- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

COMMENTARY:

A Transformed World report painted a grim future torn by conflict. What grabbed headlines was the prediction that the United States will have a diminished capacity to deal with a dangerous world.

The United States will still have the world’s largest economy and most advanced military in 2025, but America’s edge will be much smaller. The NIC warns that “advances by others in science and technology, expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict U.S. freedom of action.”

Yet, the rising powers that the NIC sees all have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by the United States. Consider Russia, described as “more proactive and influential… and a leading force in opposition to U.S. global dominance.” Moscow intends to be an “an energy superpower” capable of “re-establishing a sphere of influence in its Near Abroad.”

Yet, Russia cannot regain the superpower status of the disintegrated Soviet Union. Its economic base is too small. Even its energy sector suffers because of its industrial backwardness.



The loss of the Near Abroad and demographic declines within Russia itself have reduced its population base. By 2017, the NIC notes, “Russia is likely to have only 650,000 18-year-old males from which to maintain an army that today relies on 750,000 conscripts.”

The key to keeping Russia at bay is an independent Ukraine oriented to the West. Ukraine is as large and populous as France, and was long the breadbasket of the Russian Empire. It now owns a substantial part of what was the Soviet military-industrial complex, and controls Russia’s access to the Black Sea.

Defense Secretary Roberts Gates recently attended a meeting of NATO defense ministers to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join the Western alliance. Some Europeans fear bringing Ukraine into NATO will offend Moscow, but it will also assure Europe than a diminished Russia will never be able to threaten a region so much larger and richer.

A greater danger is Beijing. The NIC sees “China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country.” China will have the world’s second-largest economy by 2025, and will be a leading military power. “U.S. security and economic interests could face new challenges if China becomes a peer competitor that is militarily strong as well as economically dynamic and energy hungry.”

China’s rise is, however, based on a fragile foundation. A theme of the NIC report is that there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the West to the East. The United States has sent $1.2 trillion to China since 2001 by running massive trade deficits. These deficits have not only given Beijing the largest currency reserves in the world, but have supported the growth of Chinese industry and given it a steady influx of new technology. The NIC notes that “key sectors rely on foreign markets, resources, and technology as well as globalized production networks.” Access to these sources of Chinese growth can and must be curtailed. For its own good, America must balance its trade accounts, and starting with China will also produce strategic advantages.

“China’s international standing is based partly on foreigners’ calculations that it is ‘the country of the future,’ ” says the NIC. U.S. policy should disabuse the world of this notion. Taking a stand now, before Beijing’s capabilities and ambitions get out of hand, will demonstrate America’s leadership and strengthen its own alliances.

For example, the NIC presents several scenarios regarding Japan. The most dangerous have Washington accommodating Beijing and falling back in Asia. In that case, “Tokyo almost certainly would follow the prevailing trend and move closer to Beijing to be included in regional security and political arrangements.” warns the NIC. This would be an unmitigated disaster.

Just as the Japanese alliance is America’s pillar in East Asia, Washington needs India in South Asia. The NIC recognizes “India’s growing international confidence, derived primarily from its economic growth and its successful democratic record.” India will follow its own course as a major power, but Washington and New Delhi face common threats from Islamic radicalism and Chinese expansion. President Bush greatly improved relations with India. The U.S.-India nuclear agreement, finally approved by Congress in October, opens the gate to closer cooperation.

Sens. Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton all voted in favor of the agreement. American firms are now considered front-runners to provide India with new fighter aircraft, which will expand military cooperation.

By improving ties with friends, and containing the ambitions of rivals, the United States can use its current strength to safeguard its leadership role into the future.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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