Jaw-Jaw: China’s Great Power Disease
How does the logic of strategy apply to China? How did the Obama administration acquit itself on China policy (hint: not well!)? And why should you not bother reading any contemporary books on China? These and many more provocative questions form the basis of the new edition of Jaw-Jaw.
Edward Luttwak is a political scientist known for his works on grand strategy, military history, and international relations. He is the author of a number of books, including Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace; The Rise of China and the Logic of Strategy; The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire; the Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire; and Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook. He provides consulting services to governments and international enterprises, including various branches of the U.S. government and the U.S. military.
Brad Carson is a professor at the University of Virginia, where he teaches in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2005 and was undersecretary of the Army and acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness in the Obama administration. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.
- Edward Luttwak, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy, (Belknap Press, 2012)
- The Cambridge History of China, (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
Editor’s Note (2/22/19): I would like to address objections that have been raised in response to Edward Luttwak’s use of an autism metaphor to describe China in an episode of ‘Jaw-Jaw.’ War on the Rocks does not defend or support the use of this term, nor do we defend any attacks or insults against autistic individuals or their families. Luttwak has previously used this metaphor in a book published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, which was adapted from a study originally commissioned by the Department of Defense and has been covered by major media outlets. Luttwak also applies the analogy to the United States. Our host asked about this well-known feature of our guest’s analysis without endorsement. Rather, the question was asked — and the relevant segment kept in the final product — in the spirit of airing a viewpoint that is controversial, but has arguably had a significant impact on U.S. thinking about China and should be debated. We recognize the legitimate concerns that many of our readers and listeners have raised about the implications of this usage of the term and are sincerely grateful to them for raising this issue and helping us to be better as we grow our podcast presence. – Ryan Evans
Brad: Dr. Edward Luttwak, you have famously said that China is an autistic nation. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Edward: What I said is that all great powers are much less aware of the outside world than small powers. Simply because there’s so much going on inside them. They only have so many decision-makers. In the end you have executives, one or two, United States has one, in some other countries it’s two or three. They only have one set of ears and eyes and tongue. And if they’re getting a lot of input from inside the country their ability to focus on outside is less. Now in the Chinese case, first of all it’s the biggest country in terms of population.
Secondly, it’s extremely varied. If you are the Chinese guy running the show as Mao was, and Xi Jinping is, you have every day a certain number of earthquakes, floods, mud slides. You have local uprisings, very few of them get reported. There’s a lot of local uprisings, where people are infuriated by something and go attack the local thing, set fire the local party branch. So you have those things to deal with.
Secondly, you have your rivals who are trying to replace you. You have to keep tabs on them. Some of them you can lock up on the accusations of corruption, or being capitalist roguers, but others you have to manage.
So that’s one problem. Now the Chinese are biggest, so they are more autistic. Secondly, they’re more autistic for another reason and that is that they have a very strongly, very strongly built image of the proper relationship between China and the outside world. And that proper relationship is one in which China is not in fact an aggressor or invader, but other countries ought to be giving things to China in tribute to China’s centrality. China is the middle country. The characters translate as the country, the central country. The Japanese term, Chuugoku literally means that. It’s the country of the center.
And since it’s the country of the center and benevolent … that’s how they see themselves, then people around the edges of China, because the whole world is around the edges of China, should be coming and bringing tribute. The Chinese traditional attitude was that some nomads bring in some smelly furs and they get lots of silk — which is much more valuable — kind of thing.
Therefore, Mr. Xi Jinping as an individual with only one set of eyes and ears, he allocates quite a lot of time to foreign affairs, as he understands it. And that means receiving delegations. The delegation of Germany, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Paraguay, Ecuador. And they’re all treated the same. They make a formal speech stressing the longevity and importance of China relations with whatever it is, and Xi Jinping makes a speech how wonderful it is, he tried to mention the project, they were going to build a bridge there, or a road, or a harbor and some. And then they exchange gifts, and off they go.
So if you go to Xi Jinping and say, “A guy like you should spend some time thinking about the outside world,” he says, “What do you mean? I just did two hours and some.” And the answer is, in other words, they have no time for foreign affairs, or very little, and what they have is allocated to purely ceremonial functions. Xi Jinping spends much more time on ceremonial encounters with foreign delegations than any American president ever did, or anybody else I can think of. It’s just a daily schedule; you read the Peoples Daily, and you see the picture, there is the Kiribati ambassador …
So, in other words, they don’t have a unique Chinese disease. They have a common disease for all large countries. But theirs is much more severe.
Brad: And do you think Xi Jinping has a particular case of this, given that he has seemingly taken a more authoritarian stance, he seems to be more aggressive in pushing Chinese interests, if you will, abroad, at the risk of causing friction with others?
Edward: We don’t have to speculate about what goes on inside these minds, but because his politics are the politics of assertion, he’s decided to be very assertive, he appears often wearing a military uniform. So the guy appears in military uniform, he makes speeches quite often, exhorting the military to get ready for war. By that, he doesn’t mean that he’s planning to start any wars at all, but it’s just the Chinese way of being ceremonial in regard to the military. And this character has accentuated the autism because of that, and the autism is contagious. The extreme autism. Because, if you remember what happened just a couple of weeks ago, is that the Canadian authorities acting on the Department of Justice warrant, generated administratively without any difference in knowledge by any political person, let alone Trump, arrested Ms. Meng, or Mrs. Meng. Daughter of the shadowy character who created Huawei without setting up a company, without signing shares, and financed this giant enterprise all by himself. Maybe from his savings as a retired major in the PLA. This lady gets arrested in Vancouver. Two days later the Chinese ambassador makes a speech saying, “How dare you arrest a Chinese princess?” In effect, what he was saying.
When the Chinese authorities arrested two Canadians, the ambassador said, “Well you see what happens when you arrest…” In other words, I do not believe that any Chinese ambassador could have been as tactless and counterproductive as that ambassador in Ottawa — Chinese ambassador in Ottawa — was. Unless, he felt that this is what was expected of him.
And so, in other words, Xi Jinping is an extreme case and it’s spreading.
Brad: And why is he an extreme case, in the sense that, if the autism of China is becoming more aggravated, if you will. Why is that? Is it a fact about Xi Jinping’s personality? Are there structural developments in China? Have they reached a certain critical stage in their development in the world that makes them this way? Why is it accelerating?
Edward: Well, I’m not a psychoanalyst but the outside factors are that Xi Jinping was the son of a very high party leader. He was brought up by one of the handful of people who were running the country, that was his father. It was his model, usually, I presume it was his model. Even when he was sent down to the countryside, he was supposed to learn from the peasants but apparently he was a strong will [sic] leader from the first time. Now he comes to power in a sequence that he didn’t control, because he was generated by the party, and as you know he was the designated successor. He was parked at the central party school for a while.
Then Hu Jintao did the right thing and put him on, and he happened to come to power after 2008. 2008 was the break. 2008 is when Chinese foreign policy abruptly changes. Until 2008, China’s declared foreign policy was peaceful rise. This was the title, then it was changed to peaceful development, but it was a title of a speech by a gentleman who is still alive today. Who we would pronounce as Zheng Bijian or Zheng Bijian who went to the Boao Forum in Hainan Island in 2004 and said look, China is growing, we are becoming richer. As part of being richer, we’ll have some attributes of power, we are going to build armed forces, but our rise is a peaceful rise. Consistent with Chinese rise in history which is land gets turned into patty rice, population increases and spreads. We are peaceful people. There is going to be a peaceful rise, we are making no claims against anyone’s territory. We are not going to invade Taiwan even though it is our province, et cetera, et cetera.
He declared that promise, he meant that. Zheng Bijian meant that, that was sincere, it was corresponding to China’s policy. By 2010, very visibly, all of these had been revoked. China had started territorial quarrels, demanding territory from Japan, from the Philippines. From Indonesia to Sultan of Brunei, and Malaysian federation. All of these being maritime territories, all of them claimed at the same time between 2008, really 2009-2010. Same time, reviving the territorial demand on India. The entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, or provinces of Arunachal, which is basically when you look at a map of India, they’re the northeast corner.
So, Xi Jinping’s coming to power, maybe Mr. Xi Jinping, but he didn’t do it. He came to power after this transition was done. By the way, Zheng Bijian is an old friend of mine. So, I went to see him when suddenly peaceful rise was abandoned. I went to see him and he is a retired whatever, but he has his own institute, he has a small staff and villa. I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Runaway horses.”
Nevertheless, when Xi Jinping became party secretary in [inaudible 00:11:57] after Hu Jintao it was the same Zheng Bijian who wrote the People’s Daily article announcing the arrival of the new leader. Means that two years ago, whenever that was, he was still on top. No, it’s not two years ago. Six years ago he was still on top.
The man is still alive and his view is the same, namely that China had the right strategy, which it abandoned.
Brad: So why did they abandon it, though? What events in China, or around the world, cause them to make this abrupt change?
Edward: Alright. So, that they abandoned it is very clear, because they explode with these demands and so on. The facts are very clear. The causes one can only speculate.
Revealing people’s speculations about other countries’ decision-making shows that the record is a very poor one. When people try to speculate why the Americans do this or that, even in real time, a lot of inside Americans kind of laugh at how these things attribute them. We are in grave danger, as to the reason, but my guess based on personal … I travel a lot in China, my personal acquaintance with a vice foreign minister called Han Fu Yin, who is of Mongol extraction, who was beautiful, absolutely beautiful woman. This beautiful woman had very gentle gestures. Suddenly I meet her and all her gestures are very strong, authoritarian and so on.
What happened was, that the Chinese leadership in its autistic isolation, grossly overestimated the impact of the financial crisis. What the outside world calls the Lehman crisis. When it happened they said, “Ah ha, history has accelerated, we thought we would become number one in future years, no, it’s happening right now.” This was greatly reinforced by the Obama administration’s approach to China, because the Europeans’ proof when the crisis really hit, happened to be within days of when it became really acute was when Obama just became President.
So, the Americans reach out to the Europeans and say, “Fellas, we’re about to go into a classic downward spiral of capitalism and what we need to do is to take money, whether you have it or not, and dump it on the street so that people will go out and buy things and such.” European answer was, the French said, “What crisis? There’s no crisis” because it just hadn’t hit them yet.
The French say to the American delegation, don’t talk to the Italians, they always waste their time, and the Germans refused to do anything on the grounds that their concern is not deflation but inflation, as always.
So, in the meantime, the president goes to Europe. No president goes to China, they send the Treasury delegation. The Chinese immediately respond by printing huge amounts of money. That spring of 2009 I was driving up the road with my wife, up the famous 204 that goes from Yunnan into Tibet, and there were people working along the road. Plainly with shovels, kinda widening a road that was already much too wide for the no traffic on that bisecting road that goes from the jungles to the Himalayas, and they are all there working with shovels and the bulldozers were idle. Okay?
In other words, the Chinese respond immediately. By responding immediately, however, they are responding to a message from the U.S. Treasury that says, “We need you, desperately, we need you because we’re in trouble.” And this filters, I’m sure, that the Chinese, Bank of China people, and all these understood the message, namely we have a momentary typical capitalist thing that we have to inject stuff, for five minutes everything will be better. But when they pass it to the political leadership, they totally didn’t understand it.
Do remember that for the best part of the previous century, Communism was propelled by a theory called the global crisis of capitalism. The theory was that capitalism looks great and they all have these shiny cars, but the moment will come when the whole thing will collapse. When the Chinese top leaders got the word from these Bank of China and Treasury people, who had just heard the Americans, they misunderstood the message, and it just triggered a process where they started making these claims then they got a lot of applause internally from the people on the internet who are not patriotic at all but they are very nationalistic. I say they are not patriotic because every time there’s a crisis a lot of these people take all the money, send it to New York, but they’re nationalistic in the sense of hating outsiders. They get encouraged down that road, and they completely go off course. That’s why Zheng Bijian said, “Runaway horses.” Okay? At that time; late 2009, I think it was.
Xi Jinping comes to power riding this wave of things, now they pulled back a little bit. They have pulled back. The Japanese held them. Stopped them, and they retreated. They were shouting, “Senkaku Islands,” which is what they claim from Japan, they were shouting “Senkaku, Senkaku, Senkaku,” and now they stopped.
Brad: The South China Sea, seemingly a new theater.
Edward: Well the South China Sea, Xi Jinping’s responsibilities are great there. Because Xi Jinping did cause the Obama administration, particularly the National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who very, very, regrettably thought of herself as a China expert. A very dangerous thing to do. She was sure that she had managed the Chinese. Her theory was that China was shapeable, shapeable, like moldable. I was wondering, maybe it’s a very small country with very new history, you know very short history like Kiribati or something. If you come to Kiribati with a check, I guess you can change the foreign policy, shapeable. In this confusion, there was a failure by the Obama administration to respond. When the Chinese went crazy, they did not respond. When they shoved aside the Filipinos to take the Scarborough Shoal, literally, you know, there was zero U.S. response.
Brad: What should the response have been?
Edward: The response should have been, we are now in 2008–2009, should have been the following. Thank you very much, for being so responsive on the economic front, printing money, dumping it, because these laborers who worked on the highway there, did go out to the local little shops run by the Tibetans and did buy some chewing gum, which is Wrigley’s chewing gum. And they bought some things like that. Okay? And thank you very much for your wonderful response, it shows you really understand how we are all together and now please don’t forget that even if we don’t build an aircraft carrier for the next twenty years, and you work all out, our Navy can still crush you. Crush you utterly. And by the way, the Japanese Navy can crush you utterly. And yet, you’re talking to the Japanese claiming their territory as if they were powerless. They are not powerless.
Brad: So did the Chinese underestimate …
Edward: So there was a failure to respond. Instead, Obama really listened to this person and thought that the right thing to do was to be soft and the answer is he made a big mistake.
Brad: Well two questions about that then. To step back, was the Chinese lesson from 2008 that the West was past its sell-by date, that we didn’t have the moxie, that the vitality of the West had been sapped and therefore that freed them up to do things they previously wouldn’t have? Is that kind of your view, how the Chinese misinterpreted 2008?
Edward: Yes … Let’s say, their behavior really abruptly changes 2009 or so, 2010 is mature. I wrote a book, I mean a Pentagon report on this in 2010. 2009–2010. Which was then published in 2012. In which I recorded their abrupt behavior change, that’s a fact. Interpretations we can differ on, but the facts are clear, and you can date the time as being after they responded to the U.S. entreaties for them to spend a lot of money and generate demand. Which was the exactly right thing to do for United States, for China, and the world economy. Against the background of the European refusal to respond, took a long time for the Europeans to refuse, the punishment is that they are still in the crisis today.
Brad: You say we should have responded more forcefully.
Edward: Very forcefully by doing the right thing, namely backing up allies. When they shoved aside the Filipino coast guard, or navy, whatever it was, U.S. ships should have come there. Because, by the way, even though the Filipinos kicked us out of Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base, the fact is there is a Filipino-U.S. security treaty. We are treaty allies. So when the Chinese started shoving them, U.S. Navy should have showed up. It didn’t.
Brad: Showed up even risking a possible conflict with China over something like the Scarborough Shoal?
Edward: The Chinese pushing was done by very unimpressive vessels, if the American navy had showed up, the Filipinos would have resisted. There was no need for the U.S. to do anything, all it had to do was stand there. And they didn’t.
Brad: And so you talked about Susan Rice.
Edward: She was the National Security Advisor, and these choices are attributed to her but the President was Obama, it was an Obama administration and it was also a failure by the sinological community to point out how abruptly Chinese policy had changed. What happened in the information terms was that the people following Japan were reporting what was happening in Japan. Nobody followed the Philippines, but maybe in there. The demands on the famous seven-dash line, which is a very crude map on which a Kuomintang official; at the time when China controlled nothing at all, not even Beijing, makes these vast claims. Since you have nothing why not claim everything?
All these different countries that were affected, they reported back to the handful of people in Washington who followed them. For example, the revival of Chinese claims on the Indians, of a big chunk of India, that was reported to the people who cover India. Nobody actually put the thing together. In fact, my report, the one I did, which was then published as The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy as a book, and before that circulated for the government. That report was simply to put together things that had wrongly been put in separate boxes. That’s all.
Brad: To some extent you talk about how Susan Rice had a view and the sinological community had that. It seems even going back to the earliest days of American engagement with China in the 1960s, 1970s this view of engagement toward China, that China would rise peacefully, they could be integrated into the democratic order, was shared by liberal and conservative alike, Democratic and Republican administration alike, and the kind of more hawkish views were often expressed by dissidents in the community.
So to some extent to do see what Obama did, or Susan Rice did, as being different than perhaps their predecessors would have done? Or was this a major failure to understand China that was shared by lots of people in policymaking circles?
Edward: From the time Mao died, September 1976, I happened to be in Beijing, and I happened to be invited to the Great Hall of the People and actually saw the body of Mao. There’s a photograph of me standing over the body of Mao with a gang of four around me, which was a strange thing to me. From that moment on, from the time Mao died, only the optimists were right. Only the doves were right. All the people who said that the Chinese would collapse were wrong, the people who said the Chinese were going to be aggressive were wrong, the people who were alarmed about Taiwan were wrong, and the only correct interpretation was the Susan Rice interpretation.
Then, in 2004 this benign view of China is confirmed by the Chinese themselves through the publication of the peaceful rise speech, an article which was backed up. So by late 2004 the only people who have a negative view of China are people who have ignored all the real things that have happened. There’s a steady improvement in everything. And by the way, some of these improvements continue to this day.
One of these improvements was the rule of law. Suddenly foreign companies could operate in China with some safety. They could get into legal disputes with Chinese companies and have Chinese courts treat them fairly.
So, there was overall improvement. The only people who were right about China through 2008 were the optimists, and the people who overlooked defects, shortcomings, and stressed the positive. And then, it turned. By the way, what turned was the external conduct, many things in China continued to improve. Including many important forms of liberalization, they became much more tolerant in every respect, much of that is now being reversed, of course, by Xi Jinping’s increasingly arrogant dictatorial behavior.
By the way, last week they announced the formation of four new institutes to disseminate Xi Jinping thought, which will be at different Chinese universities. A whole institute. Okay?
So that gets worse, some things continue to be better. Two years ago I drove northeast China, since foreigners, only residents can get a drivers license. And I like driving. I did so with a Chinese pal of mine who is a policeman, he spent the entire time complaining how judges can’t be trusted anymore in China. They used to be party officials, now they are actually lawyers, because they created the legal profession after the death of Mao, where they study law. Studying law they get infected by the rule of law and now he says they won’t accept confessions, claiming we beat them up, they demand evidence. I arrest somebody Monday, I see him walking the streets Wednesday. I’m getting more and more angry. Okay? That was his oblique testimony. He said, it’s only when we catch them with drugs that we can just execute them. And of course, looking at me he says, when they’re foreign spies then Ministry of State Security takes them away. Otherwise, life is becoming impossible [sic], I’m looking for a new career. Policeman. Okay?
And this goes on well after the turn of 2008. That’s two years ago. The optimists were right and then on foreign policy the optimists became drastically wrong, and they just didn’t switch back.
Brad: So you’re the National Security Advisor to the new president, we see what China has done over the time that Xi has been in power, what should the U.S. policy toward China be?
Edward: Well it has to be engagement, but of a new kind. It’s an engagement in which United States simply becomes extremely positive on everything positive, and extremely harsh on anything negative. The famous, or perhaps not-so-famous Micron case in Taiwan, where a Fujian regional authority invests money to build a copy of a Micron plant, a shadow plant. And then they go and hire, offer triple salaries to any Micron employee who comes over to them carrying a laptop or server, or memory stick or whatever it is with Micron information. They get caught by doing all …
That should have led to a drastic response while at the same time trying to be positive when anything can be positive. In other words, one has to have a duality.
Brad: What would a drastic response look like?
Edward: Well a drastic response is very simple. To this day, the People’s Republic of China, with its many accomplishments, cannot produce an integrated circuit that is even remotely competitive. No Chinese intellectual property, integrated circuit or chip … as you know super computers, laptops, phones, all of what we call electronics, anything you’re going to build artificial intelligence on, does rest on integrated circuits or microprocessors or chips or whatever you call them. Those things, in order to be competitive, not just commercially but functional, for things like don’t generate so much heat that they melt down your battery kind of thing, those things, the Chinese are not able to do without using foreign intellectual capital and they can’t manufacture them. They have to be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation or the other people who can work on what’s called 7 nm, which is seven nanometers, which is seven billionths of a meter, right? They can’t do it.
Brad: So should we put export controls on those kinds of things?
Edward: No, no, no. What Trump did by saying that he’s stopping the supply of central processing units to the second biggest Chinese companies, ZTE, and the next day ZTE, which is quoted in Shanghai, shares collapsed. The United States controls their electronics, partially, and what the United States does not control, the giant enterprise called Arm Cambridge, England. The enterprise that converted Cambridgeshire into another Silicon Valley, Arm controls. There is no Chinese integrated circuit that is based on Chinese intellectual property; none of them can be manufactured by themselves, only by outsiders, usually the huge Taiwan Semiconductor. It in turn, totally depends on American machinery.
That is the response should have been, and Trumps was that. He said, “I’m not allowing ZTE to have any equipment.” ZTE collapsed. He could have done the same thing to Huawei.
Brad: But he backed off ZTE.
Edward: He backed off, he backed off but …
Brad: Was that a mistake?
Edward: No, not necessarily because it was a demonstration: Watch out. Okay?
Now, my understanding of what is going on in China today, based on fragmentary information, don’t ask me to back even ten cents of this, but my understanding is that once Trump responded that a lot of people in China said, “Well, our leaders have become unrealistic.” They became over confident, over optimistic, the balance of power is not what they think it is. We still have a long way to go. The Americans can shut this down, and in fact they can.
Brad: So, to maybe take it to a corner case: Why don’t we? If, for example, you can make the case, I don’t know if you would share this view but some do, that China is inexorably going to be a competitor of the United States, perhaps even an adversary of the United States over time. If we worry about things like their artificial intelligence capabilities all of which was built on NVIDIA chips, Intel chips, we could stop a lot of that if we wanted to. Why don’t we do that?
Edward: Alright. Stopping the ZTE thing where Trump said we are not allowing you to have components, and ZTE starts collapsing, then the Chinese immediately started complying with the whole other stuff. So, the idea is to use your power but don’t use your power and say, shut them down completely unless they fail to respond to the messages. Right now, I believe Mr. Xi Jinping’s position is become precarious, even as they announce four new institutes I noticed that there are fewer and fewer pictures of him appearing in the media. That’s not because somebody’s keeping him out but he is himself retreating, he’s feeling the adverse weight, and that may bring them back …
Now addressing your issue: artificial intelligence, it’s true. In this kind of childish way, I think Xi Jinping is a childish guy. He thought artificial intelligence is the key to Chinese victory and artificial intelligence and G5. Both of these have some realistic elements.
For example, G5, we all know what G5 is. Right? G4 was much better than G2. G5 is better. What is the promise for the Chinese? The promise is that if you have such fantastic communications, the phone in your hand need not be a brainy phone at all. It can be just a screen and a voice inside. You don’t need the brain function because you can bring it back to a supercomputer back in China.
Brad: The 5G you’re talking about.
Edward: Yeah, 5G. So it means that all our shortcomings, we Chinese, our inability to make CPUs, MPUs all that stuff become irrelevant because they won’t need them anymore inside that thing, dumb phone. So, that may even be true. This dream of theirs, the 5G they can circumvent their inability to carry out certain types of industrial projects. Which is very interesting, their inability to do a chip after twenty years of trying, has a meaning this inability. Now, in regard to artificial intelligence, we all know what it is, which is not something in the far future where everything will change, it’s what’s happening every day. When you go on Google and you buy a pair of boots, they start offering you mountain vacations, that’s artificial intelligence. It’s already being applied and used in many different ways. Not just selling mountain holidays or boots. And if you add a highly advanced artificial intelligence to everyday economic activity, you can make yourself very rich, Chinese idea.
Secondly, if you add it to your existing military forces, as an add on you make yourself very rich. Sorry, very powerful, very militarily very powerful. These are very true statements. It really could happen. The F-35 has a helmet-mounted display. The helmet-mounted display means the pilot looks to the target and the air-to-air missile he has has a head that can turn with his helmet, facing that way. So he can actually launch the missile without having to turn the entire airplane, thereby saving three seconds of winning the air battle. But why have somebody inside that helmet? Instead of having a pilot who was latency, let’s use the engineering term, taking two seconds to focus and so on. You just have artificial intelligence and then the helmet turns, sees the enemy thing and artificially determines that it’s not friendly, identification friend, foe, and then image recognition of the simplest kind is enough when you’re dealing with an air environment where there’s a finite number of checks and now the missile goes.
So, what’s really happening today in the world is that artificial intelligence is here and it’s being kept at bay only by the flat-out refusal of the military to accept it.
And the Chinese idea is that they will actually implement it.
Brad: They can’t do it without us. So why are we enabling them by the selling of chips to them about this?
Edward: We should not … okay. This is what we should do. Okay.
First of all, we need to take security seriously. There was a petition in Google for continuing with their search engine that would be Chinese regime-compliant and five hundred people signed it, many of them were Chinese citizens. So, in Google, which is one of our paladins, okay. Artificial intelligence is like the navy, air force is Google. There are five hundred Chinese citizens.
Secondly, there are many American citizens who were born in China. Thirdly, there are Americans of Chinese extraction. Security attitude to all of them is extremely lax, it’s in the principles of non-discrimination, equality, and niceness. Okay? Bringing back to the atomic spies, Manhattan project, by 1960 all well right-thinking, properly educated Americans thought that the United States had been overcome by a horrible, anti-communism hysteria, McCarthyism, terrible, terrible. Well, only in the 1990s we discovered that it was grossly underdone. That, in fact, the Soviet spies had got much more and we never even caught the important ones. It’s only they started printing and issuing stamps with their faces that we discovered who was really taking.
So, what’s going on now is mass theft of U.S. intellectual property, and a very feeble response. So let’s start with that.
Brad: Let me ask a question about that then, because we do think of cyber units in mainland China itself trying to use techniques to steal a lot of things. Do you think we should be more concerned about Chinese students who come to the United States, Chinese nationals who are working at our IT companies? Should we have a different immigration policy toward China if that’s the case?
Edward: Well, we have a Microsoft research unit in Beijing. Which doesn’t generate revenue, it’s an expense amount for Microsoft. Many of the Chinese artificial intelligence paladins were trained by Microsoft research unit in Beijing, I don’t recall during the Cold War the United States was running a pilot school in Moscow.
Brad: No, but should we adopt that model how we froze the Soviets out of technology, of tech transfers, of students, should we do the same thing with China?
Edward: We have to start safeguarding our crown jewels. When Google, in the same month, can say we’ll refuse to cooperate with the Pentagon and they cancel project Maven, M-A-V-E-N, that’s the Hebrew word for understanding, right? They cancel the project and then announce that they’re going to have a regime-compliant search engine to suit the Chinese authorities, and nobody goes and tears them limb from limb, that’s very serious. In other words, before we start talking administration, people have to understand that Google cannot do that. You cannot say, I refuse to work with the Defense Department of the country that protects the territory on which Google is, and open to the Chinese in the same month and not get punished for it. They should have got punished for it.
Brad: In what way?
Edward: What do you mean in what way?
Brad: I mean how would we punish Google?
Edward: Oh, they refuse to cooperate with the Defense Department and what you do is, Department of Commerce starts asking them to license things and don’t license things, and see whether Microsoft Edge cannot be favored by U.S. government policy to weaken them. You cannot have people, you can’t have a U.S. company refusing to using work with the Pentagon, to improve the Pentagon’s intelligence by having better search engine kind of thing. And declaring that they will, in fact, cooperate with the Beijing regime, in doing a search engine that accepts Chinese censorship. They have to be punished for it. If society in the west coast, people that live around Google, think that sounds great then it just will be emphasizing, it will sort of confirm the notion that once you consume enough marijuana within a certain county everybody in it becomes loco.
But the fact is there should have been a harsh response to this. Harsh. By society. American society.
And secondly, as I say, we have to take security seriously. The history of the atom spies must be remembered. They operated undetected, then a handful were detected, then there was a very strong anti-communism movement, communist party members were prosecuted [inaudible 00:44:58]. By 1960 everybody thought that it was grotesque, hugely overdone, that in fact the threat was tiny, tiny. There were a couple communist sympathizers and then so many of these Hollywood script doctors, poor boys, lost their jobs. By 1970 only extremely retrograde, reactionary, ignorant people didn’t believe that. Then, twenty years later it turns out that when they break down the Soviet Union, the new Russian Federation publishes the truth. And the truth is that they took everything. They stole everything and the level of American suspicion was much too low, and that many people were not investigated and it was among them, in fact it was the communist sympathizers who handed over the fission bomb design, exact design, the thermo-nuclear weapon concept. … And third the gaseous diffusion technology.
So there were three crown jewels, all three the Soviets had. The United States spent huge resources and all this intellect to do something, which the Russians got with a handful of spies.
Brad: So I think you had this in an analogy, that you’ve brought that up.
Edward: The analogy is that we are being very lackadaisical about Chinese stealing of technology.
Brad: And by Chinese stealing of technology we’re not talking, again, simply cyber theft? We’re talking about Chinese nationals who are in this country.
Edward: Cyber is nothing. Cyber is trivial, you have a bunch of kids. It’s Chinese nationals in the United States, Chinese students in the United States, it is American citizens born in China who are systematically targeted by the Ministry of State Security. We haven’t even got one case, by the way, where the Ministry of State Security, which is their espionage, has ever tried to recruit anybody who was not of Chinese extraction. We have to accept this is a reality. We can’t say, oh no you can’t be prejudiced and so on. Every single case involves China-born people, and we have to recognize that this means not that they should all be kicked out, no. It is that they should be properly scrutinized and not to have people say, oh we can’t investigate them, otherwise it will be thought as prejudice.
Brad: So you’re the National Security Advisor, China’s building islands in the South China sea, they have territorial disputes with most of their neighbors. Is the response, to you, that we use these economic levers that we clearly have over them to try to get them back in the box, or are there also military responses that we should be thinking about?
Edward: The thing that the Obama administration is most culpable of is that when the Chinese started destroying coral reefs at the five major and six minor, destroying as much coral reef as there is in the Great Barrier Reef collectively, the Obama administration did not even respond on environmental grounds. They first of all, should have made a huge complain on environmental grounds and should have invited volunteer ships to go there and safeguard the reefs by being right there and preventing them from destroying them systematically. The fact that the Obama administration did not even respond on environmental grounds, that is a serious responsibility because they were informed in real time and chose to do nothing.
Brad: And why though? Why did they choose to do nothing?
Edward: Because of the Susan Rice theory that Obama bought. Remember, Obama was not serious about foreign affairs, he just wasn’t. On the day that the United States intervened in Libya, that morning the Joint Chiefs met with Mr. Gates, Secretary of Defense, and they decided not to intervene in Libya. That was Washington time, 10 a.m. he makes a speech, authorized by the White House by Obama, authorized saying we will not intervene. Six p.m. Paris time, which is only two hours later, the United States intervenes, because Obama changed his mind in two hours. Samantha Powers, U.S. ambassador to the UN, the Susan Rice and Hilary Clinton persuaded Obama in two hours to change the policy he had authorized by the Secretary of Defense, done, and turned and start bombing Libya. Right?
Their biggest mistake ever made in North Africa by the United States, after very sound beginnings … beginning of the Republic — attacking Tripoli that was a great idea — that was the worst. Attacking Tripoli the second time was the biggest mistake. Obama was not serious about foreign affairs, and the failure to respond to the Chinese destruction of the coral reefs is very serious because it should have been a big response and I say should have invited foundations and so on should have alerted to people, people didn’t know. Americans go about their business, they don’t know what’s going on … South China Sea. It’s not their jobs and reporters were not there, they’re all covering the well known places where six hundred reporters go and converge.
So, they should have woken up and should have invited people to take their yachts and their motor sailors, I’ve sailed in those waters, it’s wonderful. To go there and camp on the coral reefs, they should have done it, and they did nothing they did not even issue a complaint.
So, we have to not do that kind of stuff. On the other hand, certain highly sinister things I don’t take very seriously. Cyber-hacking, for example, is very unimportant when you have thousands of Chinese people right inside the computer system at MIT, who do you care if somebody hacks it from the outside. We have to get serious about security and we have to get serious about a lot of other things.
Brad: Can we talk about the capabilities of the Chinese military? How should we think about PLA about the reform Xi Jinping is trying to make to it, corruption within it, is the PLA something that if you’re an American defense planner should greatly concern you?
Edward: They shrank the ground forces a lot, so now they’re about 1.1 million, and gave them much more money, they have much better tanks, armored cars and all that, and guns, artillery, missiles, radios, and so on. The People’s Armed Police is bigger than the ground forces, and the People’s Armed Police and so on … The Chinese are not Germans, they are Italians. So, they do beautiful parades. They are not fighters, that’s not our problem, and besides, maritime powers.
Australia, which was the first country to do a lot of theory about China, 2008 with the white paper, sorry, 2009. Very quickly they said we’ve got to contain them, then the Japanese get on board only 2012, Americans really only after Obama left. Maritime powers confronting a land power don’t just build ships to face this navy this land power sends out to sea. What they do is they remind the land power that it is a land power. By visiting India, Tajikistan, Kirghizia [Kyrgyzstan], Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and, of course, Russia and remind the Chinese that they are a land power. If you start a few things in Vietnam and India, Laos, Myanmar, you know China has so many borders then the People’s Armed Police has to get even bigger.
Brad: The DOD response in this country toward China, should we be building more ships? Should we be developing new doctrine? I mean, how should we … is this a concern that we need to be building up?
Edward: How about allowing some tads and tips and bits of artificial intelligence into our military, instead of having a strong … the American military at the present moment are carrying out a policy of racial discrimination to exclude artificial intelligence from our military forces. The idea is not to wait seventeen years for some artificial intelligence-based aircraft carrier, but rather to start admitting some of it inside our systems.
Brad: So why are we so resistant to that, in your mind? Because it seems in lots of ways the U.S., in the so-called third offset that the Obama administration pushed was very interested in A.I. There are bureaucratic forces in the Air Force, for example, that may be pilot centric or the naval aviation community but it does seem that people are seized of that, you don’t see that as being true?
Edward: Look. The last U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Ford, cost thirteen billion dollars. Its predecessor, don’t ask me why … CVN, aircraft carrier nuclear. Ford cost thirteen billion, the predecessor was seven billion. They maintain the exact same size, shape, forms, hangers, and so on, but they manage to spend five billion dollars in adding an electrostatic catapult instead of a steam catapult. This is called baroque rococo embellishment. This is not a chair, a chair that costs five dollars is ten thousand dollars because of rococo enhancement.
The difference between electrostatic, electromagnetic whatever it is and steam is very little. It’s the aircraft carrier itself that’s questionable. In other words, the armed forces in regard to equipment have become some sort of historic preservation society. I noticed the people who are not so bound of finding new solutions, in many respects, now the Chinese are not advanced. The Chinese want to emulate and replicate us, so I don’t believe that the Chinese armed forces will make better use of artificial intelligence, but I think that we ought to make better use of it, and that means before you design this strategic bomber around the two pilots flying it, okay? Think about the fact of what it does. Okay, it goes from A to B and drops bombs, why do you need people aboard? Given that even before the advent, what you call, artificial intelligence we could have turned that into an enigmatic missile not the ballistic missile but still, that’s what it is.
We start with those big things, and it goes down to little things.
Look. By 1982 the Israelis had the dedicated UAV-centered ground force, division 182 in Lebanon was reliant on UAVs. That’s 1982. As of the Gulf War time, the only UAVs the American military had were the ones they bought from Israel. The total Israeli budget for R&D is what the U.S. R&D community spends for stationary. In fact, … paperclips only, not office equipment. What about allowing something new to enter? Okay? That response should be our response to technology, not typically to the Chinese because the Chinese are wedded to imitating our forms. They are going through the aircraft carrier ceremonials, they built these temples and they worship at them. I don’t believe that the Chinese military will be any more innovative, but we ought to be innovative. In order to brush them off more easily. I don’t see them as warlike, I see them as expansive. Global expansion is hegemonic, wishing to rule the world certainly.
But militarily? Not by winning battles.
Brad: We end every episode of Jaw-Jaw by asking our guest to recommend some books on China or other subjects that people might be interested in reading themselves. What would you recommend if people asked you this kind of question?
Edward: Well I wrote a book about China, I refuse to give the name, title, or publisher, but people can rush out and buy it.
Brad: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy by Belknap.
Edward: But I will forgive them if they don’t buy the Rise of China book if they promise not to buy any contemporary book on China, and instead read Chinese history. Start and go and get something solid like the Cambridge History of China, take out any volume, stand there and flip the pages, see something you can … maybe the nineteenth century, the Qing dynasty, the response of the Qing dynasty to westernization which was an excellent response. First very bad, then wonderful, and then collapses. They were going a long way towards coping and then they decided to un-cope, not to cope. Very interesting regression.
And then read something about the Meiji Restoration in Japan because the Japanese response to the western challenge was to invent a whole new system of life which they successfully did and they did it even too much, to the point where it actually started wars. The Chinese response was different, I would read that kind of stuff, and then I would read contemporary stuff and in China studies, uniquely, my experience and no other region in the world has it, has a wonderful newsletter which is Sinocism. Sinocism … newsletter, which is online, costs two dollars a month or something, totally worth it. I can’t name a worthwhile newsletter for the Middle East… India or Latin America, but I can for China.
Ancient history, nineteenth-century history at least, and then today’s newsletter. Nothing in between, the books on China all are being grossly, very quickly overtaken by events.
Brad: Dr. Edward Luttwak thank you for being a guest on Jaw-Jaw.
Edward: Thank you.
Music and Production by Tre Hester