Dr. Paul Wolfowitt is the Dean of the Paul H. Nitti School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He served previously in Federal government in a variety of capacities; in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including serving as the Special Assistant to the Director of Strategic Arms Limitations talks; he’s been Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia; he’s been Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs; and from 1989 to 1993 he was the Under Secretary of Defense/or Policy. He assumed his duties as Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies on January J, 1994.
I know that the topic of your symposium includes the word innovative and what I’d really like to talk about here today is what I believe is the importance of innovation and possibly the understated importance of innovation in this extraordinary time in which we live. The theme of my talk today is that we have a very difficult job balancing the requirements of the near-term, the medium-term, and the long-term because I don’t remember a time, at least in my career in our post-war military history, when I believe there has been such a dramatic difference between the three different requirements. It is my concern that we may be, not surprisingly, much too focused on the near-term at the expense of the long-term. Now again that is shameless pandering because you folks are looking at the long-term as you must, and I hope you’ll keep it up.
There are many things that are remarkable about the era that we live in, and I never thought I’d live to see the day when the Soviet Union collapsed, I never really thought I’d live to see the day when Arabs and Israelis, or Israelis and Palestinians specifically would be signing peace treaties with one another. I never even thought I’d live to see the day when countries like South Korea would become democracies. We really live in a quite extraordinary time. So extraordinary that I think we’ve begun almost to take some of that for granted. But I would like to underscore two things about the time we live in that I think are both very remarkable. Each one is remarkable. But the two taken together present a kind of paradox.
One fact of our time is the overwhelming predominance of the United States as a world power. Not only as a world military power but as a world economic power, a world political power, indeed I guess the French would say even as a world cultural hegemony. The United States is dominant in a way that probably no country has been on the world scene since the Roman Empire. But we’re not an empire. And in fact, part of this very dominant American position is that not only are we the predominant country but the strongest other powers in the world, particularly the strongest economic powers in the world, are all our allies. And it is really impossible in the past several centuries to find a period of time when one country was not only so predominant but that it was allied with all the other principal powerful countries in the world. It puts us in an unusually secure position. I think because of that, we are in a period of history when it is almost inconceivable that any major powers would go to war with one another in the near future. We can have an incident like the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a great deal of tension, but I don’t think anyone thinks for a moment that this is going to lead to a war between the U.S. and China. Major war between major powers, which has been a common experience, unfortunately, of this century, is something that we really don’t have to fear today.
But the second thing that makes this period of history so extraordinary is it is a period of enormously rapid change, enormously rapid economic growth. Economic growth that is so incredible that it is generating new powers on the world scene that we really didn’t think about in the recent past. Many of these new powers are in Asia. Korea is already emerging as an economy, when it rebounds from this economic crisis it will begin to be something like half the size of Japan. A unified Korea is a country that would be comparable to the major powers in Europe. In Korea, again, when it recovers, and I think it is recovering already, will be well on the way to catching up with the advanced countries of Europe. And yet Korea, by Asian standards, is a medium size power. In fact, the most impressive growth in the world is in the world’s biggest country, namely China. And projections of China’s economic growth make it plausible that within 25-30 years China will emerge as an economy equal in size to that in the United States. A country comparable to us then in economic power without the kinds of inhibitions that Japan and Germany today have on converting that economic power to military power. And therefore within what is a relatively short period of time by historical standards we could go from a situation where the United States enjoys a kind of overwhelming predominance in the world to a situation where we actually, once again, face a superpower of comparable size and comparable strength. But one hopes not of comparable enmity of that of the Soviet Union. But the political relationship is something that is very hard to predict. It is really extraordinary then to go from this period of history where we are so predominant and to move so rapidly to a period where we could face major shifts in the world. China is not the only country that can emerge as a major power. India, which, for some reason, we seem to forget about, is a mere 900 million people instead of 1.2 billion; it’s only growing at 5 or 6 percent per annum instead of 10 percent per annum. But India, as they reminded us last summer with their nuclear tests, is a major force to be contended with. And then there’s a range of medium powers (Iran; Iraq; if it’s still around, North Korea) that has shown a determination to acquire weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems, particularly ballistic missiles, that give these medium powers the capability of threatening the United States and threatening our allies in a way which in the past we did not concern us. And I think it presents a great intellectual challenge to think ahead from this period of relative American predominance and relatively remote threats to a world in which we may face a much more insecure situation with stronger competitors and with some particularly dangerous countries acquiring nuclear weapons. I think in facing that we find ourselves, in my view, sort of straddling three different views of defense planning.
The one view seems to be to be focused on the present, and on the idea that threats are remote. That the real problems in the world are kind of the residue of history; the ethnic conflicts that we see in the Balkans; or what we see elsewhere in the former Soviet empire; to some extent in Africa, or in Haiti, and the real requirement for that then is not military force in its traditional form but military force for the purpose of peacekeeping. That focus on peacekeeping, and the enormous preoccupation with the many deployments that we have to spread our forces around the world to conduct today, makes it very hard for senior military leadership to focus on a great deal else. Forces that are meant for peacekeeping are forces that have to be trained to a very, very different concept of the use of force. Indeed, they have to think much more about not using force at all. It puts us in the position not of figuring out how we support allies in the conflict, but rather how we suppress all sides of a conflict which is a very different proposition, and it stretches our personnel and our rotation requirements, as we’re seeing, to a very, very substantial degree. It is an enormous preoccupation and I believe it makes it harder to look at other possible issues.
The middle ground is the one that is represented by the defense-planning concept of major regional contingencies. I guess I, whether for good or for bad, have to claim some responsibility for that. In fact, when I worked for Secretary Cheney and the Berlin Wall came down he asked General Powell and me to put our staffs to work at what a post-Cold War defense concept would look like. We came up with what General Powell called the Base Force as the concept of a regional defense strategy that would focus on dealing with these major regional contingencies. And I believe we need to do that, but I think there is a danger today that we will get our entire defense establishment focused around how to deal with threats in the Persian Gulf, specifically an Iraqi threat in the Persian Gulf, and threats on the Korean peninsula. Those are important and we have to be able to deal with them. Indeed, in the future we may be forced to deal with them in an environment where either Iraq or Iran or North Korea are threatening us not only with conventional forces but even with the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But I don’t believe that is the be all and end all because we have to think about this world that is coming at us, and coming at us relatively quickly, in which there is, once again at least, the possibility of major war between major powers and in particular a world in which there is the possibility of a major peer competitor in the form of China. I think if there’s any lesson in looking at defense planing over the last 50 years or 100 years one shouldn’t get too confident about predictions that are 15 or 20 years away. And maybe, the world being a strange place, China will tum into our closest ally and maybe someone else will be the problem, or maybe there will be no problems at all. But if I had to predict today where the problems are likely to come from, I think the combination of emerging power and residual political grievances suggest at least that China is a country that we’re going to have to think about.
That presents an entirely different way of thinking about military planning, an entirely different way of thinking what our military forces are for, In some ways it means going back to thinking about war in conventional form, war as war between major states, not war as peacekeeping. I must say I’m a little astonished that after 50 some days of bombing Serbia we still don’t refer to it as a war, it’s a conflict. Mistakes happen in conflicts and we’re out to prevail in a conflict. It seems to me that’s an illustration of how the very concept of war, and winning wars, and fighting enemies who are enemies is to some extent suppressed in our present lexicon. In fact, we face a problem from a super power, China, 20 to 25 years from now then we have to get back to old notions about war as war. War is something in which there are winners and losers. And believe me if you read the literature of the Chinese military today they certainly think about war in those terms. We also have to think about it in a fundamentally innovative way because if major war between major powers reemerges as a defense problem it’s going to do so in an era of truly revolutionary technology. It is not going to be the central front of Europe during the Cold War. It’s not going to be major armored formations, probably not even the kind of major naval formations that we were so good at putting together during the Cold War and that made such a difference in winning that great struggles. The same kind of revolution in technology that is transforming the commerce, transforming the economy, transforming the workplace, I believe is transforming military affairs. There’s a further aspect to this that I think we neglect at our peril, and that is, if one thinks about a competitor like China their task is a little different from our task. People say that China’s ambitions in the world are modest, that China has behaved historically in a relatively restrained way with its military power. That may be true, but I think what China can be counted on to care about is who rules China’s neighborhood. That for a Chinese planner, for a Chinese military planner or a Chinese political leader, the idea that the western Pacific should remain indefinitely an era of America preponderance is something that is abnormal in their view of the world and I think it’s not surprising that it would be something they would want to reverse. For them it is not necessary to become a global competitor of the United States. it’s simply necessary to become the regional equal or regional competitor of the United States. For them it•s not necessary to be able to project force 10.000 miles from home, it’s necessary merely to prevent us from projecting force 300 or 400 miles off their coast. It is, to use one of the current buzzwords in the defense planning business, in its essence asymmetric warfare or asymmetric competition. And that means we have to be particularly innovative if we•re going to stay ahead in the race where the other side has, in effect, a kind of handicap or a kind of head start.
In saying this I’m not trying to predict some kind of inevitable conflict with China. I spent a lot of time working on U.S./China relations. In fact I was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs back during the Reagan administration working for George Schultz. I’m kind of proud to say there’s a book that came out not long ago by Jim Mann, a distinguished diplomatic correspondent for the Las Anteles Times, called About Face which is the history of U .S./China relations in the last 30 years. I think it’s such a great book because there a chapter in it called The Golden Years and he says the golden years of U .S./China relations were the years when George Schultz and Paul Wolfowitz were running U.S./China policy. The essence of what he describes, and I think it’s correct, is that Schultz understood the importance of good relations with China. He wasn’t out to create problems with China. But he understood that the key to a good relationship with China lay not with Beijing but in the capitals of our allies, particularly Seoul and Tokyo. And that from a Pan-Asian perspective, a perspective of working with our allies in Asia, it was possible to achieve a much better relationship with China. I think the history of that period bears it out. Once the Chinese had tested Schultz and Reagan and discovered that there were distinct limits to how far you could push them they stopped pushing us. The Taiwan issue began to be quieted down. In fact it was in that period that one of the great breakthroughs was achieved when China joined the Asian Development bank and Taiwan remained as a member. To this day it is one of the only instances where China and Taiwan exist as members of a single international organization. So I believe in the importance of good relations with China, and I believe good relations with China are achievable. But I don’t think they’re going to be achieved simply through a kind of mindless process of engagement. Sometimes we’re told the alternative to engagement is isolating China. I don’t believe in isolating China. If that’s the alternative then I guess I believe in engagement. Sometimes we’re told that the alternative to engagement is containment. If containment means containing China the way we contained the Soviet Union, it means engaging in a Cold War with China. I don’t believe in that either. But sometimes I wonder what people think the alternative to containment is. Is the alternative to containment sitting still and accepting Chinese expansion? Is the alternative to containment allowing a Chinese military umbrella to extend itself perhaps first over Taiwan, then over Korea, then over Southeast Asia and the Spratly Islands, and then eventually even over Japan? I think that would present a situation that is intolerable for American security and intolerable for our allies in Asia. So therefore I believe that military competition with China, successful military competition with China, is an important part of maintaining a peaceful relationship with that great country.
I think eventually we’ll find the political relationship with China becomes easier as China evolves itself politically. There’s a kind of dramatic illustration of that today. I’ve been fond of saying that a Chinese government that uses force against its own people is a government that will be much more likely to use force against its neighbors. In a small way I think you see that in the demonstrations outside the American Embassy in Beijing which have a decidedly staged quality to them. Not to say that there aren’t Chinese who are genuinely angry and upset about what’s happened. The fact that the Chinese government has stirred up this feeling, I think is due in some measure, to China is trying to divert attention from its own problems and, in particular, divert attention from the coming anniversary on June 4 of the 10111 anniversary of the Tianneman incident. As one wit put it, “apparently the Chinese government considers they are allowed to kill Chinese people and we are not.” Well, there’s a problem in China today. The Chinese Communist Party claims to govern China on the basis of Marxist/Leninist doctrine, but nobody in China, including the leaders of that country, believe in Marxist/Leninist doctrine anymore. It would be sort of as though Queen Elizabeth claimed to govern England, and of course she doesn’t claim to govern England, on the basis of the divine right of kings. A government that lacks any real basis for legitimacy is a government that has real problems. A Chinese communist once came to me, a professor from a university where we run a cooperative program, came to interview me about my view of U .S./Chinese military relations. I gave him a very benign account, much calmer than what I gave you this afternoon and I said “Look, we’re really not trying to create enemies, we hope China’s not going to become an enemy. In any case, China’s so weak today,” I said, “we’re really not worried about China.” Then he put his notes away and we started to talk about politics. The man, as I say, had identified himself as coming from the Communist Party and writing for a communist publication and I didn’t want to be too critical about his government so I said, “I believe in a democratic future for China but I certainly under-stand that there are Chinese who believe that if you move too rapidly towards democracy that China will become unstable, that China may not yet be ready for democracy.” And this man, professor from a university in China, practically jumped out of his chair and he said, “China’s ready for democracy. It’s those old men in Beijing,” he said. What terrifies those old men in Beijing, and this was a few years ago, is next year Taiwan will have a democratically elected president. Now I don’t know how universal a view that is in China but I find it very interesting that it’s not just limited to dissidents, but you find it even among members of the Communist Party. This is a country that really has not sorted out its political future. And in that picture there is the great danger that lacking any other basis of legitimacy China could tum to nationalism as a source of legitimacy. I think the United States has to be very careful not to lend fuel to that flame, not to make that situation worse. I think we see in the demonstrations outside the American Embassy today a small inkling of what that might be like.
On the more positive side, I also believe it means there is a great deal of hope that China, 20-25 years from now, is going to be a very different China, politically, from the one we see today. I believe it will be a China that is much more inclined to be part of a. stable international system, much more inclined to be a China that wants to preserve .the peaceful status quo in Asia rather than one that wishes to alter it. But I can guarantee you that any president or any secretary of state who is negotiating with China, whether it is over issues of World Trade Organization, which I believe China should join, or even more if it is about issues that concern the security and stability of that critical part of the world. would be in a much stronger bargaining position if the Chinese understand that the resort to force is not something they would be successful at. If the Chinese understand that the United States, or at least the United States combined with its allies retains military predominance in the western part of the Pacific. That is an enormous challenge. It would be a challenge if we were prepared to put our entire effort into it. It’s even more of a challenge at a time when so much of the country tends to think that that kind of an effort isn’t really necessary, that we’re talking about something that’s so remote that it really can’t touch the lives of Americans. But 20-25 years from now is not remote in historical terms. That kind of change, happening that fast has very few parallels in history.
There is one parallel and it’s a disturbing parallel and I want to leave you with this one. That is what happened at the beginning of this century. The beginning of the 20″1 Century was also a period of remarkable peace, not one in which you could dismiss the possibility of war between major powers but one in which, there hadn’t been a major war in Europe since 1815. There had been the Franco-Prussian, but even that was 30 years away at the tum of the century. Americans thought about the last conflict we’d been in, the Spanish American War, in somewhat the way we think of the Persian Gulf war today. In fact, when Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the Chicago Tribune headlined it “Greatest Naval Engagement of Modem Times.” That was warfare at the tum of the century. And the tum of the century was also similar to our time in its enormous optimization about where the world economy was going. Instead of the information revolution, we had the industrial revolution. But a very similar, huge expansion of the world economy had led people to be very optimistic about the possibility that perhaps war between major powers was a thing of the past. Well of course it didn’t tum out that way. The reason it didn’t tum out that way is because somehow the international system didn’t figure out how to deal with the emergence of Germany as a new major power on the world scene. A country that on the one hand felt itself enormously powerful, which it was, but a country which also believed in the words of the Kaiser that it had been denied its place in the sun, that Germany needed to get respect in the world and the way to get that respect was through asserting its military power. And the rest is indeed history. It led to World War I, it led through World War I to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, it laid the seeds of World War II, it turned the 20111 century into the bloodiest century in history instead of the most promising century in history.
We’re at the dawn of a new century, a century that truly could be the most remarkable and positive century in human history. I believe it’s going to be important that we continue to do our job in guarding against the worst possibilities if we’re going to prevent them from happening. I believe if we do that job, then we can look back 25 years from now and we’ll have to say a job well done. It will be tragic if we have to look back at a world that is full of conflicts that could have been avoided if we kept our guard up, conflicts that could have been avoided if we had maintained our capacity to innovate. Winston Churchill, writing in 1938 about the history of World War I, compared this very calm scene that the world confronted in 1900 with the way the world looked on the eve of World War II. And he said, “The scale on which events have shaped themselves has dwarfed the episodes of the Victorian era. The small wars of that era between great nations, its earnest disputes about superficial issues, the high keen intellectualism of its first images, the sober, frugal, narrow limitations of their actions belong,” Churchill said, 11to a vanished period. The smooth river with its eddies and ripples along which we then sailed seems inconceivably remote from the cataract down from which we have been hurled and the rapids with whose turbulence we are now struggling.” I believe to avoid confronting ourselves with a situation of similarly dramatic change it is important that we maintain our ability to change militarily, that we maintain the preeminence that the U.S. and its allies enjoy today. I believe that is something that can’t be achieved except with real effort and real innovation. So keep it up and we’ll check back in 25 years.