A new game in a new era: China is playing it right, the US is not

Aug 22, 2021

China and the United States are in a different game than the rising power/established power conflicts of the past. Most analyses of such rivalries are based on pre–World War II history and fail to notice that the game changed radically after World War II. Sometimes when alterations are made in the rules or implements of a game, the risks and the optimal strategies change.

Leading scholars and strategists tend to misread the lessons of the past for Sino-American conflict because they fail to recognize that these radical changes constitute a new game.

In the Cold War economic success stabilised, energised and unified our alliance system.. Again, military superiority was absolutely necessary but not sufficient: the core game was economic.

China wants to be number one but it is not trying to destroy the US.

Disciplinary silos favor an overemphasis on political-military relationships and enable political scientists and historians to ignore decisive economic issues. Those leaders responsible for managing the U.S.-China relationship arrive at the same over-emphasis on the military because in peacetime our national allocation of resources is determined by Congressional lobbying, where the military-industrial complex has an overwhelming advantage.

I will begin and end with the problems of understanding and playing the right game, while addressing other crucial issues in the relationship. The key messages are; military conflict is far from inevitable; we have serious conflicts with China, but also enormous common interests that are currently being neglected; China is not a demon and our allies are not angels; we need to live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be; and, above all, to continue as a world leader, Americans must play the new game.

This is an excerpt from an article published in the National Defence University Press.

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