Is a US-China War More Likely Than a US-Soviet War Was?

Despite my harsh criticisms of the Obama administration’s policies towards the Asia-Pacific, I’m of the opinion that an actual shooting war between the U.S. and China is very unlikely for the foreseeable future. Like the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, real conflict was considered simply too costly to statesmen on both sides.

But John Mearsheimer, professor of Political Science at Chicago University, thinks “there is a greater possibility of the U.S. and China going to war in the future than there was of a Soviet-NATO general war during the Cold War,” Zachary Keck, writing at The Diplomat, sums up Mearsheimer’s recent comments at a DC gathering.

Specifically, the center of gravity of the U.S.-Soviet competition was the central European landmass. This created a rather stable situation as, according to Mearsheimer, anyone that war gamed a NATO-Warsaw conflict over Central Europe understood that it would quickly turn nuclear. This gave both sides a powerful incentive to avoid a general conflict in Central Europe as a nuclear war would make it very likely that both the U.S. and Soviet Union would be “vaporized.”

The U.S.-China strategic rivalry lacks this singular center of gravity. Instead, Mearsheimer identified four potential hotspots over which he believes the U.S. and China might find themselves at war: the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China Seas. Besides featuring more hotspots than the U.S.-Soviet conflict, Mearsheimer implied that he felt that decision-makers in Beijing and Washington might be more confident that they could engage in a shooting war over one of these areas without it escalating to the nuclear threshold.

For instance, he singled out the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, of which he said there was a very real possibility that Japan and China could find themselves in a shooting war sometime in the next five years. Should a shooting war break out between China and Japan in the East China Sea, Mearsheimer said he believes the U.S. will have two options: first, to act  as an umpire in trying to separate the two sides and return to the status quo ante; second, to enter the conflict on the side of Japan.

Mearsheimer said that he thinks it’s more likely the U.S. would opt for the second option because a failure to do so would weaken U.S. credibility in the eyes of its Asian allies. In particular, he believes that America trying to act as a mediator would badly undermine Japanese and South Korean policymakers’ faith in America’s extended deterrence. Since the U.S. does not want Japan or South Korea to build their own nuclear weapons, Washington would be hesitant to not come out decisively on the side of the Japanese in any war between Tokyo and Beijing.

As I’ve argued, there is an alternative.

14 thoughts on “Is a US-China War More Likely Than a US-Soviet War Was?”

  1. This is 2014 no one is looking for the "real" Third World War, although such war is an ongoing and daily planed by EU and USG at pentagon, yet, ongoing wars are called tactical regional wars. The answers to these wars are two, one barbarism-anarchism and the other religious dictatorial regime as Saudi Arabia and Qatari or other tyrants regimes to be implemented by EU and USG. The real war however s a devastating war to all sides which is the main reason for NATO-EU and China or Russia not wanting to start such war, but the all agree on regional or tactical wars, as long as they could control it by gaining something out of it, Syria is one example.

    The Ukraine situation is about anarchism and USA-EU demand for regime change in that country is the same as in Syria. Both EU and USG have their interests grabbing either country making it their either military bases or killing the countries independent setting up a puppet regime, as a brain damaged former boxer or a Neo "truly yours" liberal fascism. Both country are of geopolitical interests, one have its own natural resources (Syria) the other is very close to Central Asia natural resources. Dividing Yugoslavia into pieces and giving the control of Kosovo to sunny Muslims was about having a path to Caspian Sea where Saudis have a economic interests, Syrian war is a proxy war, a mercenaries wars, a Saudi Arabia and Qatari wars, a planed war by Paul Wolfowitz, for later wars with Iran, again occupation of Iraq and even further into Pakistan. The arrangements of these wars are about stealing people's natural resources by vulture capitalism, the older version of it was a world war, now is a tactical local wars where anarchism, fascism of all kind, mercenaries of all kind, barbarians of all kind and brain damaged boxers are used for. USG or the Neo liberal European fascism have no other choice but to cooperate with alike, no meaningful Democratic Party want to have anything to do with them. In another word, these Neo liberalism, some turkey fascist some less, are in making of Neo fascism, they are in making of hitlerism, they are in making and expending the religious dictatorial-totalitarian regimes rather then a functioning democracy, or even being against vulture capitalism and its militarism regime. When such fascistic regimes are in place then the WWIII is inevitable. Just as before WWII, the uprising of these Neo fascism in all shapes and terms and the meaning behind it is what vulture capitalism wants, starting the Third World War or ending the world with a bang is their preference. But for vulture capitalism, these wars are about Neo colonialism, turning the country into their militarism where they can replace a legitimate government by their puppets stealing the people's wealth. Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, the USA, Saudis, the Turkish government, the Israelis involvement is all these wars are part of the path.

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  2. You're right, Mr. Glaser, there is an alternative. In early 1945, when options for the first use of the atom bomb were being discussed, all the options presented were to use the bomb on civilian vs military targets, air burst vs ground burst, demonstration over water vs populated target. The option of not using it was simply left off the list by men who couldn't conceive of having a weapon – developed at great expense – that wasn't used.

    Madaleine Albright asked Colin Powell "What's the use of having the finest military in the world if you can't use it." The US subsequently began using the military as a "one size fits all" solution to every international problem. Mearsheimer is right that the situation with China in the far east is much less stable than was the situation with the Soviet Union in Europe, and US interests in the far east are even less clear than in Europe. We should not let warmongers with tunnel vision for more war (and profits for them and their cronies) determine the world's future by failing to consider all the options.

    1. "What's the use of having the finest military in the world if you can't use it". Like its a toy or a fancy car you keep in the garage or something. My god in heaven! Says a lot about her mentality. I think she also said a half million dead children in Iraq "was worth it". Good god!

    2. The real reason is to justify excessive expenditure on useless military geejaws that enrich the owners of the corporations involved, and their placemen in the government.

  3. How about we just withdraw from Asia altogether? Tell Japan, South Korea and Taiwan they can look after themselves.

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  5. However, as missile engineer Bob Aldridge -www.plrc.org has pointed out in his books it's merely a technical matter. The US nearing Disarming First Strike Capability by 2018 will make Russia deploy Launch On Warning by 2017 and we'll likely commit Suicide. The great missile engineer Bob Aldridge resigned for that reason. We may have 3-4 years left. Crazy, bloody fools in the Pentagon ! Missiles in Romania, Poland and on 32 ships in the Mediterranean Sea to defend us from Iran ?!?

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