Academic journal article Parameters

Prospects for Peace: The View from Beijing

Academic journal article Parameters

Prospects for Peace: The View from Beijing

Article excerpt

One hundred years ago, on the eve of our entry into World War I, Americans faced a troubling set of developments at home and abroad that bear an eerie resemblance to today's challenges. While 21st-century "home-grown" terrorists are associated with the Muslim faith, at the dawn of the 20th century anarchists and leftists of European and, particularly, Jewish descent were committing acts of violence against innocent civilians on US soil. This period was the last time immigrants made up such a large proportion of the US population, and the country was riven not only by domestic unrest, but also by disagreement over whether to intervene in conflict on the other side of the ocean. Woodrow Wilson prevailed in the 1916 election on the platform, "He kept us out of war," but ultimately, even the most cosmopolitan occupant of the Oval Office before President Obama could not avoid sending American troops to defend US allies and interests overseas.

Then, as today, it was tempting to view the use of force through the prism of what it would mean for progressive American ideals. Opponents of intervening in World War I argued it would unleash nationalist, industrialist, profiteering tendencies at home, and thus the wise course was to refrain. Humanity would eventually converge on peace. Confronted with imperial Germany's ambition to conquer Europe, President Wilson had to disabuse his own supporters of the notion that international comity was on the march. And though Wilson propounded "peace without victory," Americans would have to give their lives to oppose German expansionism, not once, but twice over the next two-and-a-half decades.

At a time when domestic terrorism and tensions with immigrants appear to be returning to the fore, Americans would do well to remember this history. When we have turned inward in the face of domestic tensions and hoped international developments would go our way, we have been bitterly disappointed. While it is tempting to think we can retreat back within our borders and await the end of history, the other guys get a vote, and as it turns out they frequently have other plans.

For this reason, it is important for national security planners to perform emulative analysis--to try to think like the decision-makers of our rivals or adversaries, who may not share our cosmopolitan, progressive ideals. The recent record suggests today, as in the World War I period, we may be so caught up in domestic deliberations--or what the president calls "nation-building at home"--we have neglected the emulative analysis mission. The shock of 9/11 can, in part, be traced to the paucity of national security professionals who had read and internalized the writings of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. The missing nuclear arsenal of Saddam Hussein after the Second Gulf War seems to have reflected a perspective few, if any, American national security experts considered--Saddam was bluffing because he wanted his near enemies, the Shia, to believe he was nuclear-armed and assumed the United States had sufficient intelligence to understand this. And while the sinister creativity of Putin's Crimea incursion may have stymied even the most sincere effort at emulative analysis, it would be more reassuring today if we could look back and cite indicators we had been tracking, but had discounted.

None of these episodes rises to the level of World War I, of course. We currently consider ourselves to be the beneficiaries of a "long peace," one that has kept the world free of global conflict since the Korean War. But from 9/11 to Russia's forays into Ukraine and Syria, we have at least learned important lessons about taking seriously the perspectives of decision-makers from Raqqa and Baghdad to Moscow. We may not be so lucky with Beijing. Of all our global interlocutors, the People's Republic of China (PRC) seems most adept at employing a "salami slicing" or "silkworm" strategy; it is confronting our allies and partners in a way that does not breach the threshold of alarming us, even as the balance of power in contested areas, such as the South China Sea, now tilts in its favor. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.