Yale’s Paul Kennedy defines grand strategy as “the capacity of the nation’s leaders to bring together all of the elements [of power], both military and nonmilitary, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation’s long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests.” *
To this definition I would add “sustainable”. A strategy like military domination of the world is not sustainable and therefore, not grand.
America’s hostility towards government itself, its rivalrous legislative and administrative branches, its independent judiciary, its financiers and industrialists without national loyalty, and its privately-owned Federal Reserve bank make a US Grand Strategy impossible. The fact that it is currently borrowing trillions to wage multiple wars speaks for itself. We are familiar with the workings of America’s leadership, so let’s look at China’s before we examine their Grand Strategy.
For over 2,000 years China has been accustomed to strong, competent, central leadership and its people accustomed to cooperation with one another and with government. Apart from the recent invasions, China was the leading country on earth for that entire time.
Drawn from China’s top university graduates and businesspeople, 80 million Party members comprise the leadership. After years of unpaid public service and political education they might aspire to a post of responsibility. After decades they may hope to transfer to Beijing. They are the elite of the elite, intellectually, morally, and professionally. Human nature being what it is, some of them become corrupt. Because so much is expected from them that the consequence for their corruption is often a death sentence.
By the time they reach the pinnacle of responsibility, the Central Committee, they must have demonstrated competence and honesty to an extraordinary degree. For example, Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore, who has known every world leader in the past 60 years, describes China’s President-elect, Xi Jinpeng, as “a Chinese Nelson Mandela“. Those who know the current President, Hu Jintao, describe him as completely honest and genuinely humble. As a 19-year-old engineering student Hu had a staff of 300. Despite the nonsense that our media repeats about them, China’s leaders are enormously respected and admired by their citizens. Their current trust/approval rating is 86%.
THE ELEMENTS OF POWER
The Chinese Government, like the Imperial Government before it, has always insisted upon the unity of all the organs of state. In a country so vast and diverse this is expected by all Chinese.
Every military command has a political officer with a direct line to Beijing responsible for educating the troops in his district. Every large corporation has a political officer on its board of directors with a direct line to Party HQ. Every village, town, city, and province has at least one political officer linked to Beijing. Every school and university has a Party member to ensure that everyone has input into government policies and is making a genuine effort to carry them out. These links are two-way streets that allow the shaping, testing, and adjusting of policies and practices. Far from being “authoritarian” as our corporate media insists, they form a cooperative network for creating, revising, and implementing policies.
To ensure cohesion the government retains total or partial ownership of its vital industries: media, finance, transportation, and defense. The banks, instead of exclusively serving the interests of executives and shareholders, resemble cooperatively-owned public utilities. The defense industry, instead of promoting military adventures in search of profits, develops and deploys new weapons quickly and cheaply. And the mainstream media propagate and explain government policies clearly and repeatedly, so that everyone understands their purpose.
THE NATION’S BEST INTERESTS
Since China’s leaders are not beholden to bankers, defense contractors, or billionaires they are free to act in the country’s best interest. We Westerners find this difficult to believe since we have only known governments that are controlled by a wealthy few. Our suspicions have been further inflamed by our media which are, of course, owned and controlled by those same wealthy few. To our wealthy elite China represents a terrifying prospect: submission to a popular government rather than control of it for their own benefit.
THE LONG TERM
This week the Central Committee’s Politburo Standing Committee–the 9 men who end up making the final decisions–is meeting with the World Bank (headed by American Robert Zoellick) and other world experts to discuss how China must change in order to meet its goals for 2030. Their humility in asking for outside advice instills great confidence in the Chinese, who are themselves the smartest, most numerous, and most cooperative people on earth. The Chinese have always played the ‘long game’. Mao’s comment when asked about Western democracy, “It’s too soon to tell.”, was not merely a witticism. For Chinese, 200 years is not enough time to test a political system when theirs worked so well for 2,000.
CHINA’S GRAND STRATEGY
China’s Grand Strategy had been in place for a thousand years when Marco Polo was astonished by the country in the 13th. Century:
- Maintain a strong defense but no offense (too expensive)
- Administer the country fairly, from a moral (Confucian) point of view
- Create a genuine meritocracy in government promotion
- Eliminate corruption at the top and fight it at lower levels
- Amaze the world with China’s advancement
- Make foreigners rich then encourage them to leave
- Regularly revise plans 10, 20, and 50 years ahead
- Control the rivers and do great public works
After a 200-year hiatus the Grand Strategy has been reinstated and looks to be as successful as ever. It is inexpensive and delivers sustainable, tangible benefits to the Chinese people. Expect to see it emulated, first by Asian countries and later–who knows?–by us.
* Kennedy, P., Grand Strategies in War and Peace, 1991.
See also Liddell-Hart, B.H., “Fundamentals of Strategy and Grand Strategy,” Strategy, 1967, p. 322.