Bid for Hegemony: Some Lessons from Imperial Germany in WW1 and Fascist Japan in WW2

Discussion in 'Military History' started by AndrewS, Jul 19, 2016.

  1. AndrewS
    Offline

    AndrewS Junior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    805
    The experiences of Imperial Germany in WW1 and Fascist Japan in WW2 hold particular significance for China today, and I think insufficient thought has been given to this topic so here is a little missive.

    In 1914, the Dual Alliance of Germany and Austro-Hungary faced the Triple Entente of Russia, France and the UK.

    That Dual Alliance was at a significant disadvantage in terms of population and also industrial heft, so at first glance, it doesn't make sense for them to deliberately push for a war in the aftermath of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke, yet that is what happened.

    But when I look at the situation, I see some key elements that led to the decision for Germany to push for a war.

    1. Germany didn't believe that the UK would actually go to war on behalf of France and Russia.
    2. Germany believed that their Army was strong enough to deliver knockout blows against France/Russia, and therefore the war would be over by Christmas. Germany was actually able to hold its own, but then the entry of the USA changed things..
    3. But most crucially, I see very little appreciation that in the run-up to 1914, Germany had swiftly ramped up military spending whilst the Triple Entente had lagged behind. That meant Germany knew that it had to strike *now*, before the window of opportunity for a military victory disappeared as the Triple Entente built up their military as a counter.

    ===

    In 1941, Fascist Japan also went to war with the USA, knowing that they faced an opponent which was far larger from an economic, industrial and population perspective.

    1. Again, Japan planned for a short victorious war and didn't believe that it would be a drawn out contest of wills.
    2. Japan had nothing to lose by going to war as it was on the verge of economic, industrial and financial collapse in 1941. The primary reasons for this being a military quagmire when Japan was trying to conquer a much larger China AND the effects of the USA placing sanctions on the Japanese economy. But the roots of this go back to Japan trying to emulate the European colonial empires, which meant a hugely outsized military given the size of their economy.

    ===

    So what military lessons does this hold for China?

    1. Do not underestimate the will of outside powers (eg. UK/USA) to go to war to prevent a new regional hegemon from being created.
    2. Don't expect a war to be anything other than a bloody and drawn-out affair. Especially since China and the USA are both continental sized powers whose homelands are separated by the vast distances of the Pacific.
    3. Don't undertake a military challenge against a larger alliance opponent and certainly don't go on an unsustainable military arms buildup. Particularly given the many domestic development needs inside China.

    But the most interesting point is how Germany is now the defacto regional hegemon inside the European Union, and that this has achieved this purely through *economic* means and the voluntary exit of the UK from the EU. (France may actually need a bailout itself)

    China also has a very long tradition of using its economic heft to subdue its periphery, and indeed, actually abolished the military on occasion because relations with its neighbours were that good.
    The German example is certainly something to ponder, given how China is going to be way more important to Asia than Germany is to Europe.

    And we've also seen how politics in the USA (and indeed in the rest of the world) has turned against globalisation and how the Republican party will likely move to representing older, less educated and angrier white males with a racial overtone.

    The studies show that this could actually be a winning political formula in terms of electoral college votes in the next 10 years, which was a surprise to me, but it makes sense how the white rural states are over-represented.

    But in the long-run, this is a losing proposition as America becomes a younger nation which is majority non-white. And the non-whites have a very different experience of American power and privilege.

    Plus TPP may actually never be ratified by Congress and would therefore signal a voluntary end to US economic engagement with Asia, along with the Pivot to Asia.

    ===

    Comments are welcome
     
    #1 AndrewS, Jul 19, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2016
    Shaolian likes this.
  2. PanAsian
    Offline

    PanAsian Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2005
    Messages:
    2,698
    Likes Received:
    2,859
    Nice write up about the historical lessons. The PRC has obviously been applying the historical lessons you described otherwise they would be prioritizing their military development by a lot more and behaving much more aggressively. The exception I see is if they rapidly build up a carrier fleet of more than 3 carriers by 2025 including the Liaoning.

    I think the part about US politics is off, and politics is definitely a taboo topic.
     
  3. sinopakfriend
    Offline

    sinopakfriend Just Hatched
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2007
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    13
    Firstly, thank you for you effort. Well done.

    History due to human condition repeats itself. However, context of today and that of WW2 is perhaps not completely valid.

    IMHO China has studied the rise and fall of great powers with due diligence. And they have tried to apply those lesson quite well.

    Only 'mistake' was rather poor PR by calling the 'peaceful rise' too early.

    Since then it is peaceful development. A rather better meme.

    It is quite true that many a conlict happen through miscalculations rather than grand design.

    The US alliance within NE Asia is quite solid. That is to say they essentially control the two states there. In SE Asia it is not the real case. Influence yes, control no.

    NATO is tied up with Russia for now. The US controls the NATO. No denying in it.

    The best lesson that both great powers can learn from history is a grand bargain and face saving for everyone.

    It is not only that China must study the rise and fall of great powers. Pragmatism would require that the US can also choose the study.

    World is too interconnected for these two great powers to engage in conflict.

    Peace is better than war.
     
  4. AndrewS
    Offline

    AndrewS Junior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    805
    Personally, I really doubt China will build more than 3 carriers by 2025, for a number of reasons.

    Plus I don't really see it as politics. It's an analysis of likely trends and then trying to figure out what it means for US foreign policy
     
  5. AndrewS
    Offline

    AndrewS Junior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    805
    I have read that a previous Chinese politburo actually attended a study session based on the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy.

    And apparently they were that impressed that they had CCTV-2 do a 12 episode documentary series for public consumption back in 2008.
     
    taxiya likes this.
  6. Insignius
    Offline

    Insignius Junior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2008
    Messages:
    345
    Likes Received:
    339
    All this is assuming that the US wont just stop China's economic rise and economic hegemony as well.

    It is no denying that the US isnt trying their earnest to do that. Economic hegemony, even local/regional ones, are still hegemony. And the US is going to prevent that. You can bet on it.

    Great Powers can never be at peace with each other. If not a military containment, then surely an economic containment by the US.
     
    taxiya likes this.
  7. taxiya
    Offline

    taxiya Senior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2006
    Messages:
    1,384
    Likes Received:
    2,873
    Economy dominance is not a choice, but a natural development just like every person will pursue a higher income.

    Political influence based on economy dominance is not a choice, but a natural phenomenon just like people all want to do business with the rich man.

    Only military power based on the two above is something one can choose to but may not choose to use to further the two above.

    If somebody choose to make a direct link between the first two natural development with an aggressive military posture from his own experience, nobody can convince him regardless. If China has such intention, China does need to take a lesson.

    If China does not have such intention, it is only the responsibility of that somebody to take a lesson.
     
    solarz likes this.
  8. AndrewS
    Offline

    AndrewS Junior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    805
    China is already the world's largest trading nation, net outbound foreign investor, largest outbound tourism source, largest economy in terms of actual output etc

    So China is already too large to be contained, so the only way that the US could hope to stop China growing is with a deliberate war, but that is very unlikely for a number of reasons.

    So it's really down to whether China can reform itself and become a wealthy hi-tech country.

    And Great Powers can be at peace with each other. The UK/US is a good example.
     
  9. antiterror13
    Offline

    antiterror13 Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Messages:
    2,596
    Likes Received:
    2,230
    @AndrewS ... The US and UK are at peace now because the US is much much stronger than the UK ... not the same league. In 1800s when the UK was stronger (but not much), they were not at peace
     
  10. AndrewS
    Offline

    AndrewS Junior Member
    Registered Member

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2015
    Messages:
    604
    Likes Received:
    805

    The UK and the USA have been at peace since the unpopular war of 1812 started by certain states of the USA. This is towards the end of the Napoleonic wars when the UK was fighting for survival.

    But after that period, there was peace because it wasn't in the interests of the British Empire (the superpower of its time) to go to war with the USA. Then eventually the USA grew much larger than the UK.
     

Share This Page