Cool War: United States and China in the future of the global competition

4 min read

Are we on the edge of a new Cold War era? Or, alternatively, every power struggle mindset has to be considered a lost legacy of the XX century and we’re headed to a new era of global cooperation?

These are the big questions opening Cool War by Noah Feldman, a must read essay on the present and future balance of power between China and the US, through the deep ties connecting the two countries and the permanent tensions and challenges.

Feldman is an International Law professor at Harvard Law School, member of the Council of foreign relations and columnist on the New York Times Magazine and Blomberg View.

Can’t miss this book if you want to understand the current strategic options available on the scenario and leading to the future relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Feldman provides important points of view on several aspects of the evolving challenge for the super-power role in the next future, but some concepts are really disruptive while considering a pragmatic analysis of the chessboard.

The conflict is inevitable. The high level of economic interdependence between the two countries is well known, and it’s deeply tied to the US debts in Chinese hands until the impressive import/export volume connecting the two economies. Their fate is common and deeply tied to each other, but conflict is unavoidable. Feldman points out how Henry Kissinger, who’s been probably the best US analyst on Chinese affairs for the last 40 years, in his last book on the Chinese Republic explains the situation telling the story of Mr. Eyre Crowe, a UK government official author of 1907 memorandum on Germany.

Crowe wrote that, despite any government change in Germany, the mere economic growth and strategic weight increase, would have led Germany to challenge the UK leadership because of actual and realistic needs. War wasn’t about the decision of a political leadership, but more a practical effect of an inevitable economic and strategic conflict. Kissinger remarks how Mr. Crowe was right about First World War and, of course, the Second as well.

Therefore, being pragmatic, the current decrease of the relative economic power of the United States, and China’s unstoppable economic ascent, is automatically boosting a permanent conflict. If India is eventually expected to reshape the economic and trade balance of the global chessboard, China poses itself as a challenging leader both for objective interest and historical legacy.

Feldman leads us to the vital connections of this permanent conflict: from the ideology issue and the contrast between two incompatible systems of values (especially for the universalistic spirit of the Western values), until the internal power streams inside the Chinese government, deeply related to its leadership transition and the legitimation of the government itself. According to Feldman’s analysis, Chinese leadership is a permeable elite going through a difficult transition that began with the Bo Xilai case and the recent leadership renovation, deeply connected with the Chinese system of the personal relations.

Therefore, Feldman provides the definition of Cool War: not an actual conflict nor a Cold War situation, but a structured evolution of the objective conflict we described. Its effects are the trade disputes inside the WTO, the companies direct commercial wars and the dumping policies, cybercrime and espionage, being strategic in the current relationship between the two countries. Feldman provides a complete and detailed analysis of all the characteristics of the conflicts, leading to important questions about the future of the human rights from a realistic, pragmatic point of view on the global strategic scenario.

But there are several options, because the future is unwritten: even if the Cool War will be probably carried on without leading to traditional or military conflicts, but will reshape the current and future global scenario for sure. Even if we won’t see any bullet, the Cool War will be fought. The reason is that each contending part has good reasons to expect a possible victory over the other one, and this mere pre-condition is sufficient to influence drastically the whole scenario.

The match is still going on, and the final score is unpredictable.

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Tony Simon

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