China as a Military Power: Sullivan

General Michael Sullivan writes: "How does Cameron Sawyer propose we radically change our priorities or economic policies? Does he think the US will just stand still economically and stop developing high tech technologies, both military and civilian, while China leaps out in front? The DODs charge is to stay ahead of the perceived threat. Putting a man in space is now old technology using powerful rockets which have been around since the advent of the ICBM. We put men on the moon in 1969 so China has along way to go with just puting a man in space in 2004. Putting a naval force together to project power afar takes more than GDP; it takes experience and expertise learned through developing naval power projection and carrier aviation since the 1920s starting with the USS Langley. You don't jump from square one to square five without going through each phase as Cameron evidently believes the Chinese can do. I spent a career operating with the most capable, high tech naval force ever assembled and we're still trying to make it all come together as there are so pitfalls and variances that we still need to learn while each day there is a new technology about to join their Fleet. 

The US is not going to fold its tent and pay homage to the Chinese because they have 1.4 billion people, a robust economy or are starting to build a world class military and naval force. Two strong economies ought to be good for business and competition. China has taken one of the strongest stances against terrorists and terrorism and has instituted several actions to ensure it doesn't manifest itself in China. I think that will bring the US and China closer together as we face the same, common enemy that is the most serious threat to our citizens. I do not see a war between the US and China, regardless of how large their economy grows or what they do to enhance their military prowess".

Cameron Sawyer writes: "General Sullivan asks very good questions and makes very good comments. As a professional military man, he is obviously much better qualified to comment on these matters than I am. 

Skill and experience are of course critically important components of effective military force, and I agree with General Sullivan that a first class military force cannot be built in a day no matter what kind of resources a country has. However, I still maintain that our own superior military force is the direct result of our economic power, plus the will to have a dominating military force. At some point not so long ago, the British could have said the same thing as General Sullivan: "We have 200 years of skill and experience dominating the world through naval power, and those upstart Americans, no matter how much money they have, won't be able to recreate that overnight." Indeed it didn't happen overnight, but military skill, experience, knowledge and technology can indeed by developed over a certain period of time by applying human and financial resources to the problem. The U.S. did that, and the British inexorably lost their military dominance. The Chinese, by applying more money and more people to the problem, will do the same to us, mark my word. And it will be even easier for them to pass us in military power than it was for us to pass the British, because the Chinese have a dictatorial political system which makes it easier for the leadership of the country to make long term plans and set priorities -- consistently choosing guns over butter, which is harder in a democracy.

I heartily agree with General Sullivan that "two strong economies ought to be good for business and competition". Amen! We should be happy that China is making such rapid economic progress -- there will be many benefits to the world and to us besides to the Chinese themselves. But I would not particularly like for my children to live in a world dominated either economically or militarily by a dictatorship like China. My point is merely that military power cannot exist without economic power, and as an American I would like to see us maintain both of these. We will inevitably lose both if we allow our economy to languish at low long term growth rates. We could raise those growth rates if we set our minds to it -- the methods and policies which work are becoming increasingly clear, namely low taxes, low tariffs, open markets, sound money, minimized state meddling in the economy, good education, and a strong rule of law. We are doing better than Europe, but China is a good lesson as to how much better we could be doing".

From Greece, Harry Papasotiriou writes: "It seems likely that China will become a superpower, if she maintains high economic growth rates over the coming decades - a big if. But she will face a regional rival. India is also entering a phase of rapid economic growth, which probably rests on better political foundations. One might plausibly expect these two nations to emerge as rival giants, limiting their ability to project power far beyond their region. In this respect the United States could be similar to Britain in relation to the Continental European powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, i.e. a balancer which enjoys much freedom of action beyond the continent - meaning Asia in the futuristic scenario we are discussing". 


September 8, 2004

Ronald Hilton -