Chinese Advise That U.S. Military Power Harms American Security

Could it be that paradoxically, American military power and its frequent use have made the United States less secure? According to this op-ed article from China's State-run People's Daily, by undercutting the United Nations and depending on the unilateral use of force, the United States has encouraged nuclear proliferation and undermined its own security.

By Shen Dingli*

May 9, 2006
China - People's Daily - Original Article (English)

[Toronto Star]. (above)


On the surface, the United States is a military superpower with an annual military that has reached the unprecedented height of $500 billion. In terms of weaponry, the country possesses both the world's strongest conventional arsenal, and the world's most devastating inventory of nuclear weapons. The U.S. is a military phenomenon never before seen in human history.

Meanwhile, the U.S. also presses ahead with the development of new concept weaponry, including "practical" nuclear weapons. Considering its fight for outer space, R&D into kinetic energy weapons, its digitalized battlefield information technology and its level of military integration, the U.S., we should say, indeed has no match or rival in today's world.

And America's dominant military position will remain for quite some time. Its military power will inevitably affect its foreign policy and impose influence on international relations.

However, has American military supremacy brought more security to the country? Has it strengthened U.S. dominance of global affairs? My answer is probably not.

Different perspectives lead to different understandings of military superiority. Firstly, a revolutionary change in the concept of national security has taken place since the mankind entered the nuclear era six decades ago. Second, national security has become closely related to international security six decades ago, after human society embraced the concept of institutional security, represented by the United Nations. Under the protection of international institutions, countries without strong defense establishments are not necessarily unsafe. On the contrary, a country with tremendous military spending may not garner a corresponding level of security, if in the process if it damages or runs away from global security mechanisms.


Let's discuss the first question. After obtaining nuclear weapons ahead of the rest of the world, the U.S. immediately used them against Japan. In 1945, America was the world's sole nuclear power, and its national strength reached a peak. Sixty years later, however, does the country feel safer? The answer is obvious.

In the last century, a Japanese strike could barely reach Hawaii. But what about today? Metropolitan areas in the U.S. have already suffered serious low-tech attacks, such as took place on September 11, demonstrating that the country is certainly more vulnerable. Russia, for example, is capable of destroying the United States many times over, although it has no intention of threatening the U.S. militarily. On the global and regional levels, there are far more dangerous factors that prevent America from feeling completely safe.

Nuclear weapons, due to their extreme destructiveness, created a fundamental change in international relations. Due to their capacity to inflict massive destruction, the mere possession of such a weapon conveys on nations that possess them a significant national security deterrence and a louder voice in global affairs.

Developing nuclear weapons is no easy task, but the capacity to do so is not America's alone. What the U.S. did was also achieved by other developed industrialized countries, and even some developing countries, such as India and Pakistan. Once a nation possesses an effective nuclear capability, its relations with other nuclear powers are characterized by mutual deterrence. This is why, despite the tremendous disparity between the conventional and nuclear forces of America and other nuclear powers, given the unacceptable results of any use of nuclear weapons, the "military superiority" of the U.S. is actually more vulnerable.

When it comes to national security, the most undesirable result for Washington would be even a single nuclear strike against one of its cities or overseas military bases. The point of deterrence in the nuclear era is that a nuclear war is never waged, let alone won. Unlike conventional wars, there is no winner in a nuclear warfare.

This is why military imbalances between nations are to a large degree offset by the possession of nuclear weaponry. In theory, the U.S. reserves the option of a first strike, but in practice it would be courting destruction if it actually carried out such an attack against another nuke power. So the chances of such an attack are quite remote. As a result, no matter how hard the U.S. seeks military supremacy, it has been denied absolute power in a nuclear era.

Iranian Weapons Delivery Systems


What follows from this is that the U.S. is afraid nothing but nuke proliferation. Although anti-proliferation has become the international consensus, more often than not, the U.S. itself undermines this goal. For example, on the one hand, the current Bush Administration refuses to talk with North Korea or provide legal security guarantees, and so has garnered a negative result: North Korea has declared itself in possession of nuclear weapons. And on the other hand, despite its opposition to proliferation, America's use of force against Iraq under false pretenses has convinced Iran and North Korea of the advantages of possessing nuclear weapons.

Another example: Despite India's failure to observe non-proliferation, Washington [the Bush Administration] was recently forced to offer New Delhi incentives for its civilian nuclear program. This is a classic example that demonstrates how insisting on the possession of nuclear weapons brings long-term benefits. Since American policy run counter to the objective of anti-proliferation, the reality is that U.S. military superiority cannot bring complete security.


Now for the second question. How does the U.S. ensure its security? Like any other nation, it depends on military forces and international cooperation. Considering its military advantages, in practice the country relies more on its military strength than cooperation to achieve its security goals. However, as a result of what people call U.S. unilateralism, this approach more often than not damages America's long-term security interests, as well as its level of international influence and soft power.

Sixty years ago, as a major initiator of the United Nations, the U.S. still cherished the ideal of securing peace via international cooperation. As part of this international cooperation, every nation would give up part of its traditional sovereignty in exchange for the benefits gleaned from being part of the international community. But sixty years later, by overestimating its own power and underestimating the global security mechanisms the U.S. itself once championed, the U.S. has lost its patience and its self-confidence.

As mentioned above, military superiority means that the U.S. has the upper hand on the battlefield, but this has also fueled a tendency to resort to force more easily. Particularly during the last ten years, the United States has more regularly displayed an inclination to set aside the United Nations and organize "volunteer alliances." The long-term impact of this is to weaken the role of the United Nations.

As the world's most internationalized country, by neglecting or abandoning global organizations such as U.N., the U.S. has to fall back on its own strength and a handful of allies to achieve similar security goals. As a result, the superpower will exhaust its hard and soft power and reduce itself to relative weakness much more quickly.

A Nuclear Regime That Has Failed?


In this sense, through the expansion and abuse of its overweening military might, the U.S. not only failed to secure itself from the nuclear threat, but has damaged its long-term national security interests, and will be unlikely to sustain its present level of preparedness due to the exhaustion of its national strength, both in the medium and long term.

Besides, America's advantages in domestic and military strength are exaggerated, since the currency in some emerging countries, such as India, are not yet freely convertible. So, despite the fact that its economic output accounts for over one quarter of the entire world and its military accounts for 45% of global expenditures, the U.S. remains unable to do as it will in global affairs. The fact that Washington is at its wits end in regard to North Korea is proof that America's intervention capability and national power are far less effective than statistics show.

*Shen Dingli is deputy director of the Center of American Studies, Fudan University.