Unlike the computer simulation in 1983’s “War Games,” this is a board game, a combination of Risk and Monopoly. In Risk early and bold moves are essential. A firm grasp of strategy wins every time; the dice won’t bail you out, unless you’re evenly matched.( I’ve lost every game of Risk I’ve ever played, so why should you read this?)The same is somewhat true with Monopoly, but a bad card early on can set you back hopelessly, or derail what looked to be a winning surge.
It’s pretty clear that the U.S. is distracted, or perhaps largely indifferent to what is going on around the globe. That goes for the current administration; as to the country’s intelligence services, who knows?
Late in 2011, the Administration announced a strategic realignment, or an intensified focus (accounts vary) de-emphasizing the Middle East and looking to the Pacific. With China continuing to make ir-redentist territorial claims, and given the chronic instability in the Middle East, and its lack of economic significance outside the energy sector, this made a good deal of sense, especially with a background of rising gas and oil production in North America, and great potential elsewhere.
Buttressing such a strategic would require a strong naval and air presence in the region, and a commitment to maximize North American energy production. We’ve seen the opposite. The indefinite Keystone XL Pipeline delay, slow permitting for exploration on Federal lands, and crippling EPA regulations on the use of coal for power generation, it’s clear the Obama Administration, at best, simply does not understand correlation, or worse, suffers from crippling cognitive dissonance. In what the New York Post calls “Obama’s Incredible Shrinking Pacific Pivot,” the President instead places his faith in adherence to international norms.
As to U.S. Naval strength. expert debates rage, and are beyond the non-specialist – this one, at least, but one does get the sense the U.S. is still more than capable. However, the administration seems to have given the Navy little attention, other than the installation of gender neutral heads, and arranging for some of the fleet to be fueled on algae, at substantial cost.
Like so many of Mr. Obama’s pivots, from jobs, to immigration, to gay whatever, and back again, the Pacific pivot in the end is reduced to no more than an interpretative dance move depicting a world that exists only in the CIC’s imagination.
Now, let’s game this.
An administration distracted by midterm elections, border chaos, and perhaps new revelations in ongoing scandals, and fresh ones yet to surface, presents an opening to China, who grab the Spratlys, and if they are feeling particularly bold, the Senkakus. With Japan moving to a more robust defense doctrine, and the weakest U.S. posture since before the Second World War there will never be a better chance.
Japan and China fight a short naval conflict, with both taking losses, but neither fully committing. War with China is not an option for the Japanese, who retire with honor intact. VietNam and the Philippines are chased from the Spratlys.
The U.S. tut tuts like a worried grandmother surrounded by squabbling grandchildren, but it is apparent American security promises are worthless. India, which has been in a naval race with China, its navy, offers strategic guarantees to Southeast Asian nations, and acquires bases, with a forward position in the Philippines. Australia, after initial reluctance, realizes it is far from any other allies, and joins India, in combined naval operations, and provides basing rights.
Does China then make its play for Taiwan? Amphibious invasions are expensive, bloody, and highly risky affairs. Beijing strikes a deal with Taipei for autonomy within the PRC in return for withdrawal of U.S. forces from the island.
Japan builds a nuclear deterrent, and announces its deployment. Tokyo abrogates the U.S. Japan security treaty and U. S. forces withdraw.
Where is Europe in all this? Busy dealing with the rising chaos as migrants pour in, spurred by violence and disruption in the Middle East and Africa as world tensions and currency crises buffet already fragile economies. Nationalist governments rise in Britain, and in newer EU members from the former East Bloc. Germany is happy to be Moscow’s banker as Russia and China form an entente cordiale. The U.S. fades from the world scene, as two far lesser powers divide most of Eurasia and dominate its maritime periphery.
India waits, and is riven by dissension over the massive cost of its new hemispheric defense posture.
Latin America continues to be Latin America, with weak institutions and unbalanced economies. In the South, Brazil dominates, while to the North, the United States, Mexico and Central America are joined in a de facto Anschluss driven not by American power, but migration northwards. Canada realizes that its southern neighbor is lost, and plays itself between China and the Anglosphere as best it can.
In my scenario, China is the precipitating actor. One asks immediately, why would they do it? Are some small scraps of territory and national honor worth the enormous risk? I have no idea what competing factions within the PRC, in both the party and the military, might militate for or against such aggressive action.
In the light of rational thought, it seems insane. First it requires absolute confidence that the current administration in Washington would not meet its commitments; next, that the Chinese economy could weather the economic disruption sure to follow its action. And, as Messrs Obama and Kerry indignantly point out, this is the 21st Century, as they protest Putin’s 20th Century moves in the Ukraine. Meanwhile, ISIS has has gone all 19th Century in setting up their Islamic state, and different to the Sudan back then, there is no Kitchener to set things right; not even a Gordon, for that matter.
As we approach the centenary of the Guns of August, it is wise to reflect on how often before, leaders have miscalculated, and to recall the catastrophes that followed.
Now, play the game yourself!
Your wild cards are: Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea.