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the Complete Review
the complete review - politics / international relations


The Rise of China
the Logic of Strategy

Edward N. Luttwak

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To purchase The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy

Title: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy
Author: Edward N. Luttwak
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 276 pages
Availability: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy - US
The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy - UK
The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy - Canada
The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy - India

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Our Assessment:

B : limited, but thought-provoking; offers a reasonably good overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 10/12/2012 Stephen Wertheim
Publishers Weekly D 16/7/2012 .
Times Higher Ed. . 15/11/2012 Jonathan Fenby
Wall St. Journal . 5/11/2012 Mary Kissel
The Washington Times . 14/12/2012 Gary Anderson

  From the Reviews:
  • "His analysis is informative, but it also manages to be at once alarmist and humdrum. (...) Because pure strategy is meager, Luttwak ends up becoming the Sinologist he initially forswore." - Stephen Wertheim, The Nation

  • "In this frequently bewildering jeremiad, controversial military strategist Luttwak argues that China’s rise as a world power is ultimately unsustainable. (...) Eschewing 99% of the classical literature in international relations -- even game theory is conspicuously absent -- Luttwak promptly blends his deterministic thesis with a sparsely argued belief that China’s policy makers are congenitally influenced by their Han heritage (in particular Sun Tzu’s The Art of War), putting them at a disadvantage." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The concerns about the People's Republic on which Luttwak would build a geo-economic framework of restraint are real enough, but it is hard to see other Pacific nations mobilising in the way he imagines. The web of regional interests with China at its centre has developed too far to be unpicked and, so long as Washington maintains its overwhelming military superiority, the reality of Beijing's military build-up is less impressive than its assertive rhetoric suggests." - Jonathan Fenby, Times Higher Education

  • "Mr. Luttwak never attempts to make clear who is making decisions in Beijing or their motivations because he doesn't think political leaders have much control over their actions. In his view, they are "trapped by the paradoxes of the logic of strategy." (...) The major question left unanswered in Mr. Luttwak's meandering book is whether the containment strategy adopted by America and its allies will ultimately succeed in driving China's authoritarian regime to curb its military ambitions or -- even better—help promote a democratic revolution in the country." - Mary Kissel, Wall Street Journal

  • "This book is not for the casual reader. It is serious and weighty. My theory about the unpopularity of Mr. Luttwak among some other historians and strategic thinkers is that he reads the same material that they do, but he sees different patterns. Worse still, some historians may draw similar conclusions, but many lack the moral courage to go against conventional academic wisdom (.....) The real target audience for this book is Chinese intellectual and political policymaking elites." - Gary Anderson, The Washington Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Edward N. Luttwak explains in the opening sentence of his Preface:

     It is as a strategist and not as a Sinologist that I approach the phenomenon of today's China, for the universal logic of strategy applies in perfect equality to every culture in every age.
       The second part of this sentence is as significant as the first, expressing as it does a view of 'strategy' in rather simple ('universal logic') and very absolute ('perfect equality', 'every culture', every age') terms.
       Luttwak argues:
     Each historical period and each state is different, invalidating most analogies. But the paradoxical logic of strategy is always the same.
       What he argues in The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy is that China has fallen into a common trap -- a chest-thumping aggressiveness and very loud build-up (and display) of military might that, instead of strengthening China's position only undermines it. Aggressive and especially military-backed posturing won't see China get its way argues Luttwak, but rather drive other nations to work together in what the Chinese will see to be counter to Chinese interests: to be less dependent on China, meaning lessening not only political influence but also economic benefits. If China wants to truly be a world power, Luttwak argues, it must turn away from its military build-up and bullying -- as:
     The paradoxical logic of strategy is directly contrary to common sense: only in strategy can less be better than more. Specifically, a weaker army and navy are better than a stronger one if they exceed the culminating level of systemically acceptable strength, evoking more-than-proportionate adversarial reactions, both symmetric and asymmetric.
       It's an interesting idea, and Luttwak offers some sound historical examples of it -- such as Germany's overreach at the beginning of the twentieth century when, instead of devoting resources to what had made for its great success (such as education) it diverted these to pointless ones such as building up its navy, which, in turn, forced the hand of countries such as Britain and Russia. China, he suggests, is particularly vulnerable to misreading international relations because of long tradition and its historical isolation: unlike the tightly packed European nations, which constantly had to deal diplomatically with one another, China could long afford to hold court in an entirely different manner, for example.
       Luttwak argues that China is stuck on this wrong course for a number of reasons, including 'great-state autism' -- the tendency of supersized nation-states to be unable to "perceive international realities with clarity" --, as well as what:
might be called China's "acquired strategic deficiency syndrome" (ASDS) whereby both ordinary common sense and even weary awareness of the paradoxical logic of strategy are displaced by a distinct tendency to rely excessively on deception, stratagems large and small, and "barbarian-handling" techniques that devolve into gamesmanship.
       The book is divided into twenty-two chapters, and roughly the first half introduce and discuss the theoretical and historical foundations of Luttwak's argument; the remaining chapters take a country-by-country case study approach of (often very) recent Chinese activity -- making also for a useful overview of Chinese foreign relations (and incidents) in recent years. The national examples show China's strategies in action -- and the not-always-hoped-for results, as countries react in a variety of ways, from Mongolia -- which geographically, and with its small population might be seen as vulnerable to merely becoming a Chinese outpost -- to the much more accommodating South Korea to Indonesia (Luttwak wondering why there is no 'who lost Indonesia'-debate in Beijing, as it looks like a prime example of 'ASDS' ...). Even Norway and the way in which China reacted to the awarding of a Nobel Prize to Liu Xiaobo gets a chapter, as Luttwak notes that:
     This entirely trivial episode holds a serious lesson: no doubt for nontrivial political reasons, the Chinese government cannot at present successfully manage its international problems, not even very minor ones such as the award of an unofficial prize to a Chinese dissident.
       Regretably, Luttwak does not consider more closely two of the more interesting areas of rapidly spreading Chinese influence over the past decade: Burma (Myanmar) -- which has now seen a stunning about-face in just the past year -- and Africa, where China has invested a great deal without much military swaggering to go with it.
       Quite honestly, parts of The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy seem completely batty (and not just Luttwak's penchant for syndrome-naming) -- but even these are, at least, thought-provoking. Luttwak puts all his eggs in a single basket -- the simple, eternal perfection that is strategy ! -- but he presents that as his absolute, all-encompassing, answer-to-everything, and while the case he makes is intriguing, ultimately it's not entirely convincing. It does, however, illuminate some obvious (and, to outsiders, often baffling) Chinese missteps in their foreign relations, and much of this is worth considering in looking at the bigger picture.
       Quite well presented -- with some jarring attempts at humor, but the occasional zinger as well -- The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy is a never less than interesting read, and while not necessarily a perspective one would want to wholeheartedly embrace (in terms of 'reading' Chinese policy and action -- and, more significantly, of reacting to it) certainly one that it's good to be aware of.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 November 2012

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The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy: Reviews:

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About the Author:

       Edward N. Luttwak was born in 1942 and has written numerous books on strategy.

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© 2012 the complete review

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