What's the target?
On the news that there are aircraft-carrier-shaped targets waiting for China's missiles to test
There is a nugget of wisdom that says "If you only study the last battle, you won't win the next war." That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to study the past -- indeed, a thorough knowledge of history is essential in almost every worthwhile field of human endeavor. But circumstances change, and consequently so must the ideas brought to bear on present and future problems.
■ Nobody wants to imagine a shooting war with China. Any kinetic exchange of ordnance has the potential to be unfathomably costly, perhaps on a scale we've never seen before. The United States is a wealthy and technologically sophisticated country, but China's government has increasingly devoted both funding and technological resources to its armament, too.
■ And the potential for crossed signals and other instigators of conflict is vast: Territorial ambiguities are many, tests of those differences are primed to occur at jet speed, and at least some portion of America's policy in the region depends upon "strategic ambiguity".
■ Against this backdrop, it is alarming (even if not especially surprising) to see that China's military is building targets modeled on US aircraft carriers and destroyers in an area where ballistic missiles have been tested.
■ Dwight Eisenhower advised in his first inaugural that "[W]e Americans know and we observe the difference between world leadership and imperialism; between firmness and truculence; between a thoughtfully calculated goal and spasmodic reaction to the stimulus of emergencies." That was nearly 70 years ago. The principle, of course, ought to remain valid today. Yet we shouldn't fall prey to the tunnel vision that would tell us we only have physical targets and kinetic weapons to worry about.
■ It has long been a fiction that China's regime has a long-term plan for the future. It certainly has objectives, but it actual behavior all too often reveals a lack of understanding of the difference between international cooperation and a sort of modern incarnation of mercantilism. It's one thing to have end goals; it's another to have principles that can be trusted to lead to the right destination.
■ We may well be several years into a dangerous game in which we have largely sleep-walked. There is no reason to wait any longer to wake up and think both clearly and broadly about the principles of friendly cooperation and strategic creativity that are urgently needed for our own security.