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What If Crazy Things Happened?

All of this is guess-work, of course, but it has happened repeatedly throughout history. ~Michael Auslin

By “repeatedly throughout history,” Auslin seems to mean once. Naturally, this was during the ’30s and ’40s. One searches in vain for another example. Depressions in the 1870s and 1890s did not lead to general, large-scale conflicts among the major powers in any part of the world. The Panic of 1907 had no meaningful connection to the conflagration that followed many years later. The end of WWI saw an economic slump as the world adjusted to armistice and demobilization, but the war did not come about because of economic troubles. Looking back much earlier, we see that the bursting of the South Sea credit bubble happened to follow a prolonged period of warfare on the Continent, but the consequences of the end of the bubble did not facilitate war. The interwar period was extremely unusual in many ways, and if we use it as a model to base our expectations of what the next few years might bring we are going to be unnecessarily preoccupied with phantom threats. In the 1930s there was one major revisionist power deeply dissatisfied with the WWI peace settlement and an emerging, second-tier power that aspired to great power status, and you had a concert of status quo imperial powers that was going to resist them at some point. Conditions today in Asia are simply nothing like that.

Given the increasing dependence of the Taiwanese economy on China, China is more likely to buy out Taiwan than invade it. The Japanese public has no interest in military adventures. Regimes increasingly worried about social unrest enter into wars at the peril of being destroyed by revolution. It is stable, relatively prosperous states that can afford wars to distract their people. If Japan is facing “economic collapse,” it is not going to be in a position to engage in a war against its more heavily militarized and far more heavily populated Chinese neighbor. Anti-Japanese sentiment cultivated by Chinese nationalists is real enough, but the government is not going to make policy on the basis of that.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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