Monday, February 28, 2011

The Diplomat draws on Greece

So savage was the factional strife that broke out - and it seemed all the worse in that it was the first to occur. Later on, indeed, all of Hellas (so to speak) was thrown into turmoil, there being discord everywhere, with the representatives of the demos (i.e. the extreme democratic factions) wanting to bring in the Athenians to support their cause, while the oligarchic factions looked to the Spartans.

Write the redoubtable James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, Taiwan needs to avoid a Greek fate:
Nonetheless, when we discuss cross-strait relations with senior US military officers, they often inform us that China evinces little desire to use the formidable military it’s constructing to achieve longstanding political aims. We fully agree with them on this point. Where we do part ways with them, though, is on the sweeping conclusions they draw from this trivial point—namely that Beijing so abhors the prospect of armed conflict that it will accept the cross-strait status quo more or less indefinitely, and presumably compromise on national unity.

Doubtful. As we see it, Beijing is attempting to amass such military superiority over the island’s armed forces, along with such an overbearing deterrent against outside intervention, that Taipei has little choice but to acquiesce in unification on the mainland’s terms while Taipei’s friends have little choice but to stand aside.
They then draw on the Peloponnesian War for a comparison:
When the island of Melos appeared likely to defect from the Athenian Empire to rival Sparta 2500 years ago, the Athenian Assembly dispatched an embassy to make the islanders an offer they couldn’t refuse. They could bow to Athenian wishes or see their male populace slaughtered, their women and children enslaved.
The people of Melos chose option A and were defeated after "a short, bloody siege," the authors inform us. Their point is that disparity between Taiwan and China may one day reach the point where China can simply overawe the island into annexation. The Melos episode is famous for Thucycidies' "Melian Dialogue" which would lose little if you replaced Athens with China and Melos with Taiwan. In the end the Melosians say to the Athenians: “‘We invite you to allow us to be friends of yours and enemies to neither side, to make a treaty which shall be agreeable to both you and us, and so to leave our country.’” No dice, said BeijingAthens.

I'm not sure of the US military's assessment of China's willingness to use its new military. Certainly the invasions of East Turkestan, Tibet, and Vietnam, as well as the war with India and the border clashes with Russia, ought to augur otherwise. I suspect that the military option will rise in possibility as China's assessment moves in the direction of "this will be a short war." This was the point made by Paul Monk in the piece on the rationality of states I linked to last month:
The corollary of this is that it is not the rational self-interest of states which drives them to engage in intense security competitions and fight wars, but often deeply flawed, ideologically coloured and seriously information-poor calculations of costs and benefits by a shifting combination of competing national elites and ignorant popular opinion. This is what Thucydides showed in his classic history of the Peloponnesian War.
Yeah, Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to be short wars. Now the military is planning to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely....

After all, the Peloponnesian War began with the idea on both sides that victory would come quickly.

Oh yeah, just as some KMTers have proposed, Sparta and Athens signed a Thirty Years Peace. It lasted three years.

And then there are the Megarans. A faction made a secret agreement with Athens to surrender the city, which was allied to the Spartans. They were discovered and stopped before they could do so. This sort of thing was common -- Mende was lost to the Peloponnesian side in a similar set of events.

Move along now. No parallels here, folks.

Holmes and Yoshihara end by exhorting Taiwan to:
To give themselves the time Prof. Lynch rightly says they need, the Taiwanese government and armed forces must apply their energies and ingenuity to devising a naval and aerial strategy that denies the PLA control of the Strait, holding off an invasion force, and that helps US reinforcements fight their way into the theatre.
They point out that China is not yet as powerful as Athens, nor is the US as weak as Sparta was when Melos was forced to decide its fate. Things are definitely trending in the wrong direction, though.
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Anonymous said...

so, i must backtrack on my earlier comments, in effect expressing, "better be an accessory to PRC imperialism, an asian neighbor with common history, than an accessory to U.S. imperialism, which is indeed a declining superpower."

i don't have any wish to see the taiwanese government be absorbed into china, and its democracy destroyed.

however, this military history lesson underscores my feeling (not exclusively "mine" obviously), that taiwan is a poker chip at BEST between two super powers that no other political/military force on earth has any intention or power of restraining, the US and China.

i think we are naive in thinking that the US has any inherent interest in promoting democracy/human rights. if the taiwanese government were run EXACTLY like the PRC government, the US would still want influence/alliance and the PRC would too.

so, i guess i'm just wondering, why shouldn't taiwan maneuver to work a deal with china instead of the US?

nick said...

Interesting parallel. Still, in most respects the comparison has been much better the other way around, with the US as Athens -- internally democratic, but expansionary and a backer of tyrants in areas under its imperial influence -- and China as Sparta, with rigid discipline and indoctrination of its own citizens, control of reproduction, communal facilities and subjugation of local ethnic minorites, but _somewhat_ less interest in hegemony outside its immediate surroundings.
It's just Taiwan's bad luck that China sees it as part of its (much less extended than the US's) back yard, and so may end up being treated like the helots.

Dixteel said...

Trust me, anon, you don't want to be an accessory of PRC imperialism.