View Full Version : Washington and Beijing?

06-25-2015, 05:23 AM
What if Beijing and Washington understood each other perfectly...but still clashed?http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/06/18/What-if-Beijing-and-Washington-understood-each-other-perfectlybut-still-clashed.aspx?COLLCC=2094220701&utm_source=The+Sinocism+China+Newsletter&utm_campaign=34019c5f1c-The_Sinocism_China_Newsletter_06_24_156_24_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_171f237867-34019c5f1c-24572097&mc_cid=34019c5f1c&mc_eid=610f1ea40c

18 June 2015 1:49PM

Blinders, Blunders and Wars (http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR768.html)is a smart, rational book. Perhaps too rational. The authors — David Gompert, Hans Binnendijk and Bonny Lin — served on all US administrations from Nixon to Obama and held four National Security Council appointments between them. This is heavyweight insight into American thinking, a typically RAND-esque critique of how 'strategic-decision models' are formed, and how flawed mental frameworks have misinformed leaders throughout history.

http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/image.axd?picture=%2f2015%2f06%2fthree-wise-monkey.jpgIn this thinker's guide to avoiding dumb war, the authors examine a dozen crises from Napoleon to the Iraq invasion. They find that bad, avoidable decisions ('blunders') often stem from institutional barriers to processing information ('blinders') and from leaders with 'unwarranted faith in their ability to control events.' The authors' cognitive-science approach does not judge history with hindsight but rather examines what information was available at the time and how it was used to form decisions:

At the heart of every blunder is a flawed cognitive representation (of) how the world works, of circumstances at hand, of variables that determine the future, of choices available, and of expected results.
The greatest challenge is to avoid cognitive biases, in particular the exclusion of inconvenient facts that might challenge deeply held beliefs (the things we know for sure that just ain't so (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/738123-what-gets-us-into-trouble-is-not-what-we-don-t)).
Don't mistake strategic blunders for 'accidental war.' Geoffrey Blainey has convincingly argued (http://www.amazon.com/The-Causes-War-Geoffrey-Blainey/dp/0029035910) that there's no such thing. In Asia these days there is worry about rogue pilots and captains, as if a mere spark could set the 'tinderbox (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/rudd-tells-of-risks-over-asia-divisions-20130201-2dq2i.html)' alight. The RAND authors are careful to note that 'misjudgments and miscalculations are different from accidents.' They are more concerned with how the conditions for antagonism are constructed in the first place.
They attribute the blunders found in their twelve historical cases to three root causes: (1) the intuitive leader, (2) the blinding idea, and (3) the 'only apparent option'.
The intuitive leader'Attributes often associated with strong, inspiring decision-makers — persuasiveness, resolve, boldness, certitude, command of loyalty, unity, absence of doubt, clarity — may overpower reasoning', the authors write. Charismatic leaders are consistently too optimistic, expecting adversaries to adhere to their script. They exhibit a puzzling failure (http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/06/18/%20http://www.amazon.com/David-Goliath-Underdogs-Misfits-Battling/dp/0316204374)to anticipate asymmetric responses. They perceive lower risks and have excessive confidence in their ability to control situations.
It is easy to recognise modern-day examples. America not long ago had George W Bush, known as 'the decider', whose confidants 'already knew the answers; it was received wisdom.' China's leader today is also a man of great moral certainty who self-identifies as a military commander. His doctrine (http://www.chinadailyasia.com/nation/2015-05/27/content_15269184.html)that 'we will surely counterattack if attacked' is the language of personal resolve, not strategic reassurance.
The blinding ideaThe 'blinding idea' is the rigid ideological belief in how world order is, should and will be constructed: 'The stronger the belief (that) the future is predestined, the weaker is the force of new information and the greater are the probability and scale of blunder.'
Manifest Destiny, the China Dream, the Washington Consensus— all are examples of such 'psycho-strategic' paradigms. In the modern day Asia Pacific, the RAND authors say groupthink around each superpower's central vision could hinder rationality. Washington today echoes (http://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-island-building-poses-dilemma-for-u-s-1433102116)with a cacophony of views (if there was ever an American consensus on China, some claim it is now collapsing or becoming belligerent (http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1819980/fundamental-shift-china-and-us-are-now-engaged-all-out?page=all&utm_source=The%20Sinocism%20China%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=8927b0339f-Sinocism06_14_156_14_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_171f237867-8927b0339f-29650193&mc_cid=8927b0339f&mc_eid=07f483b47a)), but outsiders are struck (http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/the-truth-about-anti-china-discourse-in-the-united-states/) by the taut unanimity (http://theconversation.com/is-china-playing-a-long-game-in-the-south-china-sea-42625) of Chinese rhetoric.
Interestingly, the authors cite Japan's 1941 pre-emptive attack on America as the #1 example of 'arrogance, egotism and hubris...based on conformity, obedience, and intuition.' This conclusion is debatable. Pearl Harbor more persuasively belongs to the third family of blunders.
The only apparent optionUnder growing US embargo and facing encirclement, a lack of perceived alternatives (http://www.amazon.com/Japan-1941-Countdown-Eri-Hotta/dp/0307739740)drove Tokyo's thinking. With Japan's generals in control, all pathways to empire looked like military ones. True, it was the 'blinding idea' of imperial expansion that led them there, which is what makes this third type of blunder the most difficult blunder to analyse.
According to RAND, today's superpowers understand and trust each other little, and both hold subjective views of the other that can be corrected through exchange and interaction. But a century ago, Britain and Germany knew each other intimately, suggesting that their conflict was not simply some intellectual error. Instead, at least one side saw war as unavoidable and even desirable.
Is it possible that China and America could understand each other perfectly, and still clash? What if the problem is not one of information or imagination, but of pure stubborn interest? RAND would argue that calamity still arises from those three informational failures. But with the recent passing of John Nash, we are reminded that even enlightened, rational actors making 'maximising' decisions can end up in lose-lose outcomes (http://www.columbia.edu/%7Ers328/NashEquilibrium.pdf).


Andrew Craig-Bennett
06-25-2015, 05:46 AM
Britain and Germany did NOT "know each other perfectly". Far from it.

This is a long, but very good, Wikipedia article:


An extract:

On August 2nd, the British government promised that the Royal Navy would protect France’s coast from German attack.[207] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-207) The British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Grey,_1st_Viscount_Grey_of_Fallodon) gave Britain's firm assurance of protecting France with its navy to French Ambassador Paul Cambon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Cambon). Cambon's account stated: "I felt the battle was won. Everything was settled. In truth a great country does not wage war by halves. Once it decided to fight the war at sea it would necessarily be led into fighting it on land as well."[208] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-208) Within the British Cabinet, the widespread feeling that Germany would soon violate Belgium’s neutrality and destroy France as a power led to the increasing acceptance that Britain would be forced to intervene.[209] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-209)
A German ultimatum was delivered, this time to Belgium on August 2, requesting free passage for the German army on the way toFrance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/France). King Albert of Belgium refused the German request to violate his country’s neutrality.[210] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-210) On August 3, Germany declared war on France, and on Belgium on August 4. This act violated Belgian neutrality, the status to which Germany, France, and Britain were all committed by treaty. It was inconceivable that Great Britain would remain neutral if Germany declared war on France; German violation of Belgian neutrality provided the casus belli.
Later on August 4, German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethmann_Hollweg) told the Reichstag (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_(German_Empire)) that the German invasions of Belgium and Luxembourg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg)were in violation of international law, but he argued that Germany was "in a state of necessity, and necessity knows no law." At 7 p.m. that evening British Ambassador Sir Edward Goschen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Goschen) delivered Britain's ultimatum to German Secretary of State to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottlieb_von_Jagow), demanding a commitment by midnight that evening (within five hours) to go no further with Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality. Jagow rejected the British ultimatum and Goschen demanded his passports and requested a private and personal meeting with Bethmann Hollweg; Bethmann invited Goschen to dine with him. During their highly emotional conversation Bethmann Hollweg expressed astonishment that the British would go to war with Germany over the 1839 treaty (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_London,_1839) guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium, referring to the treaty as a "scrap of paper" compared to the "fearful fact of Anglo-German war."[211] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-211) The unified opposition shown in Britain was in fact motivated by long-term strains of liberal and conservative thought, with the desire to protect small nations and the balance of power in Europe, respectively, a factor in coming to the government's decision.[212] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-212)
Goschen's telegrams on August 4 to Grey never reached London. Whether a state of war existed between Britain and Germany was therefore a confused matter until the expiry of the ultimatum at midnight, Berlin time.[213] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-213)
Goschen's account of the "scrap of paper" conversation dated August 6 was later edited and published by the British Government and outraged public opinion in Britain and theUnited States (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States).[214] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-214) The British government expected a limited conflict of rapid movement on the battlefield like the Franco-Prussian War (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Prussian_War), in which the UK would primarily use its great naval strength.[215] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-215)
At the outbreak of the war, Wilhelm is reported to have said: "To think that George (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_V_of_the_United_Kingdom) and Nicky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_II_of_Russia) should have played me false! If my grandmother (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_of_the_United_Kingdom) had been alive, she would never have allowed it."[216] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_Crisis#cite_note-216)

06-25-2015, 06:00 AM
Let's say that the cultural gulf was far narrower Andrew, a channel not an ocean.

The July Crisis was just that, the July Crisis, it wasn't the slow inevitable growth armed might and the slow deterioration of relations.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
06-25-2015, 07:03 AM
I see it differently. I see China as very much like Wilhelmine Germany, a newly united nation after a long history of fragmentation and impotence, with a big industrial base, but with very little understanding of international relations and with a leadership suffering from tunnel vision, who are concerned to look good in the eyes of a restive populace.

I do expect a major war.

06-25-2015, 07:04 AM
We'll be lucky if not. Make hay whilst you can.

06-25-2015, 05:05 PM
I see it differently. I see China as very much like Wilhelmine Germany, a newly united nation after a long history of fragmentation and impotence, with a big industrial base, but with very little understanding of international relations and with a leadership suffering from tunnel vision, who are concerned to look good in the eyes of a restive populace.

I do expect a major war.

I'd say your assessment of China is correct and a war is far more likely than WW1. It always seemed to me that the cultural similarities between Britain and Germany were great .... but they ended up at war none the less.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
06-25-2015, 05:35 PM
I'd say your assessment of China is correct and a war is far more likely than WW1. It always seemed to me that the cultural similarities between Britain and Germany were great .... but they ended up at war none the less.

Recently I have come to feel that the way I was taught European History at school - starting in 1815 - was deeply misleading. Whilst the defeat of Napoleon looks like a good place to start, it ignores the cataclysmic effect that Napoleon had on Germany...

06-25-2015, 05:57 PM
Andrew's #4 is depressingly plausible. I have little faith that China will grow up until it looses its victim mentality from the Opium wars. Every time they yap about 'humiliation' I have to wonder if the leadership are secretly Boxers.