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Zero-Sum Grand Strategy: Just Say No!

Robert Kaplan has annoyed the highly-intelligent Praktike:

Robert Kaplan is Afraid | Liberals Against Terrorism: I have to say that it would be deeply unfortunate and downright foolish if America and China backed themselves both into a 'second Cold War,' as Kaplan puts it. It could only be the result of a mutual miscalculation. There's no doubt that we should be prepared militarily, and we shouldn't be naive in scrutinizing Chinese intentions. I admit that I have my own inchoate concerns about Chinese nationalism, its drive for new energy supplies, and its rumblings over Taiwan. But there are obvious and important differences between the Soviet Union and China, just as there are differences between the late 19th Century balance of power that Kaplan so lovingly uses as an analogy (which, as every schoolboy knows, collapsed after Bismark departed the scene) and the current state of play in the Pacific region.

The Soviet Union was, notably, communist and autarkic. China, by contrast, is developing via an export and FDI-led strategy--meaning that it understands that wealth, power, and geostrategic influence are best created by means other than territorial aggrandizement. The (nominally) Communist Party's internal legitimacy rests upon its ability to improve the living standards of its people, and that economic development is therefore its first priority. And that's good for us, because we like to buy cheap and increasingly well-made Chinese products, and we hope that China's huge population will become a vital market for our own goods and services.

U.S. policy ought to be about finding ways to create a win-win situation in Asia rather than on blundering into a pointless new Cold War that can only make everyone poorer and stupider. We shouldn't be afraid of China, but rather we should be afraid that U.S. China policy will be determined by people who think in zero-sum terms.

People like Robert Kaplan.