Saturday, March 3, 2007

Reducing the Costs of Cooperation

Within in the narrow confines of the dogmatic, realism has been construed to exclude other theories from lending to us their useful advice. China has been a frequent topic of concern at the pentagon, gaining relative importance in the post Soviet era as the new “Big One.” China is often characterized as the new great power, the potential hegemon, and most importantly the new great threat to US interests. As big ideas tend to have real world effects, future conflict with “the Big One” has had its own set of policy implications.

For example, our military has undergone a profound revolution in military affairs, one which was unsurprisingly geared not towards the limited rapid response missions we thought would become the new focus of the post-cold war era, but which was geared toward fighting major power wars. We now have a highly effective military, one that is designed not for peacekeeping or post-war reconstruction but to fight and win wars against other great armies. Thomas Barnett notes in The Pentagons New Map that the pentagon's target army was of course China’s.

Our nuclear forces are also currently undergoing modernization. Our strategic nukes, designed for fighting great power nuclear wars and affecting nuclear deterrence, are being upgraded. They are not being scaled down in accordance with the NPT. The pentagon and congress have authorized modifications for higher yield ratios on our Minutemen III ICBM’s. While the disappearance of great power war and the emergence of rogue state nuclear proliferation suggested high yields nukes where no longer relevant, at least not so many of them, congress instead rejected development of low yield tactical bunker busting nukes designed to destroy underground nuclear sites.

China is not the new Soviet Union. While China has become a new economic power and is in the process of upgrading its military and nuclear forces, it no longer falls within the same category of threat that it and the Soviet Union once did during the cold war era. In the latest issue of Foreign Policy Magazine,
China is no longer a revolutionary power. It does not have fundamental complaints about the international economic and political systems from which it has benefited so much over the past 25 years. Moreover, its economic interdependence with the rest of the world will deter Beijing from military adventures unless such core interests are threatened. (32)
To paraphrase Keohane and Nye in After Hegemony, the existence of international regimes has had the effect of reducing the transactional costs of cooperation between states. While on the upper plane of international interaction power is organized by the principle of anarchy, in the lower planes economic, legal and political rule sets mitigate anarchy, fostering cooperation between seemingly antagonistic powers.

This may seem to contradict balance of power logic, but there is nothing within realist theory that suggests we should simply ignore the explanatory power of other theories. Rather, we should attempt to accommodate each by utilizing theory pragmatically, not dogmatically. In the past US-China relations have been mutually beneficial, in the future China could play a greater role in managing regional and even global instabilities. The uni-polar system is turning out to be highly unstable. We need an effective cooperative counterbalance in the system, and there is no reason to exclude from our thinking China’s potential role. In the end, dogmatism and fear mongering serve none of our national interests.

To demonstrate: Here, Joe Cirincione attempts to explain US’s past role in provoking a possible future US-China arms race. However, the Fox News correspondent prefers to focus only on Chinese aggression, asserting that the Chinese should comply with international laws that do not yet exist, and which the Bush administration previously rejected.

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