Military threat assessment

Chew Toy McCoy

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I'll just start things off with this widely reported fact. I suck at math so I'm going to need some of the forum nerds to help me out on this one. The US has 800 global military bases. China has 3. Which one is the bigger threat? Take your time.

The answer may seem obvious, but given the same data McConnell and crew have determined this means we're falling dangerously behind China in military strength. To be fair, maybe each one of our 800 bases is manned by 1 soldier while China's 3 bases are manned by 8 trillion soldiers each. We just don't know. We should shovel more money to the pentagon to determine the real headcount. There's a good chance the pentagon doesn't even know how many soldiers are stationed at our own bases. Counting people is complex work that can only be done by increasing the budget.
 

SuperMatt

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I'll just start things off with this widely reported fact. I suck at math so I'm going to need some of the forum nerds to help me out on this one. The US has 800 global military bases. China has 3. Which one is the bigger threat? Take your time.

The answer may seem obvious, but given the same data McConnell and crew have determined this means we're falling dangerously behind China in military strength. To be fair, maybe each one of our 800 bases is manned by 1 soldier while China's 3 bases are manned by 8 trillion soldiers each. We just don't know. We should shovel more money to the pentagon to determine the real headcount. There's a good chance the pentagon doesn't even know how many soldiers are stationed at our own bases. Counting people is complex work that can only be done by increasing the budget.
China is a bigger threat to its close neighbors. But its lack of a global footprint is a major weakness compared to the US.

Although they are a communist country, China’s true attack vector is economic. In addition to propping up businesses so they can undersell competitors in other nations (illegally, but nobody is enforcing this), they have been aggressively making inroads in developing nations. They exploit the countries with poor populations and limited regulations (or no way to enforce them) to get cheap materials and establish a foothold there.


America’s global system of bases and its large number of alliances make it far stronger than China worldwide. A larger population doesn’t mean China can just win every war. You need to transport and deploy your forces strategically. America can deploy from just about anywhere on the globe. China can deploy from, well, China.

Of course, if people launch nukes, none of that will matter.
 
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China is a bigger threat to its close neighbors. But its lack of a global footprint is a major weakness compared to the US.

Although they are a communist country, China’s true attack vector is economic. In addition to propping up businesses so they can undersell competitors in other nations (illegally, but nobody is enforcing this), they have been aggressively making inroads in developing nations. They exploit the countries with poor populations and limited regulations (or no way to enforce them) to get cheap materials and establish a foothold there.


America’s global system of bases and its large number of alliances make it far stronger than China worldwide. A larger population doesn’t mean China can just win every war. You need to transport and deploy your forces strategically. America can deploy from just about anywhere on the globe. China can deploy from, well, China.

Of course, if people launch nukes, none of that will matter.
I largely agree with this assessment. I'd say I'm much more concerned about cyberwarfare. I think with google, MS and Apple, the USA has a crazy edge over both foreign adversaries, and its own civilian population. But if the USA designs backdoors into chips, why wouldn't China do the same if those chips are manufactured on Chinese soil. I think guns and explosives are now just for show. You want to make an infrastructure crumble and even be able to deny any culpability? Hack it.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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China is a bigger threat to its close neighbors. But its lack of a global footprint is a major weakness compared to the US.

Although they are a communist country, China’s true attack vector is economic. In addition to propping up businesses so they can undersell competitors in other nations (illegally, but nobody is enforcing this), they have been aggressively making inroads in developing nations. They exploit the countries with poor populations and limited regulations (or no way to enforce them) to get cheap materials and establish a foothold there.


America’s global system of bases and its large number of alliances make it far stronger than China worldwide. A larger population doesn’t mean China can just win every war. You need to transport and deploy your forces strategically. America can deploy from just about anywhere on the globe. China can deploy from, well, China.

Of course, if people launch nukes, none of that will matter.

The US is still in the relative stone age with its military imperialism. China's economic imperialism is the future and like a lot of things that come from China they probably learned that from the smaller scale the US has been involved in and determined they can do the same thing at a much larger scale and a lot cheaper than the military version.

I can't help but think of how this parallels the mentality of our 2nd amendment loving populous. They're pacing on their porch with their rifle waiting for our tyrannical government to send over the troops while our government parks a truck at their back door and loots the place. They honestly believe the real threat hasn't changed in the past 250 years.
 
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The US is still in the relative stone age with its military imperialism. China's economic imperialism is the future and like a lot of things that come from China they probably learned that from the smaller scale the US has been involved in and determined they can do the same thing at a much larger scale and a lot cheaper than the military version.

There's literally nobody better at "economic imperialism" than the USA. NOBODY. Just think about the New Deal. Or the sort of "free market" the USA is advocating for. That advocacy comes with nearly automatic American influence. China just playing catch up on this. I'd say the USA is one of the better ones in the history of super powers, because of this very thing: finance over violence.
 

Scepticalscribe

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China is a bigger threat to its close neighbors. But its lack of a global footprint is a major weakness compared to the US.

Although they are a communist country, China’s true attack vector is economic. In addition to propping up businesses so they can undersell competitors in other nations (illegally, but nobody is enforcing this), they have been aggressively making inroads in developing nations. They exploit the countries with poor populations and limited regulations (or no way to enforce them) to get cheap materials and establish a foothold there.


America’s global system of bases and its large number of alliances make it far stronger than China worldwide. A larger population doesn’t mean China can just win every war. You need to transport and deploy your forces strategically. America can deploy from just about anywhere on the globe. China can deploy from, well, China.

Of course, if people launch nukes, none of that will matter.

China's economic imperialism isn't simply classic economic exploitation (here, I speak/write from a perspective of some slight experience - in Africa and central Asia we (the EU) worked occasionally with China, and I had dealings with Chinese diplomats).

It is much more subtle than that.

Yes, much of it is about access to raw materials, and resources, and limited regulations, but the attraction of limited regulations goes both ways.

This is because the Chinese often offer the sort of no-strings-attached (or, no irksome human rights or oversight strings or conditions attached to aid, or economic support, of the sort that EU aid packages invariably include) economic support that is very attractive to some local elites, just as limited oversight of their activities - no tiresome labour rights or environmental awareness nonsense, for example - as a condition of aid - attaches to their own endeavours in third party countries in Africa and elsewhere.

Re a possible military threat: To my mind, the Chinese only express themselves militarily when the cost (to them) is likely to be limited, or the likelihood of success extraordinarily high - i.e. violence is a last resort.

My experience when speaking/meeting with them - my sense of them - was a deep (and profound, and, I would argue, genuine) reluctance to become embroiled in unnecessary, unprofitable, unwinnable, military adventures.

Therefore, such overt military threats as they pose, will tend to be confined to their own "sphere of influence", or regionally, - as @SuperMatt says, they pose the greatest (military) threat to their near neighbours - where they believe that they have a right to exercise or project military power.

They can wield other - far more useful - weapons in their tool box, principally economic and/or cultural ones (such as access to domestic markets, denial of access, - participation in international markets, or not - conditions set re economic access, activity and ownership).
 
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SuperMatt

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There's literally nobody better at "economic imperialism" than the USA. NOBODY. Just think about the New Deal. Or the sort of "free market" the USA is advocating for. That advocacy comes with nearly automatic American influence. China just playing catch up on this. I'd say the USA is one of the better ones in the history of super powers, because of this very thing: finance over violence.
Agreed. China is trying to become a bigger player in the world by focusing on developing nations. Why? Because the US already dominates trade with wealthier nations.

China’s size and ability to quickly mobilize cheap labor was giving it an advantage when it came to things like… assembling electronics. However, other nations such as India and Vietnam are now playing in that market and starting to chip away at China’s dominance there. Plus, this is not a high-profit sector. It’s the big Tech companies that make the profits. Assembly of the devices is much lower profit.

Even with over a billion people, China needs to heavily subsidize its industries to compete with the wealthier nations.

As for the military, America has a number of bases quite close to China: Philippines, Korea, Japan… that would be like China having bases in the Caribbean or Mexico or Canada. It’s not even close when it comes to our military reach vs theirs.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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There's literally nobody better at "economic imperialism" than the USA. NOBODY. Just think about the New Deal. Or the sort of "free market" the USA is advocating for. That advocacy comes with nearly automatic American influence. China just playing catch up on this. I'd say the USA is one of the better ones in the history of super powers, because of this very thing: finance over violence.

I believe it’s a real possibility that will shift in favor of China, especially given all the ill will Trump through out on the international stage and absolutely nobody is confident that Trump or somebody like him won’t happen again, especially if there is another major recession or slow recovery from what we are in now. Trump demanded respect but instead got a lot of countries realizing they probably shouldn’t be putting all their eggs in the US basket, maybe see what China is offering for some diversity.

Plus China doesn’t have a long and current history of dropping bombs wherever it sees fit. So you have one country offering to build you a bridge while another is threatening to blow that bridge up. Plus it’s economic stupidity. When you offer to build another country a bridge they’ll pay you to do it. No foreign country is going to pay you for that bomb you just dropped on them, something that has zero value once it detonates.
 

Scepticalscribe

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Agreed. China is trying to become a bigger player in the world by focusing on developing nations. Why? Because the US already dominates trade with wealthier nations.

China’s size and ability to quickly mobilize cheap labor was giving it an advantage when it came to things like… assembling electronics. However, other nations such as India and Vietnam are now playing in that market and starting to chip away at China’s dominance there. Plus, this is not a high-profit sector. It’s the big Tech companies that make the profits. Assembly of the devices is much lower profit.

Even with over a billion people, China needs to heavily subsidize its industries to compete with the wealthier nations.

As for the military, America has a number of bases quite close to China: Philippines, Korea, Japan… that would be like China having bases in the Caribbean or Mexico or Canada. It’s not even close when it comes to our military reach vs theirs.

Not really.

Raw materials, and resources are what attracts China in Africa, and cultural socio-economic, political power projection, in central Asia.

China is seen as a "good ally" - a reliable ally - which is more than can be said for many others - to those countries with which it is friendly; I spent almost two years in Afghanistan (with the EU) as a diplomat/political counsellor.

For example, from Pakistan's perspective, China was viewed "as an all weather friend"; when they give support (political, economic), it tends to be unconditional, which means that they can create very strong alliances.

However, of course, the attractions of unconditional support - like light regulation - cut both ways, for this is what they will expect, also, indeed, demand, from their allies.

Their policies and power projection - and allies - are not just based on fear, bribery and bullying; some of it is strategic and deeply rooted, and will not be easily changed.
 
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Scepticalscribe

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The other point I would make, at this stage, is that this forum (like MR) and much else in the western world is - perhaps - too focussed, too obsessed by the west, in general, and the United States, in particular.

So, if we are discussing - or thinking about - possible, or potential threats posed by China, apart from their near neighbours (whom I do believe to be under threat, not least because China believes their immediate region to be a sphere of interest, a sphere of legitimate interest, much as the US would view central and south America), if I were a Russian leader, I would also confess to some slight unease, or possible nervousness. Butterflies in stomach, sort of thing.

In fact, I would go so far as to speculate that the (political) map of Siberia might - or may - take on a rather dramatically different appearance in - let us say - half a century's time.
 
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The other point I would make, at this stage, is that this forum (like MR) and much else in the western world is - perhaps - too focussed, too obsessed by the west, in general, and the United States, in particular.

So, if we are discussing - or thinking about - possible, or potential threats posed by China, apart from their near neighbours (whom I do believe to be under threat, not least because China believes their immediate region to be an sphere of interest, legitimate interest, much as the US would view central and south America), if I were a Russian leader, I would also confess to some slight unease, or possible nervousness.

In fact, I would go so far as to speculate that the (political) map of Siberia might - or may - take on a rather dramatically different appearance in - let us say - half a century's time.
Agree...there's a little west centricism.
Now the China vs. Russia conflict really depends on Putin's succession. I think China is a lot less vulnerable from this stand point. I don't think anybody else could do what Putin's been able to do. I think Russia may crumble after he dies. Which takes us your comment about the Siberian borders being a valid question within that timeframe.
 

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Agree...there's a little west centricism.
Now the China vs. Russia conflict really depends on Putin's succession. I think China is a lot less vulnerable from this stand point. I don't think anybody else could do what Putin's been able to do. I think Russia may crumble after he dies. Which takes us your comment about the Siberian borders being a valid question within that timeframe.

I don't think that Russia will crumble, though it may......contract a bit, shrink somewhat, suffer a decrease of that vast volume of space that it currently occupies.

And yes, I don't think that China is vulnerable in this context.

But, Russia, (falling birth rates, ghastly demographics, excessive reliance on oil and gas, poor history of innovative economic development, etc), yes, I think that the coming half century may well prove to be pretty challenging for Russia.

Actually, I will be astonished - not that I will live to see it - if Russia's borders in half a century, or a full century, match its current borders on a map.

In fact, I will be astounded if some of Siberia has not fallen (been seized by, ceded to, acquired by, given to, absorbed by - circumstances will determine the verb used) China, by then.
 

Chew Toy McCoy

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In fact, I will be astounded if some of Siberia has not fallen (been seized by, ceded to, acquired by, given to, absorbed by - circumstances will determine the verb used) China, by then.

Sincere question. What does Siberia have to offer? I only know it as a vast inhospitable land that the Russian government sent people to die, but clearly that is a way outdated view if for no other reason than technological advancements have made the possibility of making inhospitable environments less so. At this point you could go live in Antarctica for 6 months in relative comfort.
 
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Sincere question. What does Siberia have to offer? I only know it as a vast inhospitable land that the Russian government sent people to die, but clearly that is a way outdated view if for no other reason than technological advancements have made the possibility of making inhospitable environments less so. At this point you could go live in Antarctica for 6 months in relative comfort.
oil
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Sincere question. What does Siberia have to offer? I only know it as a vast inhospitable land that the Russian government sent people to die, but clearly that is a way outdated view if for no other reason than technological advancements have made the possibility of making inhospitable environments less so. At this point you could go live in Antarctica for 6 months in relative comfort.

Natural resources.

Vast quantities of natural resources.

Thank you for your useful map, @P_X. Very helpful.

During the past decade, the US overtook KSA as te world's largest producer of oil; however, Russia - now lying third, used to be the second largest producer of oil, world-wide.

And Russia used to be the world leader in gas production; it now lies second (to the US).

Add to that mineral wealth.
 
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