of a declining US. The decline of a superpower is one important sign of danger ahead.

Imperial collapse may come much more suddenly than many historians imagine. A combination of fiscal deficits and military overstretch suggests that the United States may be the next empire on the precipice.

Empires on the Edge of Chaos

This next article gives us a sense that something big is coming, but it’s not entirely clear what will happen. Historically, the US runs into a crisis every 80 to 100 years since the beginning of the last crisis period. The last crisis period ran from 1925 to 1945, and the next one goes from 2005 to 2025. It’s based on demographics. About the time most survivors from the last crisis have died out then the country becomes susceptible all over again.

Thus might the next Fourth Turning end in apocalypse – or glory. The nation could be ruined, its democracy destroyed, and millions of people scattered or killed. Or America could enter a new golden age, triumphantly applying shared values to improve the human condition. The rhythms of history do not reveal the outcome of the coming Crisis; all they suggest is the timing and dimension.

Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning [1997]

Lastly, there is the Fourth Turning, called a Crisis. We are currently on the verge of a Fourth Turning. This is a time of great turmoil, when society’s basic institutions are torn down and rebuilt, and seemingly intractable problems are addressed. The apparently unsolvable financial dilemma of the country along with comprehension that Peak Oil has occurred will trigger the Crisis. The ultimate resolution could be rational and well thought out or it could end in a fiery fight to the death between countries or generations. During Fourth Turnings, America engages in a struggle for its very survival and redefines its identity as a nation. Large wars are often a part of this process. The American Revolution, Civil War, Great Depression, and World War II were all facets of past Fourth Turnings. During this period Old Artists disappear, Prophets enter elderhood, Nomads enter midlife, Heroes enter young adulthood—and a new generation of child Artists is born.According to Strauss & Howe past Fourth Turnings in U.S. history we have overcome intractable problems and forged a new beginning:

Winter’s Coming for the Boomers: Part 1 — Seeking Alpha

Currently, tidal forces are at work pushing the international order in a new direction. Big changes are in the process of taking place.

The Global Trends 2025 report suggests that the international system as we know it today – created out of the ashes of World War II – “will be almost unrecognizable by 2025?. The last international system broke-down during World War I – 1914 to 1918. Trends in place today suggest major discontinuities, shocks, and surprises. In other words, we should not be surprised by great upheaval to everything we know.

Entering the Age of Great Upheaval

Will these big changes happen in a peaceful manner? If history is any guide then the answer is no. Historically, when a rising power approaches a hegemonic power then the probability of war soars up to a range of 75% to 100% depending on how one counts.

In history the probability of war is high when a powerful rival approaches or passes a hegemonic leader. Depending on how you count one gets the following probabilities: 10/13 (77%), 11/15 (73%) or 6/7 (86%). With China approaching the US today, the real probability of war is higher. That’s because historical results are heavily weighted by the US passing Britain without a war. Two democracies with similar cultures passing without a war. That doesn’t exactly describe the US-China situation. Also, one could argue that the rivalry between the US and Soviet Union (Russia) continues today. That means we don’t know the true outcome.

Probability of World War III: 75% or more

When might you expect a major war to happen? Would you expect it to happen when everything is just about to fall apart? Or would you expect it during stable times when most things are functioning just fine? Just looking at the big picture tells us that if something big is going to happen, then it is going to happen during times like this.

Rumors of War

Let take a look at what other people are saying about the prospect of war.

Is the idea of nuclear doomsday really unthinkable? Maybe not.

The specter of economic doomsday makes war between China and the United States as unthinkable as fear of nuclear doomsday made Soviet-U.S. war. Or does it? In fact, Chinese and American military planners are thinking in exquisite detail, as they are expected to do, about how to win such a conflict. The problem is that the specific plans being concocted could make hostilities less unthinkable, and two great powers with every reason to avoid war could find themselves in one.

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U.S., China and an unthinkable war – latimes.com | 1913 Intel

The PLA is focused on war and countering the US.

Fanell, in comments that went largely unnoticed outside the small circle of China military specialists, spelled out in rare detail the reasons the United States is shifting 60 percent of its naval assets — including its most advanced capabilities — to the Pacific. He was blunt: The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is focused on war, and it is expanding into the “blue waters” explicitly to counter the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “I can tell you, as the fleet intelligence officer, the PLA Navy is going to sea to learn how to do naval warfare,” he said. “My assessment is the PLA Navy has become a very capable fighting force.”

Xi’s War Drums – By John Garnaut | Foreign Policy | 1913 Intel

The situation is “extremely dangerous.”

Internal Japanese documents say the situation has become “extremely dangerous” since the Chinese locked their weapons-guiding fire-control radar on a Japanese helicopter and then a destroyer in January, a dramatic escalation. The claim is denied by Beijing.

The dangerous drift towards world war in Asia – Telegraph | 1913 Intel

Historic parallels cast the Chinese regime in the same lot as Nazi Germany or Japan in the 30s and 40s.

In searching for historical parallels, the current Chinese regime most resembles the Nazis and the Japanese militaristic regime of the 1930s-40s. All three regimes became intensely nationalistic.

Second, strong dictatorship characterises all three regimes. Even non-violent protest leads to jail. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is only one well-known case among thousands.

Like the Nazi and the Japanese regimes in the 1930s, the Chinese today have become territorially expansionist. Like the Nazis and the Japanese militarists in World War II, the Chinese today perceive “appeasement” as weakness on the part of their opponents and push their claims with even more inflexibility.

The lessons of World War II teach us that appeasement of such regimes does not lead to peace.

China’s Expansionism Echoes History: Appeasement does not lead to peace | 1913 Intel

Tension is very high. The prospect of war is real.

China and Japan, along with North and South Korean troops at the DMZ, appear one step away from armed combat and tensions don’t look likely to ease any time soon.

New developments within both regions illustrate how close to open combat the four countries are, and how quickly one incident could expand to war among very powerful nations.

The Likelihood of War In Asia Grows – Business Insider | 1913 Intel

Will 2014 be like 1914?

The flickering black and white films of men going “over the top” in the first world war seem impossibly distant. Yet the idea that the great powers of today could never again stumble into a war, as they did in 1914, is far too complacent. The rising tensions between China, Japan and the US have echoes of the terrible conflict that broke out almost a century ago.

“The mechanism in 1914 is instructive. Who could imagine that Serbian terrorists could kill an archduke no one had heard of and trigger a great war, at the end of which all contestants were devastated?

The shadow of 1914 falls over the Pacific – FT.com | 1913 Intel

The list goes on and on. To read more on this topic: zWar | 1913 Intel.

There is a lot of concern by people following events that the situation could rapidly spin out of control, then escalate to a full-on nuclear war between China and the US. Or will it? It’s always an accident that spins out of control. But what if there is no accident? What if China just decides that it has had enough, and it is time to launch a nuclear preemptive nuclear attack on Japan and the US? What if there were a Sarajevo moment, and you didn’t notice?

China’s Intentions

As far as China’s intentions go, we got a sense of that a couple of days ago thanks to the Chinese media.

Chinese state-run media revealed for the first time this week that Beijing’s nuclear submarines can attack American cities as a means to counterbalance U.S. nuclear deterrence in the Pacific.

Chinese calculations for nuclear attacks on the U.S. are chillingly macabre.

“Because the Midwest states of the U.S. are sparsely populated, in order to increase the lethality, [our] nuclear attacks should mainly target the key cities on the West Coast of the United States, such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego,” the Global Times said.

“The 12 JL-2 nuclear warheads carried by one single Type 094 SSBN can kill and wound 5 million to 12 million Americans,” the Global Times reported.

We can nuke American cities to counterbalance US forces in the Pacific | 1913 Intel

That is not the first time China has used submarines to threaten the US. In 2010 a Chinese submarine just off the coast of California launched a ballistic missile. This is China telling us to stay out of their backyard, or else.

“That Is A Missile Shot From A Submarine!”

While China didn’t fess up about launching a missile off the coast of California, our experts are taking this theory seriously. It could have been Russia, but China is much more likely given tension in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

… So far a missile expert from MIT, a leading analyst from the Jane’s Defence Group and a former US ambassador to Nato have all said that it was most likely to be a missile launch. And, according to my UK defence sources, the backroom boys in the US Navy and Royal Navy are taking seriously the theory that it was the Chinese Navy.

California Mystery Missile: US Navy and Royal Navy Take the Chinese Missile Theory Seriously

Preemptive Nuclear Strike

This time we just might not get a warning from China. One day everything is fine. No hint of what is to come. Then the next day the US no longer exists. During the night China launched a preemptive nuclear strike on both the US and Japan. How realistic is that scenario?

As a 2010 Pentagon report citing the 1962 war, among others, put it, “The history of modern Chinese warfare provides numerous case studies in which China’s leaders have claimed military pre-emption as a strategically defensive act.” In fact, a 2010 essay in the Qiu Shi Journal — the ideological and theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee — underscored the centrality of “offense as defense” in Chinese policy by declaring that “Throughout the history of new China, peace in China has never been gained by giving in, only through war. Safeguarding national interests is never achieved by mere negotiations, but by war.“

Here are six of the 1962 principles China replicated in its subsequent aggressions: (1) take the adversary by surprise to maximize political and psychological shock; (2) strike only when the international and regional timing is opportune; (3) hit as fast and as hard as possible by unleashing “human wave” assaults; (4) be willing to take military gambles; (5) mask offense as defense; and (6) wage war with the political objective to “teach a lesson” — an aim publicly acknowledged by Beijing in the 1962 and 1979 attacks.

The art of war, Chinese style | The Japan Times Online

This next article makes the case that since China is much weaker than the US, it will be forced to make a preemptive strike.

The first article, from the good folks over at Breaking Defense, discusses the well-worn subject in defense circles revolving around China striking U.S. forces first in a possible conflict—namely a massive conventional strike (most scholars argue by missiles of various types). The scary part according to the piece: “Because China believes it is much weaker than the United States, they are more likely to launch a massive preemptive strike in a crisis.” Yikes.

The second article is brought to us by distinguished University of Pennsylvania Professor Avery Goldstein courtesy of Foreign Affairs. Goldstein explains that “For at least the next decade, while China remains relatively weak compared to the United States, there is a real danger that Beijing and Washington will find themselves in a crisis that could quickly escalate to military conflict.”

Would China Strike the US Preemptively? | Flashpoints | The Diplomat

So it appears that it is not unrealistic at all to assume that China might launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the US – with no warning what so ever.

Why this time is different

The biggest reason that this time is different is that the US is in decline. It’s military is being gutted through sequestration. It’s nuclear forces have been gutted and are just a small portion of what they were. US leaders are pushing for even greater reductions in nuclear forces. It’s military generals suffer from mediocrity or worse – incompetence.  The American people and most experts too find the idea of nuclear war difficult to imagine. The American people see China as more friend than foe. And expert predictions are generally not so good.

This next article is from June, 2013.

A majority of Americans see China as a friend than foe, a new poll has found.According to the Gallup Poll, nearly 55 percent of respondents said that China was either an ally or friendly nation.

The poll found that a total of 40 percent Americans however viewed China unfavorably, with 26 percent saying it is an unfriendly nation and 14 percent labeling it an enemy.

Majority of Americans view China as friend than enemy: Poll – Yahoo News

What about the experts? Well, it turns out the experts are terrible at predicting surprises. You have a better shot at getting it right than the experts.

Christina Fang, a professor of management at NYU’s Stern business school, also gives us a good empirical take on predictive failure. She wanted to know about the people who make bold economic predictions that carry price tags in the many millions or even billions of dollars. Along with co-author Jerker Denrell, Fang gathered data from the Wall Street Journal’s Survey of Economic Forecasts to measure the success of these influential financial experts. (Their resulting paper is called “Predicting the Next Big Thing: Success as a Signal of Poor Judgement.”) The takeaway: the big voices you hear making bold predictions are less trustworthy than average:

Freakonomics » New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: The Folly of Prediction

Conclusion

After over 65 years of stability since the end of World War II, the world is on the brink of a new international order. The US is in decline and competitors (China and Russia) are starting to challenge it. Historically, these kinds of power transfers don’t go well.

Now China is confronting Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. China calls it a ‘core interest’, but Japan won’t budge. Since the confrontation has started it has continued to escalate. Now more and more people are pondering the idea of war between the two. The overall situation does not look good. One must conclude that this conflict is at risk of involving China, Japan and the US in a nuclear war.

Do NOT assume that a nuclear war will start by an accident that escalates. More likely China will just decide that it has had enough and plan a preemptive nuclear strike.

I do not believe China has reached the point where it has had enough. However, it may reach that point within the next few years depending on how events play out.