Enlightened Conflict

The next big conflict on the horizon (and what it could mean to America)

March 4th, 2010

Because I read The Economist all the time the continuing conflict between China and the United States rattles around in my head (they keep writing about it in varying degrees of concern to lack of concern).

But I start thinking about it again as we (the US) continue to live up to our agreement with Taiwan with regard to arms support. Our last ‘act of support’ included 114 Patriot missiles, 60 Black Hawk helicopters and communications equipment for Taiwan’s F-16 fleet. Oh. But it does not include F-16 fighter jets, which Taiwan’s military had been seeking.

All of this kinda pissed off China (who would love add Taiwan to their geographical portfolio despite what they say publicly).

Do I think we will go to war? Nope (I hope).

This little $6.4 billion arms deal for Taiwan will hardly alter the balance of power.

But China has been very clear with regard to wanting the deal stopped. In fact, Beijing publicly warned the US not to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan.

But. This new growing conflict has some striking similarities to something we have seen in the past.

It does remind me of the good ole USSR – USA cold war (where we teetered on the brink of some significant conflict on occasion). In fact, the similarities are numerous. And just a little scary.

Country Population Army (counting reserves)
Old Soviet Union about 300 million approx. 3 million
China about 1.3 billion approx. 3 million
USA about 305 million approx. 2.5 million
Taiwan about 22 million* approx. 2.1 million

*all crammed in 36.1 square km of geography

It may not appear easy to understand why China is apparently prepared to confront the United States at this time on the two issues at hand:

  • Arms for Taiwan
  • Obama’s plans to meet with exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

Shit. USA has been selling armaments to Taiwan for 61 years since the communists drove Chiang Kai-shek from the mainland onto the island then known as Formosa. And even though lately it seems at least China and Taiwan have “warmed up” enough to talk, China still claims Taiwan as its territory though they have been ruled separately since Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist army was defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist forces. On top of this little issue, the Americans are also trying to find some sort of settlement between the Tibetan exiles and Beijing, which seized control of Tibet in 1950.

So. Here’s the deal. (and let me put the Tibet issue off to the side cause the monks in the Himalayas don’t have a lot of missiles at their disposal). On one side you have China, with the world’s largest regular army and have more than 900 missiles along its southeastern coast aimed at Taiwan. The Taiwanese military with about 300,000 regular army and 1.8 million in reserve is waiting on the island. Ok. Look. I am no expert but that seems like a whole bunch of people with a lot of guns staring at each other. Do I believe anyone is going to be hasty? No.

But. Once the first domino falls it sure is difficult to stop the rest from tumbling.

So. This may be the understatement of the week as I read some articles: “The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive one in relations between the two countries <USA/China>,” Dai Bingguo, China’s highest ranking official responsible for foreign relations said.

I am pointing all this out not only because it kinda makes me a little nervous but also because I think the good ole USofA could benefit from the rumblings that are occurring.

Conflict. Or the threat of conflict creates a varying level of responses.

One big response is it gives focus.

When you don’t know your enemy, or maybe better said, there are a variety of objectives to select from, actions and the plans become unfocused (that would appear to be our current situation).

Am I suggesting war is good? Nope.

Am I suggesting we as a country could benefit from rising tension with a country that has more people and a larger army? Sure. Yes.

For awhile I believe our country has floundered. Our direction has been unfocused. It’s not that we are doing bad things, but in our scattered attempts to better ourselves the truly effective actions just haven’t been achieved. Sure. Small steps are good.

But this is like talking about capitalism.

The best companies are the ones that recognize and battle their competition. That’s why monopolies often struggle. Without competition it is easy to ignore any sense of urgency and permit yourself (and your organization) to stray from focused improvement.

Countries are the same (aren’t we just a big business organization anyway?). For some time we haven’t had focus. Al Qaeda is so nebulous it is difficult to know where to focus your effort to improve success. When Soviet Union was our focus we – the organization as a whole – prospered. If we ever doubted direction we only had to see the red flag with the hammer and sickle to regain focus. Education. Manufacturing. Aerospace. Medicine. All prospered through innovation and progress. There was increased urgency and focus.

I guess you could argue it is responsive focus rather than proactive focus (which you always hope you generate all by your lonesome). But. If you think of America as a fragmented organization, finding a balance between “responding to perceived threats” and “proactively putting yourself ahead of possible threats” is actually the best action direction. Somewhere in the gap between the two is the focus point.

And the key word in this entire discussion? Threat.

So. If China provides that focal point for America then maybe all this tension is good.

Oh. And last thought. I also believe if we as a country get focused on some of the right things, that will enhance our ability to avoid letting tension evolve into conflict. A focused America is pretty daunting (see Cold War and Soviet Union as a prime example).

Enlightened Conflict