Superpower ShowdownSuperpower Showdown
By the beginning of the 20th century, America had made its peace with Britain and France, but the U.S. soon found itself in wars hot and cold, against Germany, then Japan, then Russia. Now, in the 21st century, the looming great powers are China and India. So if history is our guide—and it should be—we can expect forthcoming collisions with those countries as well. Of course, most Americans today are preoccupied with the Muslim Middle East, but our fight with Islam does not alter the challenges posed by the “twin pillars” of Asia—nations that might well possess economic outputs equivalent or even superior to the U.S. by mid-century. Yet at the same time, those two pillars will no doubt contend with each other. First, we must recognize that rising powers inherently bring rising threats. Second, such rising powers should be balanced, played off each other, and not directly confronted. Why? Because the cost of American participation in nuclear-era world war, for any reason less than national survival, is simply too great. America would be wise to accept a reduced role in Asia in exchange for a reduced responsibility for participating in the inevitable future regional conflicts.
Barring a general war—which hardly seems like a good idea for the U.S., as well as for China or even for Taiwan—Beijing will eventually recover Taipei, for the simple reason that it’s clearly within its sphere of influence. So China will reunify with Taiwan, just as the American North reunified with the South after the Civil War. The federal government in Washington, D.C. would not have not looked kindly on any foreign power that sought to assure the secession of Richmond. So what should the U.S. do? First, we should have an honest debate. Resolved, Americans will not risk mass annihilation in return for Taiwan’s independence. Resolved, no more unlimited-liability checks written to the Taiwanese. Using honest realpolitik, the U.S. should tell Taipei that its optimal course is a peaceful Hong Kong/Macau-like return to the motherland.
If the Indians and the Chinese continue to graduate 10 times as many technologists as the U.S., and if the Japanese continue to create the first post-human robot society, then Americans should keep from kidding themselves that our currently booming domestic real-estate market, for example, will assure our long-term geopolitical primacy. Instead, if we are serious about surviving, we need the 21st-century equivalent of Alexander Hamilton’s 18th-century “Report on Manufactures”; that is, we should simply decide what industries we need in order to defend ourselves, and then launch a conscious techno-industrial policy to make sure that those vital industries remain onshore.