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Harvard University Press

Review: The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy

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The adversative in the title is intentional: Edward N. Luttwak, one of the world’s leading military strategists, sets out to show that China’s growth will necessarily trigger strategic realignments among the nations of the world, and that these realignments will unavoidably be made to oppose further Chinese aggrandizement.

Luttwak admits this thesis seems dubious but spends his 270 pages amassing an impressive amount of evidence for it. Japan, for example, had been moving toward closer relations with China through 2010. Suddenly, in 2011, after China’s offensive behavior in a small territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, Japan charged back into the orbit of the United States and formed a close strategic alliance with Australia. Singapore and Vietnam, too, have been allying with Australia. Mongolia has recently discovered vast coal reserves near the Chinese border. But rather than building a rail line by which it can export coal to greedy Chinese markets, it instead opted to build the line to Russia. In short, writes Luttwak, like Germany in 1890, China is experiencing massive growth and success, therefore, its neighbors have a vested interest in containing its growth, not by direct warfare, but by geo-economic strategic moves.

What is China’s response to all this? It simply continues to grow. Like all empires, it suffers from “great-state autism.” It perceives the outside world through a distorted lens of Han superiority, never minding the fact that China has been ruled by non-Han for two-thirds of the last millennium. To increase its strength now, it ought to adopt a position of military weakness, thus letting its neighbors stand down. But, predicts Luttwak, such a move is politically and bureaucratically impossible.

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The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy (Harvard University Press, 2012) is a sober book. Staying with the evidence, it avoids flights of fancy but grips readers’ attention all the way through. Here, finally, is an expert on China who knows what he’s talking about.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb grew up on a ranch in northern Colorado and is currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Greenville, S.C.

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