Twice the Military, Half the Mess (for You, Anyway)

Vodkapundit has a post where he responds to a decent column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times dealing with European arms sales to China. Friedman notes that Europe's own military is woefully anemic, and suggests:
There is an obvious compromise that Mr. Bush could put on the table that would defuse this whole issue. Mr. Bush should simply say to France, Germany and their E.U. partners that America has absolutely no objection to Europeans' selling arms to China - on one condition: that they sell arms to themselves first. That's right, the U.S. should support the export to China of any defense system that the Europeans buy for their own armies first. Buy one, sell one.
As cute as the idea is, it has several problems. First, as Vodkapundit notes, we don't have that kind of clout with the French or Germans. Second, I believe that Friedman is missing the whole point of the exercise, from France's perspective.

French leaders and diplomats have been saying for decades that they want to form a counterbalance against the United States. Indeed, much of the explicit motivation for a unified EU "rapid-response force" (which is neither rapid, nor will it ever respond, nor does it project much force) was to balance against U.S. military might.

But France has discovered that to have a military, you have to pay for it. And neither France nor Germany can afford to support a serious military at the same time as they pay for huge social safety nets. (Truth be told, they can't even afford the safety nets...) But they need to maintain their defense industries somehow, or else they will be left unprepared for any serious future threat. And there is still the Hyperpower to contain.

Enter China. In China, we have a growing geopolitical player with a lot of money to spend, a huge but largely obsolete military in need of modern equipment, and—most importantly—strategic rivalries with the United States, particularly with respect to Taiwan. By equipping the Chinese, the French and Germans get all the desired benefits of having their own militaries, and none of the costs. Indeed, China will even pay them! You can't get much sweeter than that.

Of course, such a policy would be woefully shortsighted (as with much of French policy in general, these days). The key assumption being made is that even with a powerful military, China will play by the rules. If actual war would break out, the EU would suffer as much as anyone. Moreover, the Chinese are exceptionally good at reverse-engineering technology. I can easily imagine homegrown Chinese military technology reaching parity with Europe in a decade or two. If that happens, the Chinese will simply displace Europe from the military export industry entirely.

The worst scenario is if China and Iran develop closer ties then they already have. China needs oil to run its economy, and Iran has a lot more oil than does Europe. Conceivably, China could purchase weapons from France or Germany, then turn around and resell them to Iran. It would not be the first time they did something like that; China has been known to supply Egypt with Israeli weapons technology.

Once again, the "realists" seem to be living off in another planet, where there is no such thing as "cause and effect." I have no idea what they expect to do should China start to throw its weight around, with shiny new European arsenals.

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