Starting from this Tuesday, I'll occasionally be reviewing non-fiction/political titles for Non-Fiction Tuesday.
My reviews will be more academic than our YA books, so hope you'll enjoy the slight change!
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Random House (first published January 1st 2013)
Format read: Physical copy (owned)
It will be waged in the media, in government offices and corporate boardrooms around the globe, as well as online. Much like French and Israeli corporate espionage of the last few decades, Chinese hackers will continue their efforts to steal technical and government secrets, and probe US defense infrastructure for weaknesses. US efforts, meanwhile, will continue seeking to develop an operable rapid-response doctrine, with the goal of threatening severe retaliatory cyber-strikes on Chinese interests to serve as a deterrent.
Like two angry cats that have unfortunately crossed one another’s path, the USA and PRC will spend the 21st century circling one another warily, searching their opponent for weaknesses, whilst ultimately hoping they do not have to engage in violence. To do so would ultimately lead to a very bloody conflict that would likely render both combatants effectively crippled. However, the real challenge for both nations remains from events and from nationalistic politicians, who could enable a situation that very quickly escalates, resulting in an armed military confrontation.
Things that worked:
* The analysis of China’s government
Feldman’s brief ignores much of the official structure of the PRC government in favor of analyzing the role that the current structure, leadership transitions, and political factions have played in the nation’s stability since the end of the Deng Xiaoping era. The varying government organs remain, as ever, well defined and largely irrelevant. All that truly matters are the Central Committee/Politburo and the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), which still retains some of the vanguard attributes found in modern militaries of developing nations.
The length, too, is quite good. At less than 200 pages, Cool War is less of a book than a highly detailed reader. However, its analysis isn’t aimed at academics alone. It is both thorough and digestible for the man on the street who knows little about the current PRC government. Like Bruce Reidel’s book on Pakistan, Deadly Embrace, Cool War seeks to succinctly define a new world conflict as it is, while raising important questions for the reader as we move forward.
* The understanding of protest movements
The part of this book I enjoyed the most was Mr. Feldman’s analysis of the role of protests in modern China. In most of the modern world, protests and riots are seen as being nothing more than the failure of government and society. Feldman rightly recognizes their counter-intuitive role as being system-supportive in modern China.
Certainly, the use of violence in these protests leaves much to be desired. Indeed, protest leaders are often captured, tried, and frequently executed for their actions. However, the protest, also called a Collective Public Security Incident (COPSI), remains an effective way of relieving the localized tensions brought on by corruption and globalization, whist simultaneously re-enforcing the central government’s perceived role as a ‘benign parent’ who steps in to correct such imbalances. In short, local protests may hurt local Chinese governments, but for now, they remain a source of stability for the central government.
* The use of recent history
One of the most intriguing choices made by Feldman is to utilize recent historical events, such as the downfall of Bo Xilai, to support his analysis of China’s political system. The Bo case, for example, demonstrates the ongoing conflict between the neo-Maoist and Traditionalist factions within the PRC. It is also used to underscore Feldman’s larger point: that however flawed their judicial system may be, it can provide stability and a form of ‘justice’ acceptable to the wider Chinese public.
Bo’s alleged crimes, once made public, proved untenable to the PRC central leadership, for whom stability and growth remain the most important goals. By trying Bo Xilai in such a public fashion, instead of having him disappeared or otherwise disputing the charges, the PRC leadership is sending a message of accountability to its people that no one, no matter how powerful, cannot be brought down.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I understand the idea of two Great Powers facing each other in a global game of conquest evokes the memories of the Cold War. However, unlike the USA-USSR bout of the 20th Century, this book serves largely as a reminder of the non-ideological nature of the ongoing PRC-USA conflict.
In this 21st Century, we have the global military, political, economic, and cultural empire of the United States of America ‘doing battle’ as it were with a regional powerhouse, the Peoples’ Republic of China, in a global marketplace that was ultimately designed by the former at the end of the Second World War. The authoritarian capitalist model of the PRC may seem highly foreign to the West, but as the author’s own writing demonstrates, it is far less expansionist than feared, and more constrained by international law than publically accepted. To call this conflict a ‘Cool War’ is something that is contradicted by the author’s own analysis contained within.
* The lack of US or foreign analysis
Feldman’s book largely ignores analysis of how the United States and its allies operate, least of all their internal politics. Whereas the China sections contain often-controversial analysis of their government and political systems, the United States’ political system and subsequent actions have been largely taken for granted. By analyzing the political realities in the USA, as well as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, the author could bolster his arguments of the non-violent nature of the coming Cool War.
Especially, the United States deserves more of an analysis here. The recent post-Cold War history has led to a succession of politicians (Clinton, W., Obama, Romney) who have run on a tough China line, only to backtrack once in office. However, recent political upheavals in the US have challenged the traditional view of China. From Tea Party neo-populists and isolationists, to liberal anti-globalizationists, both the far-left and the far right are moving away from traditional alliances and power arrangements. Such changes might reduce tensions with China militarily, but could also serve to increase tensions economically, especially in the area of tariffs. This political uncertainty in American foreign policy could use some analysis from Mr. Feldman.
* Failure to mention the Space Race
In the last five years, both the USA and the PRC have tested ‘satellite-killing’ missiles, ostensibly for humanitarian/environmental reasons. The more obvious rationale for these tests has been the growing arms race between the PRC and the USA. Such actions by themselves were relatively brief moments in the realm of international relations.
However, taken within the context of America’s declining space program and China’s expanding space program, such space tests could quickly become points of national pride. If China were to publically aim to achieve putting a man on Mars, or some other significant space-related milestone, this could be enough to re-ignite the long-stalled American space program. Given the increasing role of space and cyberspace in 21st century conflict, such an action could have a significant, long-term impact on the PRC-USA relationship. In this writer’s opinion, it would have been wise had the author mentioned these issues in his writing.
If the author chooses to write a follow-up book, I would absolutely be intrigued to see how explains the factionalism found in American politics and Washington’s foreign policy to Chinese readers. Like us, they may view America as a single overarching ‘thing’, with one mind and one China policy.
About the author:
He graduated from Harvard College in 1992, ranked first in the College, and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. Upon his return from Oxford, he received his J.D., in 1997, from Yale Law School, where he was the book review editor of the Yale Law Journal.
He later served as a law clerk for Associate Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2001, he joined the faculty of New York University Law School (NYU), leaving for Harvard in 2007. In 2008, he was appointed the Bemis Professor of International Law.