Me on the Thucydides Trap and North Korea

by on September 29, 2017 at 6:51 am in Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

I’m not by any means convinced that conflict [between China and America] is inevitable. I don’t believe in the Thucidydes Trap, and here’s why not. North Korea so far has been China’s thorn in our side. I feel that’s flipped. Chinese public opinion has flipped. Opinion within the Chinese government is in the middle, but has been changing a lot. China would like to undo the current North Korea situation but they don’t know how to do it in a way that doesn’t harm their national interests. North Korea will become our thorn in China’s side over time, pretty quickly. And so if there’s North Korea and a rearming and maybe eventually someday nuclear Japan, and also India, the first line of China containment is India, North Korea (oddly enough) and Japan. I don’t know how that will go, but it’s a kind of buffer between China and us, it can be a force that pulls us into conflict, it could be a kind of buffer that allows us to stay somewhat removed from it.

That is from my dialogue with Bill Kristol, the transcription (with commentary) is from Sam Roggeveen.  He also transcribes this bit:

…for the first time in my life time, in a way the first time ever, America finally has a peer country. The Soviet Union was a peer with its nuclear weapons but not in general. But in terms of human talent, GDP, China right now is in most ways a peer country to the United States. We’re not ready for that, mentally or emotionally.

1 dan1111 September 29, 2017 at 7:47 am

“the first line of China containment is India, North Korea (oddly enough) and Japan”

I’m not particularly convinced by this. I think it exaggerates the shift that has taken place. Also, the NK is more of a problem for China now mainly because of China’s desire to maintain good relations with the U.S. And NK clearly views the U.S. as its primary enemy. Rather hard to make it function as a buffer, given these two realities.

I think China could easily buy NK’s friendship any time they felt that was more important than keeping the U.S. happy

2 MOFO September 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

I think NK has always been a problem for China, its just never been in either of their best interests to say so publicly.

3 JonFraz September 29, 2017 at 1:23 pm

It also ignores two other countries: Vietnam and Russia. The former has a long history of friction and even outright enmity with Beijing. And the latter may be making nice with China now, but that could change in a heartbeat as there is a long history of less than cordial relations and a number of old resolved issues between Russia and China.

4 prior_test3 September 29, 2017 at 7:47 am

Neoconservatives, always looking for a new opponent.

And with as much historical knowledge on display as ever – ‘… in a way the first time ever, America finally has a peer country’ In 1860, it would be laughable to think that the UK considered the United States a peer nation. And in 1910, it is unlikely that the British had changed their minds.

5 Right September 29, 2017 at 8:06 am
6 prior_test3 September 29, 2017 at 8:22 am

And the sun never set on America, correct? Unlike Victoria’s piddling realm.

However, speaking as an American, I assumed that the UK and the British Empire were pretty much the same thing – I’m sure that dearieme is much more aware of the proper forms. After all, such tiny places as Canada and Australia just happened to be British in 1860 (and parts of Canada until 1949).

7 Art Deco September 29, 2017 at 8:33 am

Canada was effectively an independent entity by 1867 and certainly by 1931 (ditto Australia, New Zealand). By population and economic clout Canada and Australia were/are tiny. Once again your comments make you show yourself a fool.

8 prior_test3 September 29, 2017 at 9:48 am

As if I didn’t write ‘ Canada and Australia just happened to be British in 1860.’

9 dearieme September 29, 2017 at 9:57 am

You know you’re wrong just admit it, you cuck.

10 JWatts September 29, 2017 at 9:27 am

It’s standard prior_test behavior to attempt to move the goalpost when someone points out that he’s wrong.

11 dearieme September 29, 2017 at 9:41 am

Yes, classic cuck manouvering.

12 prior_test3 September 29, 2017 at 10:00 am

I’m not the one to get into the particulars of Victoria’s reign in terms of the UK as a unit compared to the empire that the people running the UK were also running. I debated between using British Empire and UK, and chose UK. Mainly because the UK sounded more like a nation (well, technically composed of something like nations/realms even today, just proving the point about proper terminology) than the British Empire, which sounds like, well, an empire. For example, the Channel Islands are ruled by the Queen, but are not technically part of the UK – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey

If it makes you feel better for Kristol’s point, the U.S. was eclipsed by a vast globe spanning empire for more than the first century of the U.S.’s existence, but since possibly an empire is not a peer to a mere nation, Kristol’s remark can be saved by properly moving the goalposts.

13 Jeff R September 29, 2017 at 10:27 am

Now he turns to semantics. Quit digging, you moron.

14 dearieme September 29, 2017 at 10:55 am

We’ve got this Kraut Cuck on the run!

15 TMC September 29, 2017 at 10:02 am

prior, you missed that your quote started with “…for the first time in my life time,”

16 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:00 pm

+1. Also, the point being made is since the US’s rise to world domination, we’ve never had a true ‘peer nation’ and now we do. Yes, before we rose the UK was dominant. Since then we haven’t had a true rival. Now we do. prior spinning his wheels uselessly, again. Being stupid isn’t great, but being stupid and thinking you are smart is much worse.

17 JonFraz September 29, 2017 at 1:25 pm

We don’t have one now. what is China’s GDP per capita?

18 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Well, that’s the debate isn’t it. Is China a peer? In some ways yes, in other ways not yet but it’s coming.

19 Potato September 29, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Total GDP is what matters in this context, not per capita. Montenegro? Norway?

And industry potential.

What you’re really looking for is military/warmaking capacity, which is some f(healthy young adult male population, heavy industry potential, technological capability, cultural willingness to accept high casualties, unity of command/political unity, natural resource constraints, military dedication to its only purpose) = warmaking prowess.

I’d say they passed us a few years ago, if not a decade.

More apt to say China has no peer country. Thankfully the PLA is notoriously corrupt, which hopefully the CIA is competent enough to leverage.

20 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 11:28 am

Without using a tribe label, there certainly are people who always want to see an enemy in the “military is my hammer and I am looking for a nail” way.

There are a few obvious motivations for that. Not all the same.

21 Potato September 29, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Without using a tribe label, there certainly are people who always want to see an enemy as a trustworthy partner, in the “unverifiable and unenforceable international agreements are my hammer and I am looking for a nail” way.

There are a few obvious motivations for that. Not all the same.

22 Thor September 29, 2017 at 11:50 am

When I was on the left years ago, I’d read guys like Gwyn Dyer rail about America—jilted lover style, and as obsessive and intractable about it as Prior.

He said, in about ‘98. “America is looking for a new enemy, and there’s a Arab they’ve been promoting as this enemy, a guy named Osama Bin Laden.”

We soon found out what this “invented” enemy got up to…

Just because you have a military doesn’t mean fanatics aren’t out to get you.

23 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:06 pm

There is a counterfactual there, one where bombers were treated as criminals, and not elevated to pseudo-national status in a “war.”

I feel that would have taken the wind out of sails earlier, and brought more allies on board.

24 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:20 pm

I seriously think this change would have saved a million lives.

25 Potato September 29, 2017 at 5:46 pm

The current status of modern war is States vs nonstate actors. Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Libya, Egypt…….

We can get in a pointless argument about semantics if you wish. We can redefine wars as law enforcement. Does that help you deal with your feelings?

Pulling forces and assistance out is an option. The option that you are implying. I don’t disagree necessarily. Treat unlawful combatants as criminals but let the world burn.

Do we accept that Isis has a caliphate and the Taliban own a country ? And that they will actively fund and plan mass casualty attacks? Do we let the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt and Turkey?

I’m not against it necessarily. Good luck convincing the foreign policy establishment.

26 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 7:34 pm

That is too late, after the bifurcation.

In a “criminals” scenario the Hussein family would probably still be keeping a lid on Iraq.

Afghanistan need not have been a full invasion. Of they “refused to extradite the criminal Bin Laden to face justice” (in regular US courts), Afghanistan could have been penalized, punished even.

None of this “remake the region” shit.

27 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Oh, important to note that “criminals” have a poorer recruitment potential than “join the jihad America fears!”

Fear? A few criminals? Pull the other one.

28 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 7:43 pm

Don’t forget a weaker more pinned down Iran.

29 Chuck September 29, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Fanatics already got you. And cucks like you slavishly defend them at every turn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUbTe50UUgM

30 dearieme September 29, 2017 at 8:01 am

China and Russia should split NK between them, save for a zone 20 or 30 miles deep which would be handed to SK so that Seoul would be out of range of conventional artillery. US troops would evacuate SK.

31 Thor September 29, 2017 at 8:16 am

+1 on the grammatical error idiot.

32 Thor September 29, 2017 at 11:51 am

Why would they? That would cost them money and hassle, and remove the thorn in America’s side.

33 Brian Donohue September 29, 2017 at 8:57 am

I’m ready for it. High time actually.

34 Edward Burke September 29, 2017 at 11:30 am

Good point. (Kristol is no monopolist.)

If Americans are NOT quite ready to engage with China, they might wonder what their own history has consisted of since the days of Commodore Perry and the advent of our wars on the rim of east Asia since 1941.

35 Chuck September 29, 2017 at 1:14 pm

You have your keyboard set to kill?

36 rayward September 29, 2017 at 9:03 am

China is looking to its neighbors to the south to expand its economic influence with its One Belt, One Road initiative. I’m reminded of Michael’s line from Godfather II (repeating the lesson he learned from his father): keep your friends close and your enemies closer. The countries to the south are “enemies” in a competitor sense not military sense. That China, nominally a communist country, would emphasize an economic initiative over a military initiative gives one pause, especially in light of America’s recent actions criticizing and punishing its neighbors to the north and south and conceding potential trading partners in Asia to China (by rejecting the TPP) while being belligerent and provocative with North Korea and other enemies. I agree with Cowen that China is our peer, but the times they are a changin. Not in my lifetime, but in due course, as China’s population (and the population of all Asian countries except India) ages (and shrinks in China, by roughly 400 million according to some demographers). For those who ascribe to the adage that demography is destiny, destiny is likely to take a sharp turn. If one believes today’s economic and social challenges are great, wait until tomorrow.

37 Agra Brum October 4, 2017 at 7:00 pm

The US had its chance to stay on top with the TPP, and squandered it in a fit of demagoguery that appears to have been sponsored in part by Russia. The economies of East Asia now recognize that it is better to make peace with China because America no longer knows how to lead.

38 harpersnotes September 29, 2017 at 9:05 am

Perhaps … I question the premise of buffer states as being as crucial a factor as in the past. The geographical proximity of buffer states made sense in large wars as the larger the war the more that transportation becomes increasingly cost-limiting. There’s an argument about the origins of WWI that it was the Russian train route being built toward the Balkans that was the major trigger setting off a scramble for the territories of the weak Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires before the route could be completed. Modern transportation technology and the dramatic increase of military technology makes the concept of buffer states less useful than in the past. (One might be tempted to bring up China’s high speed rail system in this context, and I think it’s incredibly important economically, but I think rail in general has had it’s day. WWIII will be very different from WWI.) As a consequence, the other factors increase in relative importance. Japan, as an extremely hypothetical example, doesn’t have a lot in terms of value to a conqueror as it is low in natural resources and it’s economic power would likely not do nearly as well under the influence of another country. So a distinction needs to be clear between control of apparent economic centers of economic power and what those would become as they come under the influence of others. (My mental model for this is somewhat the principle of local banking – you’ve got to know the (local) territory for making effective loans.) China has been very aggressively going after controlling strategic mineral resources, many of which are in Southeast Asia and in Africa. A lot of media attention in the US is on NK and Taiwan, and it may be a heretical view, but I’m inclined to think those may be more political posturing than substantive in terms of long-run conflicting zero-sum economic interests. So with reference to Thucydides, I’m thinking the Syracusan expedition happens early on and the Vietnam War was a kind of a harbinger.

39 Brian September 29, 2017 at 9:29 am

> for the first time in my life time, in a way the first time ever, America finally has a peer country.

Isn’t that what people thought about Japan around 1990? Their GDP exceed the US in the early 90s:

https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&idim=country:JPN:USA:KOR&hl=en&dl=en

40 Just Another MR Commentor September 29, 2017 at 9:39 am

Nah but even then Japan hosted US military personnel and was still firmly in the US Sphere. I know there was a lot of fantasies about Japan rising again but it was always BS.

41 TMC September 29, 2017 at 10:13 am

GDP per capita, as do other countries, but as country US GDP was twice as high, which you’d use to determine a peer.

https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&idim=country:JPN:USA:KOR&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=gdp_expenditure_constant_2000_us&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:JPN:USA&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

Chinese GDP looks like it about two thirds of US. Is that enough to be a peer?

42 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Maybe not but inevitably their total GDP will surpass the US, and not far from now. GDP/capita will take far longer.

43 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Actually GDP/capita may never match the US, we will see if they can avoid the middle income trap.

44 Anonymous September 29, 2017 at 5:12 pm

The middle income trap just seems to be that manufacturing-export capitalism is less effective with a smaller gap in wages. Probably as more countries make it to the middle income trap, it will be somewhat easier to ascend out.

45 Todd K September 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

No, Japan’s GDP per capita was never as high as the US. You need to use purcasing power parity (PPP), which Tyler repeatedly ignores for some reason. The closest Japan was to the US was about 80% that of the US in 1991. It steadily fell in the 1990s but has remained around 68% to 70% since 2000.

China’s GDP per capita (PPP) is around 30% that of the US.

Fun fact, Germany’s GDP per capita (PPP) is about the same as Mississippi’s.

46 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

I would rather live in Germany if I had to choose, thanks.

47 Frau Merkel September 29, 2017 at 12:04 pm

You’re welcome! Come on over.

48 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 3:17 pm

Thanks, but Brazil is better.

49 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Brasilien über alles.

50 Rafael R September 30, 2017 at 11:08 am

Yeah but Germans work 1350 hours a year, Americans work 1750 hours. Per hour worked, in 2005, German GDP was 105% of the US’s, France’s was 112%, Belgium was 121% and Netherlands was 110%. Source: “Relative Prices of Services” Inklaar, Timmer (2014).

51 Rafael R September 30, 2017 at 11:10 am

Also, Japan’s per capita income was about 92% of the US’s in 1996 in PPP Geary Khamis dollars according to the 1996 benchmark. Today it has declined to about 70-75% in PPP. In nominal terms it has fluctuated way more but it’s natural that Japan’s per capita income be higher than in PPP terms because the high population density of Japan increases it’s cost of living.

52 Todd K September 30, 2017 at 11:55 am

I used OECD data, which I was going to correct as Japan having a GDP/capita 82% of the US in 1991 but thought 80% was about the same. I have seen as high as 86% years ago but never 92% that of the U.S. Nor have I seen data to show that Japan is currently at a per/capita GDP of 75% that of the U.S. but instead 67% to 70%.

In 1996, Japan was at $32,650 and the U.S. was at $39,650 GDP/capita PPP in 2010 dollars, so
82% that of the U.S. I don’t see how it could have been measured to be 92% in 1996 after zero growth in Japan from 1992 to 1994. http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=PDB_LV

Japanese also used to work many more hours per year at 2,000+ than Americans but in recent years less: Japan 1715 hours v. U.S. 1783 (OECD)

France’s unemployment rate is 10%, Belgium at 8%, Netherlands at 5.0%, the U.S at 4.4%, Germany at 4.0%, and Japan at 2.8%.

53 Rafael R October 1, 2017 at 3:20 pm

That’s called benchmark: in 1996 the International Comparison Program benchmark was 92%, direct benchmark comparisons and time series projections from different benchmarks often diverge substantially.

54 AnthonyB September 29, 2017 at 11:19 am

“Neoconservatives, always looking for a new opponent.”

That’s what Carl Schmitt told them to do.

55 Sam Haysom September 29, 2017 at 12:25 pm

Cool second hand reading bro.

56 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

America has surrended to Red China without a shot. As Mr. Reagan said, “history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening”.

57 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Ugh you’re back. How could you miss the comment in that post where the best national anthems are discussed and no one mentioned Brazil? You are disappointing the nation of Lula, Giselle, and Mengele.

58 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 2:22 pm

There have been local internet blackouts due to infrastructure restructuration.
It is not Mengele’s nation. It is not either the nation that sent children back to Hitler’s ovens. Brazil saved many refugees from the death camps.
I don’t care about the phillistines’ opinion on Brazilian music. We know Brazilian anthems are the best in the world. Judge for yourself instead of believing your masters’ every word:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UQw9rBfv88
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7pFwsX6UVc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPU1j20aSRc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s53jBdOtB9A

59 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 2:31 pm

Such is life in today’s Brazil

60 A Truth Seeker September 29, 2017 at 3:19 pm

No, it is not. It is a state leve issue. The proper authorities are already dealing with the matter. The local infrepastructure is being restructured to make it more competitive with our rivals.

61 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 11:34 am

I am on board with the analysis, and I would suggest to “we are #1” types that they should try harder. Not at finding disagreement or enemies, but at being #1.

For instance don’t say “we are #1” while cutting federal research and development budgets. Don’t say “we are #1” while decrying education as a corrupting influence. Don’t say “we are #1” while deleting economic (or environmental) data from government websites.

Don’t say “we are #1” while hastening your own decline.

62 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:05 pm
63 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Why do you keep changing your handle?

64 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Why don’t more people?

65 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Classic troll, answer a question with a question.

66 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:27 pm

It is a serious question. We both suspect others of multiple labels. I know that “Anonymous” can be more than one person on the same page.

For me it falls under “randomness may lead to optimization.” I do have standards. I try not to use a label already in use on a page, and I never impersonate anyone.

Sometimes it is tempting like “how dare you, I own this site! – markings”

67 ಠ_ಠ September 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Dude got spell corrected!

68 msgkings September 29, 2017 at 12:40 pm

More like stupid corrected. OK, asked and answered.

69 TR5749 September 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

20 years later, maybe we can finally make the move to Chris Layne’s “offshore balancing” strategy
https://muse.jhu.edu/article/446821/pdf

70 ChrisA September 30, 2017 at 3:36 am

I am not really sure in what way China is a rival to the US. Certainly not in basic ideology – can anyone summarise what the current ideology is of the Chinese leadership at present? In terms of competition for resources – the US is more of a supplier of commodities like oil and LNG than a customer so its hard to see wars between the US and China over access to say oil. It seems to me that people in the US need to be a bit less competitive about other countries and try to relax.

71 Rafael R September 30, 2017 at 11:24 am

Thing is that countries exist in a system without a higher rule: international relations are shaped by the warmaking potential of the countries that make up the system. As China has emerged as the world’s greatest latent power, the system of international relations built on the US as the world’s police is getting less stable, before it was rock solid as the US was by far the greatest latent power. In the early 20th century, the rise of Germany posed a similar problem for the system of international relations based on the UK as then’s world’s police as Germany’s latent power was greater than the UK’s. Although the rise of the US didn’t produce similar tensions as the rise of Germany which happened around the same time.

72 Dan Hill September 30, 2017 at 7:45 am

China can fix this problem if it so chooses (the NK economy and more importantly it’s military capability and therefore the regime would collapse within a month without Chinese support). All it requires is for China to decide that North Korea is a worse neighbor than a (South Korea dominated) unified Korea. On the carrot side, some guarantees about withdrawing American troops and establishing a demilitarized buffer zone on the Chinese border. On the stick side, I’ve been saying for a decade the US ought to force China to choose between it and the US being the only nuclear powers in the region, or China plus NK with nukes vs US + Japan + Taiwan + South Korea with nukes.

73 Rafael R September 30, 2017 at 11:16 am

True, the situation today is historically exceptional.

GDP of the largest economy outside of the US relative to the US:

1913 – Germany 55% of US’s GDP (source: Broadberry and Klein (2011))
1950 – USSR 35% of US’s GDP (source: Broadberry and Klein (2011))
1970 – USSR 45% of US’s GDP (source: Broadberry and Klein (2011))
1996 – Japan 43% of US’s GDP (source: 1996 ICP round)
2016 – China 115% of US’s GDP (source: World Bank)

However, the Chinese labor force is 800 million while US’s labor force is about 160 million. China is predicted to grow around 6% a year over the next 6-7 years, US grow is predicted to be around 1.8% over the near future. Hence, the difference in US and Chinese GDP will grow. Soon, I guess, the US will be to China what Germany is to the US today, an important trade partner and economy but definitely a smaller country.

India will also soon surpass the US in terms of aggregate economic size.

This rise of the two Asian super giants represents the end of an Western Centric world system that began in the 16th century.

74 thucydides October 2, 2017 at 12:32 pm

China’s GDP was not at 115% of the US’s in 2016. It was something like two thirds.

75 George S September 30, 2017 at 11:33 am

Prof Cowan has a lot of fantacy about China. I called it the China mirage… and it turns out economist as a profession looks more in the rear mirrors than ahead.

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