Thursday, July 11, 2024

Books: "World on the Brink" By Dmitri Alperovitch


World on the Brink: How American Can Beat China in the Race for the 21st Century

By Dmitri Alperovitch, with Garrett M. Graff

PublicAffairs; hardcover, 400 pages; $32.50

Dmitri Alperovitch is one of the leading international thinkers on geopolitcs and national security who is the co-founder and executive chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator. This think tank focuses on policy solutions in national security, trade and industrial security, and ecological and economic security. He also co-founded one of the leading cybersecutiry companies, CrowdStrike Inc. In addition, Alperovitch serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council of the Department of Homeland Security, and as a founding board member of US Government's Cyber Safety Review Board.

In the engrossing new book World on the Brink, Alperovitch looks at the United States' relations with Russia and China, whose leader, Xi Junping, he sees laying the groundwork to invade Taiwan in the coming years.

The stakes for the U.S. and the world, if this happens, would be dire, and it is part of what Alperovitch sees as Cold War II, and Taiwan as a new version of West Berlin, a strategic flashpoint where localized events could lead to a devastating war between nuclear powers.

However, this outcome is far from inevitable, and Alperovitch lays out a grand strategy that the U.S. and its allies can use to avoid this fate. The four pillars of this plan, which he lays out in excruciating detail from the U.S. perspective, are to Enable innovation, Defend Innovation, Say Yes to Our Friends, and Say No to Distractions.

The key to beating China, as Alperovitch sees it, is to keep advancing on semiconductors, simply known as chips, which the United States has spent four decades having them as part of the foundation os its economy and security of the country. Chips are nearly in every item Americans use every day, from cars to smartphones, televisions, microwave ovens, and vending machines, and then in indispensable items such as MRI machines and water treatment plants. 

Alperovitch says that China also sees the importance of these chips, and it has spent a decade fighting hard to make their own domestic semiconductors in order to advance its manufacturing objectives. Chips are also linked to their tension with Taiwan. By controlling the island, China would reap the benefits from its strategic geographic position, which is a gateway to the Pacific, and it is an industrial hub, with the tools, workers, and technology that make up a massive TSMC plant. In 2021, China released its Fourteenth Five-Year Plan, and it has semiconductors as one of the seven areas that will be a priority to receive government funding and resources.

In order for the United States to stay focused on, what Alperovitch calls "the top challenge of our century - avoiding  a catastrophic war with China while preserving our dominant position in the Indo-Pacific," he contends that it needs to change how it thinks about the problems and challenges, essentially view the world through a simpler lens. In the first Cold War, the U.S. organized its foreign policy around countering the Soviet Union. In order to fully focus on China, the U.S. should reevaluate its involvements in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, while asking if it is important to countering China or just a distraction.

Alperovitch does an excellent job detailing the history between the two countries, with many fascinating details, as he writes, "There's probably no international relationship in the world that has frustrated the United States over two-and-a-half centuries than that with China." The link between the two countries has always been trade, and it was Chinese tea from what is currently Fujian Province that was thrown into Boston Harbor in December of 1773, the "Boston Tea Party" that led to the American Revolution.

At that time, China's power, wealth, and influence peaked in the eighteenth century, which was the peak of the Qing dynasty. By comparison, as Alperovitch writes, "the thirteen English colonies in North America comprised little more than an idea, wild forests, plantations, Native American settlements, and religious refugees." 

The relationship changed with the Industrial Revolution, when there was an economic boom in the West which enabled productivity gains and major technological advancement. By the late 1800s, as the U.S. economy soared and China was in a retrenchment, American missionaries helped develop the modern educational system in China. A lot of American fortunes were made in China trade, from the Astors to the Forbeses, and the money earned over there was put into New England textile mills and New York real estate, among other investments.

In the present moment, Alperovitch feels that China and Russia are not nearly as strong as it would seem. China is identified in its modern incarnation as a political party, with a state that's inseparable from the Chinese Communist Party, which is growing ever-more powerful and authoritarian while shedding its purity in some cases. Chairman Xi has promised national rejuvenation and a Chinese dream that will finally be the fulfillment of its economic potential, which has been far below its potential for far too long. The one thing China has going against it is its collapsing birth rate, which has led to India overtaking it as the most populous nation. China's population is likely to shrink in the immediate future, something that has not happened in six decades, and the median age of its people is near forty, whereas in India it's under thirty.

Russia suffers from much the same issues, as its birth rate is well below the 2.1-children-per-woman replacement rate that the country needs because it has nearly no meaningful experience with vast immigration into its country. In the 24 years that Vladimir Putin has been at the helm, he has confounded and outflanked the United States on the global stage for much of that time. He used the gains from high oil and gas prices in the wake of 9/11 to rebuild the economy, strengthen their security state, and take back Chechnya by snuffing out an Islamist insurgency. He also has consolidated power at home by eliminating any meaningful free press and political opposition, and centralized the country's private sector. 

Alperovitch writes of what he sees of Russia's future, "Given its declining demographics, a stagnating economy, and a decimated twentieth-century military, Russia's potential to present a threat to the United States or even its own neighbors in Europe and Asia will dramatically diminish in the coming years. While it will remain a powerful nuclear force with a huge ballistic missile arsenal - in essence its last remaining power play - the Russia of the next quarter century seems likely to more closely resemble North Korea, another dictatorship armed with nukes, in terms of stature, prestige, and power on the world stage than the swaggering G-8 superpower it was at the beginning of this century."


No comments:

Post a Comment