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The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

by Edward N. Luttwak

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As the rest of the world worries about what a future might look like under Chinese supremacy, Edward Luttwak worries about China’s own future prospects. Applying the logic of strategy for which he is well known, Luttwak argues that the most populous nation on Earth—and its second largest economy—may be headed for a fall.

For any country whose


As the rest of the world worries about what a future might look like under Chinese supremacy, Edward Luttwak worries about China’s own future prospects. Applying the logic of strategy for which he is well known, Luttwak argues that the most populous nation on Earth—and its second largest economy—may be headed for a fall.

For any country whose rising strength cannot go unnoticed, the universal logic of strategy allows only military or economic growth. But China is pursuing both goals simultaneously. Its military buildup and assertive foreign policy have already stirred up resistance among its neighbors, just three of whom—India, Japan, and Vietnam—together exceed China in population and wealth. Unless China’s leaders check their own ambitions, a host of countries, which are already forming tacit military coalitions, will start to impose economic restrictions as well.

Chinese leaders will find it difficult to choose between pursuing economic prosperity and increasing China’s military strength. Such a change would be hard to explain to public opinion. Moreover, Chinese leaders would have to end their reliance on ancient strategic texts such as Sun Tzu’s Art of War. While these guides might have helped in diplomatic and military conflicts within China itself, their tactics—such as deliberately provoking crises to force negotiations—turned China’s neighbors into foes. To avoid arousing the world’s enmity further, Luttwak advises, Chinese leaders would be wise to pursue a more sustainable course of economic growth combined with increasing military and diplomatic restraint.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this frequently bewildering jeremiad, controversial military strategist Luttwak argues that China’s rise as a world power is ultimately unsustainable. Luttwak laments the “sad, even sinister consequences that must ensue if China’s rapid advance were to collide with the paradoxical logic of strategy,” namely, that uncontrolled Chinese military growth will induce other states to align against China, consequently provoking conflict. Using frequent bullet points and repetitive language, he builds an intriguing if tendentious case that “the logic of strategy cannot be linear: a rising military threat normally stiffens resistance against it.” Eschewing 99% of the classical literature in international relations—even game theory is conspicuously absent—Luttwak promptly blends his deterministic thesis with a sparsely argued belief that China’s policy makers are congenitally influenced by their Han heritage (in particular Sun Tzu’s The Art of War), putting them at a disadvantage. What Luttwak calls “great-state autism” may cause the Chinese to alienate their allies and enrage their enemies with endless blunders and faux pas. The book’s second half is a dreary litany of the ways that China’s diplomatic strategy has backfired, from the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands to China’s adolescent temper tantrum following the news that Liu Xiaobo had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Luttwak does little to connect all these incidents to the broader thrust of his book. (Nov.)
Richard H. Solomon
National security strategist Edward Luttwak's provocative and insightful analysis of the 'logic of strategy' provides a well-documented, contrarian assessment of whether China's 'rise' will be peaceful or polarizing. He stresses the paradox that China's economic strength and territorial aggrandizement are inciting opposition by a growing coalition of states determined to weaken Beijing's power and influence. Luttwak asserts that only by maintaining Deng Xiaoping's policy of 'low posture' development, and downplaying military modernization, can China avoid international 'geo-economic resistance' and attain the domestic growth and global stature it seeks.
Nicola Di Cosmo
Luttwak presents a rich, persuasive, and lucid analysis of the strategic implications of China's rise and of the anxieties it generates. China's foreign policy and military investments are raising concerns that require the sort of well-informed, precise argumentation that Luttwak delivers. Based on a long-term view of China's strategic inclinations and extensive research on current developments, this book offers medium-term predictions of the likely outcomes that the 'logic of strategy' may dictate, and thus explains with great clarity the issues at stake. Luttwak's work is a must-read for laymen and specialists alike, and an essential contribution to the political debate.
Wall Street Journal - Mary Kissel
With muscular behavior and rhetoric on the uptick and China pouring money into its military, political strategists have begun to consider Chinese military dominance of the Pacific and a concurrent American decline as foregone conclusions. So it is refreshing to see Edward Luttwak take a different tack in The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy and argue that Chinese military dominance in the Pacific is 'the least likely of outcomes.' China can't simultaneously enjoy a burgeoning economy and a rapidly growing military, he contends, because countries will band together to protect themselves, using military coalitions and trade protectionism to counter China's rise.
Irish Times - Frank Dillon
Most commentators on China focus on its seemingly inexorable rise and the threat that this poses to other world powers. In this well-argued book, Luttwak takes a different view. He questions whether China's rising power is sustainable. China's continued and rapid growth in economic capacity and military strength and regional and global influence cannot persist, he argues, because of the mounting opposition it is evoking.
Times Higher Education - Jonathan Fenby
Luttwak detects a fundamental conflict between China's search for continuing economic growth, which the Communist Party has made its prime claim to rule, and its quest for military expansion combined with increased foreign policy assertiveness...Luttwak's book, which includes a refreshing put-down of the supposed superiority of traditional Chinese statecraft so admired by Henry Kissinger among others, is timely, coming as it does amid the current maritime confrontations in East Asia.
World - Caleb Nelson
The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy is a sober book. Staying with the evidence, it avoids flights of fancy but grips readers' attention all the way through. Here, finally, is an expert on China who knows what he's talking about.
Bloomberg.com - George Walden
Luttwak's contribution to the China debate is to be welcomed. We need informed outsiders to weigh in with their views, and he has spent years visiting the country and talking to the Chinese, including the People's Liberation Army. Written with his customary panache, his vigorous and highly readable contribution will challenge congealed thinking.
Washington Times - Gary Anderson
Over the past few decades, Edward Luttwak has gained a reputation as the bad boy of strategic theory and historical scholarship. This time, he has outdone himself. He has debunked Sun Tsu, the Clausewitz of the East and much beloved by teachers of military theory for decades...In The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy, Luttwak goes beyond an attack on Sun Tsu. He argues that the dominant strategic and cultural arrogance of the Han people--the largest ethnic group in China--could undermine efforts to lift the Middle Kingdom to the ranks of true superpower status. Luttwak further argues that this assumption of cultural and intellectual superiority is driving China's neighbors into a camp of strategic containment similar to what Germany created for itself in the years leading up to World War I...It will be interesting to see whether the book is read with interest or banned once it is translated and made available on the Chinese mainland. It is a cautionary tale that deserves Chinese attention.
The Economist blog
[Luttwak's] thesis is sensible and not to be discounted lightly.
Mint - Siddharth Singh
Edward Luttwak's book on the limitations of China's ascent to power blends careful observation of recent events with an understanding of its past...The explanatory innovation that lifts Luttwak's book above the ruck of recent books on China's rise is his use of geo-economics--an expression he coined in 1980--to explain global resistance to Beijing's march. He argues that countries across the world, without explicit coordination, will resist China's export-oriented strategy to generate wealth and military power. This "invisible hand" explanation is in refreshing contrast to the usual containment and other political explanations about what may happen in East China in the coming years.
New York Review of Books - Ian Johnson
Entertaining and provocative...A bold book that flatly predicts that China won't successfully rise as a superpower, indeed that it cannot in its current incarnation...If accurate, Luttwak's theory means Americans don't have to worry too much. China will essentially self-destruct, at least diplomatically. And the list of problems facing China make it seem that this could well be happening right now.
Prospect - Jonathan Mirsky
[A] though-provoking book.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 15: Defiant Vietnam: The Newest American Ally?

A willing acceptance of subordination to China is not a Vietnamese trait, to say the least, in spite of immediate proximity, and an extreme imbalance in overall power. Moreover, the close similarity between the ideology and inner-party practices of the local Communist party (Đảng Cộng sản Việt Nam) and those of the CCP, and their joint inheritance of Leninist methods, Stalinist techniques, and Checkist tricks, only sharpens the resolve of VCP leaders to resist CCP intentions for Vietnam.

The unambiguous 1975 victory of Communist Vietnam against the United States and its local allies, auxiliaries and expeditionary allies, now likewise serves to reinforce its government’s determination to resist Chinese power wholly and firmly—in effect negating the imbalance of power. To simply deny the balance of power because of ignorance, pride or a transcendental creed, to refuse the accommodations and concessions that it may require, is an unfailing prescription for yet greater losses and worse humiliations if not utter destruction.

But that is not an error the VCP leadership is likely to commit, because another legacy of the long struggle that finally resulted in victory in 1975 is a diplomatic, military and comprehensively strategic culture characterized by bitter realism, and quite free of military adventurism or wishful thinking about the workings of regional and world politics.

Accordingly, the government of Vietnam has never denied the balance of power in dealing with China to any greater extent that it could actually negate its superiority, whether with its own military strength if only localized, or by finding allies willing to confront China.

That is how Vietnam survived the February 1979 Chinese invasion—or rather counter-invasion, for in January some 150,000 Vietnamese troops had invaded, defeated and occupied China’s ally, the Cambodia or Kampuchea of the auto-genocidal Khmer Rouge. With other motives as well but most immediately to force the Vietnamese to withdraw from Cambodia, on February 17, 1979 the PLA attacked in 26 sectors of the 480- mile border with at least 200,000 troops and perhaps as many as 250,000. The operational-level aim was apparently to wear down Vietnam’s army by forcing it to defend the provincial capitals near the border: Laocai, Caobang, Dong Dang and Long Son.

Meet the Author

Edward N. Luttwak is a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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