Small Wars Journal

Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics

Sat, 06/05/2010 - 4:47pm
Peaceful Rise through Unrestricted Warfare:

Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics

by Dr. Tony Corn

Download the full article: Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics

As countless observers have pointed out, the American-Chinese rivalry in the early 21st century bears more than a passing resemblance to the Anglo-German antagonism that led to World War I. In these conditions, it is not surprising if a consensus has emerged, among International Relations (IR) academics, around the proposition that the U.S.-China relation is bound to be the most important bilateral relation in the coming decades.

Yet, the degree of certainty regarding the salience of this bilateral relation is only matched by the degree of uncertainty surrounding its dynamics and its eventual outcome. When it comes to answering the question "Is a conflict inevitable?," all three IR schools (realism, liberalism, constructivism) hedge their bets by offering both a pessimistic and an optimistic variant -- a tacit admission that, on the most burning issue of the day, the predictive value of IR theory is close to nil.

For the outside observer, the most disconcerting aspect of this academic debate is that optimists and pessimists alike share the same unexamined notions of conflict and war, as if "conflict" was a self-explanatory concept, "war" was a trans-historical category. In particular, both proponents and critics of Power Transition Theory (PTT) -- the most popular theory about China in academe today - keep arguing about the factors conducive to the initiation, timing, severity, and consequences of "major wars" without giving much thought to either the singularity of Chinese strategic culture or, a fortiori, to three global developments of the past fifty years: the waning of "major wars," the declining "fungibility" of military force as such and, last but not least, the transformation of "war" itself.

In the military world, by contrast, the defining feature of the present era is precisely the impossibility of coming up with "a coherent concept of war to animate and focus our military efforts" (LTG David Barno, Ret.). Since 9/11, the strategic debate in America has been marked by a "war over war" and a seemingly endless proliferation of war modifiers: unconventional war, irregular war, asymmetric war, wicked war, criminal war, war of the third kind, non-trinitarian war, new war, counterwar, war amongst the people, three-block war, fourth-generation war, compound war, netwar, insurgency, global guerrilla, econo-jihad, not to mention information warfare, financial warfare, resource warfare, lawfare, cyberwarfare and chaoplexic warfare.

Few strategists, to be sure, are likely to subscribe to British General Rupert Smith's view that "war no longer exists." But while conventional, state-on-state, force-on-force, war, is unlikely to disappear any time soon, the fact remains that never before has the concept of War been surrounded with so much "fog and friction."

Download the full article: Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics

Dr. Tony Corn is the author of "World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare," Policy Review, web special, January 2006. He is currently writing a book on the Long War. This essay was written on the margins of the 2010 U.S. Army War College Annual Strategy Conference on "Defining War for the 21st Century." The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State.

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