Thursday, November 8, 2012

China v Japan. Are the Senkaku Islands worth a war?

  China versus Japan sure would be a fun war.

  Fun, of course, being a relative term.

   For those who like watching the world burn, sure, it'd be an interesting fireworks display. At least until cheap Asian labor dried up, killing the world economy and suddenly Walmart has no cheap shit left to sell to subsistence consumers in the US. The world economy right now is married to the idea of backwater peasants, recently liberated from subsistence rice growing, getting subsumed into the brave new world of working for peanuts in concrete warehouses that fill western economies with cheap plastic shit and flashy tech goods. China, the ultimate population behemoth in history, has been rising fast ever since they ditched Maoism and embraced the idea that Marxism, while a nice idea in theory, doesn't work because of a fundamental law in evolutionary science:

   We're all greedy self serving assholes and nature seems to like it that way.

   China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon. There are many reasons why and all of them involve history. Even a quick scan of Chinese history tells you that the burgeoning new middle class in China (they bought more new cars in 2011 than the US) are casting a harsh eye on their own history and noticing how they've been screwed over by outside forces (white men) since at least the 19th century. Worse still, for western war planners, the Chinese people are angry and they've got money. It's a critical difference from colonial times. Poor natives complaining about life is par for the course when the Euros ran their empires. But when consumers complain these days, and that's what 300 million Chinese are today, consumers; then the whole equation is radically changed.

   Chinese history makes Chinese people very angry.

   And who would blame them? I mean, the 19th century British won a series of Opium Wars against the Chinese where they basically turned a huge segment of the Chinese fighting age population into junkies just so they could pay for sought after Asian goods in smack instead of silver. The demand for Chinese goods in Europe was so high that Euro treasuries were being depleted of precious metals so the colonials instigated the polar reverse of today's drug war. Heroin tastes nice. It makes life better... for a while. It alters human behavior. Seeing this, the British devised a "new plan". Let's let empire commerce dump tonnes of Opium into China, the country we seek to control. It'll render their population useless. Sometimes history gets surreal. Other times, it's hard to think of a modern equivalent outside of an alien invasion. Either way, try finding the awkward truth of a reverse drug war in your average high school history curriculum.

   The Japanese, on the other hand, are experiencing a 21st century existential crisis.

   Their economy is stagnant, electronics can be made cheaply elsewhere (unlike when they were kings of the business in the 70s and 80s), and they've got 1.4 billion people just across the water who hate their guts for the shit they pulled in Nanking in 1937. The aging Japanese population cannot process this. In truth, the Japanese have never come to terms with their actions in WWII, at least not to the satisfaction of the Chinese. The mayor of Tokyo, a neocon Dick Cheney on crack, worships at a tomb where at least twelve Jap generals buried there have been convicted of "war crimes". The Japanese sure have a sketchy record when it comes to their memory of WWII. Whereas the Germans have been dealing with guilt for the past 70 years and attempting to make recompense for it, the Japanese are classic Basil Fawlty about the whole thing and "don't mention the war".

   The Chinese want an apology for Nanking.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese do apologies the same way they do unconditional surrender. 

   That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument.

   For the rest of us, if the China v Japan conflict ever entered the shooting phase (ostensibly over these shitty Senkaku islands but really because both sides hate each other's guts), so many escalation events present that it'd be hard to see an end that doesn't involve a nuclear exchange. It'd be like India v Pakistan on bath salts. It'd screw the world economy so hard it'd make Israel's bunker busting dream strike on Iran's nuke sites about as interesting to the global public as Bono talking about Africa at a U2 concert.

   That's why China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon.

   Because nukes.

   Yeah, I'm one of these crazy fucks who is a big fan of nuclear warheads. Let's face it, the cost benefit analysis since 1945's "Little Boy" airburst over Hiroshima has been positive once you take into account the conventional war alternatives. Nukes are probably the best thing to happen to humanity since penicillin although it's not really a fair comparison because nukes have probably saved more lives. Without nukes, the Red Army would have stormed through the Fulda Gap and turned Western Europe into a mega death zone. Without nukes, there would've been no Cold War and instead a constantly warm endless Orwellian nightmare Eurasia v Americana conflict where war is continuous but never winnable. Nuclear weapons have this habit of cutting through the bullshit by defining the limits of human madness. The idea that "we all get to die" makes nukes the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented. Sure, penicillin saved a lot of 19th century top hatted sport fuckers from syphilis but Western Europe under Stalin's policies would have wiped out the global economy.

   And that's a lot of dead people. Everywhere.

   Advantage nukes.

   Nukes rule out any immediate China v Japan war because Japan falls under the Pacific hegemony of the US nuclear umbrella. We're still a decade away from the time when the real noose tightens on the world economy (unsustainably high oil prices) and both China and Japan are majorly dependent on seaborne delivery of spice for right now. This makes them nervous. Without an Iraq in your back yard, you tend to seek out every oil deposit you can. Supposedly, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands have offshore oil and gas deposits and that's when you know things are approaching a crisis point.

   Countries start fighting for the leftover scraps in the barrel.

   Even deep sea short term possible oil deposits are worth disputing. But not worth setting the world on fire for.


   How would this war play out if it did happen?

  Apparently, the US was concerned enough about the saber rattling that they dispatched the USS George Washington carrier group to the South China Sea two weeks ago just to remind all parties to keep their shit on the down low. Even though the Japanese navy could handle itself versus China's medium tech surface fleet and its as yet not ready for primetime second hand Russian carrier, that doesn't mean we can laugh at the Chinese Navy.

   We're talking, at least at the outset, a very interesting naval war not seen in the Pacific since Midway.

   Right now I see a rerun of the 1982 Falklands War with one side landing a token troop contingent on an island and declaring an exclusion zone (200km) around it while the UN shits major bricks and scrambles emergency sessions to prevent WWIII. Meanwhile, the naval blockade could be challenged because forum warriors are screaming for blood in both countries. It's funny how civilians ramp up fast to high level assholes once the shooting starts and then ramp down to cowering failures once the local 7-11 runs out of Tootsie Rolls. War works that way throughout time. It's a combination of trading self worth versus self preservation and sometimes it;s hard to predict a winner because people are prepared to die for stupid shit. Either way, the US dispatches three more carrier groups to the South China Sea to try to contain the new internet sensation: Cuban Missile Crisis Part II: Revenge of the Radiation.

   Sure, this is all hypothetical as hell but nobody can deny this war is "fun" to think about.

   Even though Japan might be superior in surface vessel tech the Chinese wouldn't be out of the battle by any account. Their sub surface fleet of diesel submarines is large. Sure, you might giggle at the mention of 'diesel' subs (conjuring up images of sweaty WWII Germans running around claustrophobic pipe laden interiors) but don't be so quick to discount the effectiveness of old 20th century piston and battery designs just because advanced nations have gone nuclear on sub fleets. The Soviet K-19 story is an object lesson in how these designs are dodgy even if everybody these days says technicians sleeping in close proximity to a nuclear reactor is about as harmful as licking the door of your microwave oven. Diesel subs still have a hand in the game especially when you consider the continuing stealthiness of modern diesel designs. Just ask the Germans (master sub engineers), Israelis, Australians, or, in this case, the Chinese. The Chinese managed to surface one diesel submarine undetected in the middle of a USN carrier group in exercises off Taiwan in 2006. The Chinese have a lot of these babies ranging from the useless to the effective but modern sonar technology has shown that even the AEGIS system is vulnerable.

   My favorite thing about this whole hypothetical war that won't be happening for at least 20 years is the cold eye it casts on naval power itself. Modern technology means 19th/20th century naval projection is losing its luster in the 21st century. Every admiral worth his salt these days knows naval warfare is a quaint idea left over from hardier times before today's missile technology. Naval warfare is great for force projection versus lower tech nations but for industrialized nation v industrialized nation, missile tech is so sophisticated these days that surface ships are really just large, floating, meat filled shipping containers, easy to hit hold overs from a different century when having a Dreadnought added inches to your nation's penis.

   The Russians and Chinese have expended years of R&D on satellite guided ways to sink USN carriers but that doesn't mean a carrier group off your shore is not force projection. A US carrier group offshore still means you're probably fucked. But force application these days is not just military. Global 'soft' pressure is economic in the post WWII era of nukes.

   These days it's economic war with a smiley face where the plebs glued to the TV watch where the multi national cola company that owns the politicians mixes feel good moments on TV and some irrigation project in Africa into their advertising campaign and suddenly the thirsty people safely far away benefit from you buying the correct sugar water. It's a different kind of warfare these days. It's you versus humanity. You versus everything you're supposed to want. The dream consumertopia amounts to the same thing. Either way, it's a lot of people working their asses off while the elite host parties in Monte Carlo and you're not invited.

   It's like the Roman Empire but with i-Phones.

   But that doesn't make this hypothetical war any less interesting.

   For one thing, Japans's version of the AEGIS cruiser/destroyer system, the Kongo series based on the US Arleigh Burke class, would go up against China's lower tech vessels spamming anti ship missiles and, if their subs can get close enough, torpedoes. Sure, the Chinese Navy is kinda funny with all their reverse engineered stuff, their dodgy stealth fighter but the newer generation Chinese destroyers do have modern radar and missiles from France and Russia. The fun part is how all these missile trading systems would hold up under the classic "fog of war" environment. Sure, in multi country war-games these designs have been billed as effective, intercepting at best X% [classified] of the incoming but all it takes is 1% of the incoming to get through and what happens if it lands in the nuke belly of a carrier?

   For fun, let's say two Japanese cruisers go down to Chinese torps because they strayed into the hypothetical "exclusion zone". It'd be like the General Belgrano incident on steroids. Instantly, the Japanese would be seeking to enact that clause of their mutual defense treaty with the US where the US comes to their aid in return for them not having a nuke arsenal and maintaining a "defensive" army. God, you gotta love us humans and our bullshit. No country on earth has so far gathered their forces under an "Offense Department"which sure must be some kind of divine comedy for the aliens... if they're watching as we squirm around the petri dish.

   There is no such thing as a defensive sub. They are primary attack weapons and the Chinese have a lot of them so yeah, the naval war will be fun. This is the point where the war must die because the next stage is trading missiles at 'military installations'. At this point world trade has shut down, the world is in emergency session and everybody with half a brain is stocking up on canned goods.

   It's a crazy world.

   Full of deceit, stupidity, genius, luck, madness and sometimes a little common sense. For right now, the Senkaku Island dispute stays irrelevant. Because we're not that desperate.