Grand Strategy in the Age of Mass Destruction

Mutual Assured Commitment

Commentary of 10 March 2014

“Ignore Russian and Chinese strategic designs against the United States at your peril.” 
Anatoliy Golitsyn, 1993 Memorandum to the CIA


The Japan Times headline for 8 March reads, China signals tougher stand on territorial rows. It says that China is spending more money on high-tech weapons and higher military readiness. Another article, from Foreign Policy, titled The Black Box of China’s Military, claims, “Beijing is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on defense, but no one quite knows what they’re up to.” Experts are said to believe that China spends much more on its military than the amounts officially stated. According to the article, “The biggest hole in U.S. understanding of the Chinese military appears to be in how it makes decisions.” One official is quoted as saying, “We have pretty much zero insight into how the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] makes decisions.”  

This confession signals our strategic bankruptcy. The famous Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, once said, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” This prompts me to ask: Which U.S. policy-makers actually know themselves, or know their own country? Who speaks honestly and realistically on this subject? And which statesman, failing to know what is immediate to him, is able to accurately assess distant objects? Shall we, perhaps, point to the strategic wisdom of Hillary Clinton or John Kerry? What of the prowess of Barack Obama? In 2008 the supposedly clueless Alaskan “soccer mom,” Gov. Sarah Palin, said that Senator Obama had reacted to the Russian 2008 invasion of Georgia with “indecision and moral equivalence – the kind of response that would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine next.” Of course, expert opinion branded Palin as an ignoramus for making this statement.

As servants of a public that craves fiction, our leaders (with few exceptions) have become purveyors of political fantasy. Since 1991 we have been fed a diet of lies about Russia and China which, though soothing to the business community, have placed America in a position of strategic inferiority. “False and naïve assumptions about Russian and Chinese ‘progress towards democracy’ and about their ‘friendship towards the United States’ threaten defense policy,” wrote KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn in 1995. “The threat is not just associated with reduced military budgets but also with the matter of priorities. US involvement in regional and local conflicts … on the basis that ‘the Cold War is over,’ and in fighting drug cartels in Latin America, distracts attention from the real strategic threat from Russia and China.” [The Perestroika Deception, p. 231]

As a nation, as a civilization, we have fallen for a trap. We have believed the Russian lies, and now we must pay the price. “Be extremely subtle,” wrote Sun Tzu, “even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.” And what should we think, now that silence has been broken in Ukraine? What shall we say when the mystery of China is revealed? “Speed is the essence of war,” wrote Sun Tzu. “Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

How, then, should we read current events?

The problem of starting World War III (for Russia and China) is the problem of two untrustworthy partners committing to a military offensive at the same time. Both partners have to move together, in coordinated fashion. If one commits and the other hesitates, the side which commits too early can find itself isolated and outgunned by the civilized world. Therefore, in the matter of two powers starting a war together, the way forward is through Mutual Assured Commitment. As of today, 10 March 2014, if Russia is planning to push deeper into Ukraine, then China and/or North Korea must make trouble in the Far East. As Russia gradually commits, China must commit. If one partner goes too far without the other, the one partner risks abandonment along an irrevocable path. And therefore, in order to build trust upon trust, they must go together or not at all.

So we are left to consider the present military crisis between China and Japan as a necessary prologue, along with the Russian 2008 incursion into Georgia. All such prologues may be part of a carefully constructed sequence. Georgia was a dress rehearsal for Ukraine as Ukraine is most assuredly the prologue to something larger. In the Far East, the conflict over the disputed Senkaku Islands is absurd unless viewed as the prologue to an outbreak of war in the Pacific, which would include a war between North and South Korea. In relation to the Sino-Russian long-range strategy, KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn wrote the following paragraph in his February 1993 memorandum to the CIA:

The United States does not understand the real nature of relations between the Russian and Communist Chinese leaders. Washington believes that a genuine improvement took place in relations in the 1980s between the Chinese and … [Russians]. I see these contacts as evidence that ‘perestroika’ in Russia did not take the Chinese by surprise, that they have a complete understanding of the realities behind it and the their strategic cooperation with the Russians continues as it has done since the late 1950s though now with open acknowledgement of their good relations. The United States views the Russian sale of complete factories and new weapons systems to the Chinese as dictated by Russian desire to ease their current economic difficulties. To my way of thinking it amounts to the deliberate transfer of advanced technology to an old and trusted ally.

As tensions rise in Europe, tensions must also rise in the Pacific. This will be the sign that Russia and China are entering the phase of “one clenched fist.” The days immediately ahead are momentous. The Russians will either attempt to frighten Europe into creating new European security structures with which to replace NATO, or failing in this attempt, they will invade Eastern Ukraine, Odessa, or even Western Ukraine. It is unlikely that the Kremlin will back down and free the Ukrainians from their Soviet shackles. Freedom, after all, is a disease that kills autocratic rule inch by inch, year by year. If Ukraine is infected today, Russia will be infected with the disease tomorrow. But disease is a two-way street.

The Russian leaders do everything on the basis of carefully constructed policies. They generally do not like improvisation. They rely, as ever, on secret armies – agent networks – deeply imbedded in the U.S. and Western Europe (and in Ukraine as well). As Sun Tzu explained, “Of all those in the army close to the commander none is more intimate than the secret agent; of all rewards none more liberal than those given to secret agents; of all matters none is more confidential than those relating to secret operations.” According to Sun Tzu, “Secret operations are the essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.”