Why you don’t need to learn Chinese any more than you needed to learn Russian
If you attend a conference of intelligence professionals, you hear some talk of the Mid East, and a lot of talk about China. There are several reasons for this. While the Mid East is obvious a source of great interest right now, a successful effort was begun back in the 1980s to force all the Arabists out of the intelligence agencies. Without spending time discussing the logic or politics behind this, the net effect was that even though we may want to talk about the Mid East, we no longer have the long-time desk officers we used to have, and so really don’t have anyone who has much to say. Plus, the Mid East contains mostly small countries that, while annoying – of late dangerously so – have traditionally not been considered to pose much of a threat.
What you do hear talk about is China. China, is big, and has been quite verbal about its intention to wage war on us once they have the industrial and military strength to do so. This makes them a very visible threat. In fact their visibility has been rising in a number of areas, and recently we read an article in Informed Sources that was concerned about the level of control Hutchinson Whampoa, which reportedly has closed ties to the PRC, exerts over the Panama Canal, and how entrenched they are in US ports.
The Chinese themselves have estimated that it will take them at least 20 years to have the industrial and military power needed to attack us, based on the assumption of revenues from forecast trade with theU.S.In theory, this means that we have twenty years to ramp up to deal with them. In practice, there are two factors that have not yet been generally considered which may make the issue as irrelevant as it turned out to be with the former Soviet Socialist Republics: Globalization and guns.
We have seen fairly clearly that countries that are widely involved with the rest of the world tend to be less insular, have less outside interference from the US, and are less involved in trying to do bad things. One notes, for example, that none of the al-Qa’ida attackers involved in the attack on the US were from India or Indonesia, which have the world’s two largest Muslim populations. On the other hand, many of the participants came from the extremely non-globalized areas of Saudia Arabia. In fact, Tom Friedman has noted that even in non-globalized areas of the world, those areas with the most contact with the outside world – generally those in port cities – tend to have a much more liberal point of view. He also noted that the people of countries likeIrancurrently have less animus toward the US because they recognize that we are not responsible for their governments. It is hoped that as China becomes more involved with us, and with the rest of the global community, it will become apparent to them that the advantages of trade outweigh the advantages of war.
In general, peoples who have the opportunity to trade and better themselves tend not to want to take over the world or badly disrupt the status quo. Some observers believe that increased trade with China– or China’s increased trade with the rest of the world – will bring increased prosperity for them, and increased social and cultural intercourse with the West. This in turn will likely bring increased pressure for some level of democratization, thus lessening the likelihood of war.
A second factor that we often overlook, and which somewhat embarrasses us to mention or spend this much time on, is the widespread ownership of guns by citizens of theUnited States. And when we say widespread we mean w i d e s p r e a d: It is estimated that there are more guns in the US than automobiles, and that over half of all American households have guns in them! It is not our place here to discuss the merits of gun control, but, obviously, there is a down side to having a lot of guns around: Out of the 2,400,000 deaths in the US every year roughly 8,000 are gun homicides and 1,000 are gun accidents. More shamefully, out of 13,000 children who die each year in the US, 250 of these deaths are from gun homicides and accidents.
On the up side (ignoring any other issues of possible benefit or loss due to the presence of guns), we note that after the Cold War ended, command members of the GRU and KGB were asked whether there had ever been plans to invade the US. The answer was that while this possibility was considered, it was rejected: There was a belief that in a non-nuclear confrontation our military forces could be overcome and our government coopted, but that the casualties of an occupation, given the armed populace, would be so high as to be unsupportable. This view, they felt, was confirmed in Afghanistan.
It would thus appear that the proliferation of guns in the hands or ordinary citizens played at least some small part in the thoughts and actions of our former enemies, and might again play this same role with other potential enemies. Perhaps America’s founding fathers were, in fact, right when they thought that “the security of a free State” might ultimately lie in “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
On the other hand, it is up to the people to decide what is important for the country, and there are no rights that cannot be repealed. The Supreme Court has said,
“For example, no one, we presume, will contend that Congress can make any law in a Territory respecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people of the Territory peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.
Nor can Congress deny to the people the right to keep and bear arms, nor the right to trial by jury, nor compel any one to be a witness against himself in a criminal proceeding.”
While this is sort of true, it is only true if the Constitution is not amended to eliminate these rights, and if these rights are not abrogated. But it is equally true that the Constitution can be ignored (Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War. This was immediately struck down by the Supreme court, which decision was in turn ignored by the Lincoln administration.), and that it can be amended to say any silly thing that can be voted in (for example, prohibition).
Another issue is the fact that the some contend that the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendment constrains the federal government, but not the states. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, for example, has issued statements strongly reflective of the states-rights position toward the Constitution and its amendments expressed by the Supreme Court in Plessy v.Ferguson, 163 U.S.537 (1896).
Putting aside any other issues, it will be interesting to see if the prospect of having influenced the Russians in the past, or the prospect of influencing the Chinese in the future, will be a factor in this issue.
In any case, between globalization and guns, we believe it is probably not necessary to start learning Chinese as a survival tool.