Brian Stewart argues in favor of Cold War now in order to avoid Hot War later.
The fatal mistake of yesterday was to believe (or at least to pretend) that Chinaâ€™s rise could be safely accommodated without exposing the liberal order to immense risk. The fatal mistake of today, it would appear, is to imagine that America can prevail without a vigorous strategy and capable allies over such a dynamic and formidable revisionist power. The last time liberal civilization faced such a determined adversary it was the Soviet Union. It is common to regard the peaceful end of the Cold War as inevitable, but in truth its outcome was shaped by a series of decisions and policies that were by no means predetermined. Many of the global institutions of the liberal order played their part in the struggle against various forms of communist totalitarianism, but it was the strategic foresight of Washington and the global deployment of American power that made the difference.
Despite the profound differences with Soviet communism, the challenge posed by the authoritarian ideology of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China is redolent of the long twilight struggle that marked the second half of the 20th century. Nonetheless, prominent voices today allege that a cold war with China would be â€œunnecessaryâ€ and â€œdestructive.â€ But compared to what? The prospect of a shooting war, or even intense competition, is invoked to incapacitate prudent measures to contain Chinese power and deter Chinese aggression. For those who believe in liberal ideals and principles, it is the prospect of Chinese hegemony under the writ of the CCP that presents a more truly unnecessary and destructive scenario.
In the years ahead, the potential for armed conflict between the United States and the Peopleâ€™s Republic is by no means trivial. But as the first cold war largely demonstrated, great power conflict is not inevitable. Beyond capitulation to the CCPâ€™s strategic imperativesâ€”allowing Beijing to quash the freedom of Hong Kong, annex Taiwan, and bully other free peoples into submissionâ€”the surest way to avoid war is by adopting a robust strategy to counter Chinaâ€™s expansionism. This would entail acting in concert with like-minded nations to divest and decouple from Chinaâ€™s economy while deploying and, if necessary, wielding military force to establish what Dean Acheson once referred to as â€œsituations of strengthâ€ in the Far East.
Such a strategy would be premised on observing a distinction once made by Michael Ignatieffâ€”that adversaries whose designs â€œyou want to defeatâ€ are not necessarily enemies whose existence â€œyou have to destroy.â€ It can no longer be credibly denied that China is an adversary of the United States. If it is not treated accordingly, it may prove impossible to prevent it from becoming a full-fledged enemy.
I think his postion is inarguable. The Free World Democracies cannot keep enriching China as a trading partner if China remains determined upon combining domestic tyranny and brutality with adversarial foreign aggression.