China: July 2, 2005

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  One unpleasant aspect of the Cold War has returned. The military establishments in both China and the United States have fixed on each other as the "major future opponent," and are preparing to, well, deal with the situation. This was how it was during the Cold War, as the Pentagon, and their Russian counterparts, both built up the other side, to their civilian bosses, in order to extract more money for new weapons and more military power in general. In the current case, it's the Chinese who started the ball rolling a decade ago, with the decision to modernize the armed forces. This was no easy, or cheap, task. The Chinese generals were getting the money because the economy was booming, and the political leadership wanted to use an "external threat" (American intervention against Chinese efforts to reclaim Taiwan, and other nearby real estate) to distract Chinese from the fact that the country was still being run by an un-elected communist dictatorship. Year by year, more money is poured into military development, Currently, the Chinese defense budget is only about 20 percent that of the U.S.  However, with much cheaper labor and operating costs, the Chinese are getting more for their money. In practical terms, the Chinese have armed forces that are nearly a third the combat power of the United States.

All this military activity has finally been noticed, and recognized, in the U.S. Department of Defense. No one will openly admit it, but many of the generals and admirals are feeling another Cold War situation coming on. This time, the guys wearing the green uniforms and red stars are Chinese instead of Russian. But many of the same weapons, tactics and animosities are in play. Back to the future for a more comfortable and familiar foe. All this terrorism and peacekeeping is so messy and confusing for a professional soldier. A large, well organized foe like China is a much more comfortable problem to work with. 

Unfortunately, it's now an open secret that all the scare tactics of the original Cold War were based on lots of puffery and paranoia. When the Cold War ended, and a more accurate assessment of Russian military strenght was possible, it was seen that the Russians were much weaker than the Cold War era estimates had them. Some thing is happening with China, as the neo-Cold War begins to paint the PLA (People's Liberation Army, the official term for the Chinese military), in bolder and more intimidating strokes. It's much easier getting money out of Congress if you have a scary threat to justify it.

 

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