The Cold War Blue Print for Containing Communist China

October 13, 2021 Updated: October 14, 2021

Commentary

The Chinese regime continues to ratchet up the pressure on the West, and it is described as an enemy with new and dangerous tactics.

This week, organizers of the freediving championship event in Cyprus removed the Taiwanese flag. Beijing continues to intimidate Taiwan and sends aggressive air flights over the island-nation’s airspace. In addition, the regime continues to breach the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Analysts call the U.S.-China relationship a “cold war.” In most cases, it has sounded like a buzzword. But if one studies the details of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, it has many important applications, including the concern over the ally’s commitment, the importance of parity for peace, the dangers of strategy over commitment, and the importance of fighting a narrative with a counter narrative.

One of the biggest debates seems to be the American military commitment to Taiwan. Proponents argue that America must offer strategic clarity (discussed below) and a permanent U.S. presence. Opponents say this is a terrible move because it would Americanize anti-Chinese regime efforts. This does have some credence as Americans have found in Vietnam during the Cold War, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, that it is extremely hard to build durable forces that can fight on their own. But Taiwan already has a well-trained military and is committed to opposing the mainland regime.

Epoch Times Photo
Soldiers march to position during an anti-invasion drill on the beach during the annual Han Kuang military drill in Tainan, Taiwan, on Sept. 14, 2021. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

Taiwan has shown more than American allies in NATO. As reported by Therese Shaheen, at 3 percent, Taiwan’s percentage of GDP spent on defense would be more than double that of Germany and Japan, where the United States has about 35,000 and 55,000 troops, respectively. It seems Taiwan is committed to its own defense and the presence of U.S. soldiers will not undermine that.

The next debate involves analysts who claim that U.S. commitment of soldiers will destabilize the region. Former Lt. Col Daniel Davis argues that placing American soldiers in forward areas, like Taiwan, is part of an escalating “spiral” in which each side justifies additional escalation by citing the escalation of the other.

This has some merit, but is fatally flawed when one examines the cold war concept of parity and nuclear deterrence. A preemptive first strike is one of the most important features of cold war diplomacy. It offers the attraction of winning a war in a single stroke. Because of the tempting power of a first strike, both nations worked toward having a counterstrike capability. Back then, it included hardening silos and having different methods of delivery. With a counterstrike capability, it produced a deterrent that makes the first strike seem less attractive to both sides. The counterstrike capabilities produced a rough parity, where both sides avoided using nuclear weapons because of the mutually assured destruction that would happen if either side used them. This became the often-mocked MAD (mutually assured destruction) policy that dictated foreign policy during the Cold War.

Without parity, or when one side gains a tactical and strategic advantage, it becomes attractive to use it. This is important because a likely Chinese attack will be a quick seizure of territory where they essentially dare the United States to send forces. Thus, placing American forces in forward positions creates a parity. Unlike the escalation that concerns analysts, deploying soldiers reduces the chance of a first strike.

The next argument is that America should further prevent this preemptive strike by asserting strategic clarity. The current policy is ambiguity designed to make the Chinese regime unsure of the line they can’t cross. But analysts want to change that into a firm defensive commitment. This has problems, which were introduced as far back as the “Long Telegram.” Written by George Keenan in the early days of the Cold War, it outlined a strategy of containment. This policy was dangerous because U.S. strategic commitment to contain communism was an invitation for its adversaries to test anywhere and everywhere. This would bind America’s strategic decisions lest it looks weak against communism and fails to follow its own containment strategy, and as critics warned, it could overextend the United States in too many costly commitments across the world.

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A U.S.-made S70C helicopter is guided by a navy soldier during take off from a frigate at the sea near the Suao navy harbour in Yilan, eastern Taiwan, on April 13, 2018. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)

Applied to the Chinese regime, strategic ambiguity keeps American commitments flexible. The United States would already have troops stationed in forward points in East Asia and remain committed to militarily supporting its allies. But it wouldn’t announce its strategy ahead of time, and thus give the Chinese regime the option of triggering a known response at the time and place of its choosing.

The final strategy involves competing narratives. One of the most powerful methods in countering Russian influence was the success of the American vision and a way of life. Coca-Cola, blue jeans, and rock music were representative of economic success that could lead to cultural freedom and happiness. That is an abstraction of a vision that comes with many flaws still felt today, but a competing vision was important in winning the Cold War. Many analysts, though not this writer, have talked about an ascendent China with growing and unchecked power that will be the new dominant power.

As I wrote, and continue to stress, this is not the only path China might take. The Chinese regime is suffering a self-inflicted demographic crisis from its one-child policy. China’s command driven economy has led to a housing bubble that will dwarf the United States, its undereducated rural population is underqualified for jobs, and the jobs available to educated urban youths are often menial. Most importantly, Chinese aggression has created a string of alliances around it.

In short, the term cold war is a buzzword for many. But a careful study of Cold War policies like the commitment to allies, parity and deterrence, the dangers of over commitments, and the power of a narrative can provide a blueprint for a strong policy against the Chinese regime for the next 50 years.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Morgan Deane
Morgan Deane
Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine, a military historian, and a freelance author. He studied military history at Kings College London and Norwich University. Morgan works as a professor of military history at the American Public University. He is a prolific author whose writings include "Decisive Battles in Chinese History," "Dragon’s Claws with Feet of Clay: A Primer on Modern Chinese Strategy," and the forthcoming, "Beyond Sunzi: Classical Chinese Debates on War and Government." His military analysis has been published in Real Clear Defense and Strategy Bridge, among other publications.