John Mearsheimer is Sober, Level-Headed, and Clear-Thinking . . . Except When He Isn’t

 

I recommend to everyone this piece on the present and expected future interplay between China, Taiwan and the United States written by my former professor, John Mearsheimer. It is exceedingly well-written, very hard-headed, and reveals that Mearsheimer has done his homework when it comes to the history of China and Taiwan. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading if one is Taiwanese, American, or a member of any Asian country that seeks to offset or balance against Chinese hegemony in Asia, but, if anything, the unsettling nature of the piece makes it all the more important.

Speaking of well-written Mearsheimerian articles, check out this recent one on the crisis concerning Russia and Ukraine, and the state of American policymaking. Again, Mearsheimer lays out the facts persuasively, accurately gauges each side’s interests and bargaining power, and then offers policy prescriptions that demonstrate a realistic understanding of the situation at play.

One can certainly take issue with some of Mearsheimer’s suggestions. Concerning his article regarding the fate of Taiwan, I would argue that the United States not only can sit by and allow Taiwan to acquire nuclear weapons, but that it should, and that so long as the United States does not directly enter any fray between China and Taiwan, it will not suffer the massive Chinese nuclear attack on the American homeland that Mearsheimer fears.

The Chinese will be deterred by the prospect of an American counterattack that could easily lay waste to just about all of mainland China, and they will also be deterred by a nuclear-armed Taiwan, especially if Taiwan possesses second-strike capability. A nuclear-armed Taiwan will increase to intolerable levels the price that China would have to pay in order to conquer, thus dramatically improving prospects for Taiwan’s continued independence. Indeed, Washington should cease any and all cooperation with Beijing over efforts to keep Taiwan from acquiring nuclear weapons; the Chinese should have to offer up massive concessions to the United States before Washington so much as entertains the notion of helping Beijing keep Taiwan nuclear-free, and those concessions should serve to halt or significantly slow the Chinese drive towards regional hegemony.

Concerning Mearsheimer’s article on Russia and the Ukraine, I prefer Henry Kissinger’s take, if only because Kissinger appears to have a stronger grasp of the fact that Russia’s moves vis-à-vis Ukraine—however much they may be driven by Russian national and historical interests—will carry some significant long term consequences for Ukraine, because Kissinger’s policy proposals more fairly and realistically recognize Ukrainian interests, and because Kissinger more readily understands that “[t]he test” for a successful resolution of the crisis “is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction,” on which front his proposals stand a better chance than do Mearsheimer’s. But that doesn’t make Mearsheimer’s appraisal of the situation any less valuable, and indeed, I would hope that policymakers are paying attention to both views.

So, we see that John Mearsheimer can provide very smart analytical pieces when it comes to looking at foreign policy hot spots and emerging conflicts around the world. All of which is a very roundabout way of emphasizing—yet again—that the sober, level-headed, clear-thinking and analytical side of John Mearsheimer seems to flee the scene and give way to a completely irrational, incoherent and insensible other-self when Jewish people enter the picture.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Excellent article.  And right on every count.  It is terrible to contemplate Taiwan becoming part of China.  

    But it is beautiful and supports a healthy middle class.  Hence the Communists’ ambition to own it.

    Taiwan belonged to the Chinese for about 10 years only ever in its history, and that was by force.  China has no claim on this island.    

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  2. user_777564 Member
    user_777564
    @JosephKulisics

    The article doesn’t seem to consider two factors, the vagaries of economies and the Taiwanese perspective on China and its government. A few things lead me to believe that the objection to reunification with China centers on one feature of China, the authoritarian, anti-democratic government. Mearshimer doesn’t address the long-term stability of the communist government in Beijing. I lived in Beijing for the last four years, and I can personally attest that Westerners greatly exaggerate the economic condition and prospects of China. China is not Japan. The culture tolerates a lot of corruption and cutting of corners. While in Beijing, I visited the Oplympic park, and you’d be shocked to see it. The concrete on the steps of the Bird’s Nest was crumbling a mere two years after the games. I’ve been to Mexico City and seen its Olympic Park, and frankly, China has a long way to go to reach the level of professionalism of Mexico.

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  3. user_777564 Member
    user_777564
    @JosephKulisics

    (By the way, China ranks way below Mexico in per capita GDP. It’s around 100, somewhere near Azerbaijan.) There will have to be enormous social and cultural reforms to put China on track, something akin to Japan’s Meiji Restoration, and I don’t see it happening. Right now, China much like the Muslim world is absorbed in past glories and apologia, and China doesn’t seem at all inclined to social or cultural reform. We’re also talking about a country with around 900 million superstitious peasants. If China were inclined to reform, reform would be a monumental project.
    Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I think that all but the most sanguine observers expected the Soviet Union to be a more or less permanent feature of world affairs. Everyone was caught off guard when the Soviet Union collapsed under its own decadent weight. I think that everyone has to seriously consider the same possibility for China. Will its economic development grind to a halt? Will economic turmoil bring down the one-party state? Will a China in the throes of civil unrest simply abandon all interest in Taiwan?

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  4. user_777564 Member
    user_777564
    @JosephKulisics

    Having spent a lot of time in China, I have to say that I expect something more along the lines of a French Revolution. France’s revolution occurred after feudalism ended and the country enjoyed relative general prosperity in Europe. A little taste of prosperity and the emergence of a middle class combined with the conditions of a modest recession to foster widespread discontent with the regime, and the regime was unprepared to preserve its position and the form of the state. I believe that miscalculations are the rule rather than the exception for governments, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the entire Chinese communist governmental structure collapsed suddenly.

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  5. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    That’s quite a scenario to imagine.  

    Perhaps it will go the other way: Taiwan will take over China, just because someone will have to keep it together somehow for its own sake.

    • #5
  6. user_777564 Member
    user_777564
    @JosephKulisics

    Actually, that’s what I was thinking, but I didn’t get to the point because of the dumb 200 character limit. I think that reunification becomes easily imaginable under a different government on the mainland. Consider how Taiwan views China: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ROC_Administrative_and_Claims.svg I always loved this map because it turns the mainland’s point of view upside down and shows the real obstacle to reunification, the mainland’s authoritarian rule. Anyway, I hope that you get a laugh from the picture.

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  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Seriously.  :)

    I saw a list from State Department years ago that listed five “disputed states”: Mongolia, Singapore, Taiwan, Israel, and I can’t remember the fifth one to save myself (Nepal?).  I stumbled upon this list when I was trying to figure out why Israel was called “the state of Israel” rather than a nation or country.  What distinguishes these areas in the mind of the U.N. and our State Department is that they are or were independent versus under the sovereignty of someone else.  

    My grandmother was a roommate at Wellesley College with Madame Chiang Kai-shek.  

    My notion of the history of Taiwan is a bit different from that of the mainstream media and my children’s textbooks.

    I love to be a pain in the neck to people and ask, Who were the four allies in World War II?  I have yet to find anyone under eighty who can come up with the fourth one.  :)

    I have never been to China so I really enjoyed your comments.  Thank you.

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  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    As a postscript:  I edited a book in 2010 by Handel Jones, ChinAmerica, that presents some alarming information and viewpoints about Communist China.  Like you, Jones spent years in China conducting business.  His impression was similar to yours: ineptitude.  But with that goes the predictable lust for power.

    • #8

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