CRITICS IN Western countries of United States policy in Asia are fond of calling it naïve and unrealistic. It isn’t.
Far from being naive, Americans in the Far East are disconcertingly hard-boiled and darkly pessimistic. They think a major war with Red China within the next five years is extremely probable. Not inevitable, perhaps, but so likely that foreign policy must be based on that fundamental assumption.
If you accept that premise it determines your view of such matters as the control of Formosa, support for Chiang Kai-shek, military aid for Pakistan and Thailand. Chiang Kai-shek has six hundred thousand troops, mostly infantry. Their quality may be debatable, but few would deny they are better than nothing; also, Formosa has several modern airports and some useful harbors. If the American appraisal turns out to be right and we do have to fight the Chinese before long, it would be folly to give up these military assets.
When other allied governments disagree, as they do, with U. S. policy it’s not because they challenge this logic. It’s because they don’t share the premise. They think war with China is unlikely, and they’re alarmed by measures that might conceivably provoke one.
Americans, in their turn, call this naïve and unrealistic. Red China has proven herself our enemy; why should we think she is peaceable?
In fact the other allies are not naive or unrealistic, either. They think China won’t start a war, not because the Chinese Communists are peaceable folk but because Communism in Asia stands to gain more by political than by military attack.
Asia in this respect is very different from Europe. In Europe the Red Army with its hundreds of divisions and its thousands of bombers is a formidable military threat. As a political threat, on the other hand, Soviet Russia is relatively feeble because Communist pretensions are laughable. In Europe, everybody knows the Russians dare not let go of Austria
and East Germany because the people would turn instantly against them. Everybody knows the effect of the Communist capture of eastern Europe was a sudden and drastic drop in the standard of living there. Communist propaganda in Europe has a hollow ring that’s audible to most ordinary people.
In Asia this situation is precisely reversed. Militarily, Red China is a third-class power— formidable enough at close quarters in limited wars like the Korean, but no real threat abroad. But politically, Communism has a strength in Asia that it lacks in Europe, abetted by the blind intransigence of colonial powers like France. Aided also by fantastic extremes of wealth for few and poverty for many, Communism has been able to harness the motive power of nationalism and of warranted discontent.
It happens that, in several parts of Asia, the military assets so prized by the United States are political liabilities. Military aid to potential allies means, in these cases, the arming of decadent ruling classes and the endorsement of obsolete social orders. If the critics of the United States prove to be right and the struggle remains political rather than military, some of the things the U. S. is doing for military ends will certainly be self-defeating.
This is the core of the policy dispute about Asia among the free nations. It is a real dispute and a grave one, but it is not one to be improved by invective or solved by simple decision. To a very large extent, each side concedes the other’s position. Nobody contends that there is no military threat in Asia, or that nothing whatever should be done to repel aggression. Nobody contends that there is no political threat, nor that political considerations should be ignored.
The problem is to achieve the maximum of military protection for the minimum political price. If we can just keep the argument in those terms, and remember that there is some reason and some right on both sides, we may yet achieve an agreed policy in Asia.
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