Since time immemorial, the spring and fall have been war-fighting seasons. Aggressors chose Spring if they wanted a lengthy campaign to cover a lot of ground or reduce fortifications before winter. Fall was chosen if they wanted a shorter campaign followed by consolidating gains and regrouping over the winter. It is only in modern times that all-weather fighting has become more common, but even then there are reasons to prefer spring and fall– thaws, road travel, better or worse flying weather, fog, rain, fewer storms or more, more comfortable temperatures, or better mechanical and physical reliability.
This fall is shaping up to be a very dangerous time on the world stage. Russia has moved armed troops to the Crimea near the border with the Ukraine. North Korea has announced it is resuming production of plutonium after announcing that it had successfully miniaturized nuclear weapons so they could fit onto the ICBMs that the North is continually launching near Japan. China has issued various warnings– to India that if it wants trade concessions it will mind its own business, and to Australia that the Aussies are less than a “paper tiger” and should conduct themselves appropriately. Meanwhile China has seized territory and built islands near Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia, causing those nations and protectorates a great deal of concern. Vietnam moved missile launchers to positions where they can be brought to bear on the region. The U.S. recently moved B-1 bombers, B-2s, and the venerable B-52 BUFFs to Guam so their flight time is relatively short. Of course, this also exposes them to enemy action.
China’s military activities are not simply limited to their immediate vicinity. They’ve also built a new base in Djibouti, in East Africa at the base of the Red Sea looking out toward the Arabian Peninsula. They did this in less than a year and sent several thousand soldiers to that post. They’re also looking at getting a base in the Atlantic Ocean on the West Coast of Africa in Namibia. Their acquisition of naval bases across the Indian Ocean and around toward South America has been referred to as the “string of pearls” by some, but this has been watched with growing concern by strategists who note that China has never had a base in the Atlantic Ocean from which its ships might steam directly to Washington D.C. or Rio with equal aplomb.
On the domestic front, the United States is bound up in election season with a departing president doing unpredictable things and two major candidates who each have potential repercussions around the globe. Wildfires rage in the west. Floods drown large swaths of land in the southeast and riots and attacks on law enforcement officers have been occurring with appalling regularity. The southern border remains less than secure, and there is still only a 2% physical inspection rate on shipping containers in 3,700 cargo and passenger terminals in the U.S. The Federal Reserve indicated that it was hacked in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The IRS lost 300,000 taxpayer records to hackers. The Democrat National Committee was notoriously hacked. Many may have forgotten that the federal Office of Personnel Management was hacked for more than 20 million federal employee records in 2015, including security cleared personnel and the fingerprints of some 5.6 million employees, many of whom had classified clearances and likely used biometrics to access ultra-secure areas. As icing on that particular mud-cake, there are reports of daily probes and soft attacks on the electronic infrastructure that sustains the U.S.– electric stations, nuclear plants, shipping terminals, pumping stations, stock markets, commodity markets, and the list goes on. The people who are supposed to defend the U.S. aren’t immune. The FBI itself was hacked, director John Brennan’s email was compromised, and at least one law enforcement portal was breached.
It’s not just the government either. Anthem lost information on 80 million current and former customers, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and income data. A company called Securus lost 70 million phone calls and many call recordings from U.S. prisons. Patreon, a crowd-funding service, was hacked resulting in access to millions of accounts, although they insist that credit card data and social security information was not compromised. Target was nailed for 40 million accounts. Experian, Ashley Madison, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, and Rite Aid all lost huge chunks of customer accounts, and carriers like Verizon also lost to the incessant hackers.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of the magnitude of the problem. You’ve probably even taken steps to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an emergency, and you probably already conduct your life at least at a low-level state of awareness of your surroundings and world events.
You may not, however, be aware of a particularly ugly confluence of events. China’s moves in the Spratley-Scarborough area, commonly referred to as the “South China Sea”, may not be due to raw belligerence but due to their own internal pressures. Over one point three billion people eat a lot every single day. Time reported four days ago, on August 17, 2016, that “the nation of 1.3 billion accounts for almost a fifth of the world’s population, yet boasts just 7% of arable land. Moderate to severe soil degradation affects more than 40% of the country, exacerbated by overuse of fertilizer, intensive grazing and the reliance on biomass for rural energy.” China is also ruining its own environment with wildly uncontrolled pollution, poisoning its long-term viability, and forcing its hand toward expansion, clean lands, and untapped resources. It is also allocating food resources toward long-term development and away from immediate needs. About 70% of China’s corn is used to feed livestock rather than the populace. China, as a nation, is therefore heavily dependent on the seafood market, consuming 35% of the region’s take.
The fish population in the South China Sea region, however, has been massively over-harvested, declining by 95% since the 1950’s. So where is the additional food supposed to come from? The world’s great agrarian economies, and the U.S. in particular, have not really been exporting much, only about $30 billion, to China. Soybeans have been by far the largest export from the U.S. to China, but that only totaled about $12.7 billion. That’s a lot of beans, to be sure, but it’s nowhere near the potential demand.
Time reported that China has made significant acquisitions overseas, including Australia’s largest dairy, over 324,000 hectares of farmland in Argentina, and soybean-processing plants worth several billion dollars in Brazil. A Chinese company also bought Smithfield Foods in America and now owns one in four pigs in the United States. Forbes suggested in 2014 that China was buying land and resources in the Ukraine, which already ships a huge amount to China. Its first corn shipment came in October 2013 as part of a $3 billion loan-for-corn deal that involved Kiev receiving multi-billion dollar credit lines in exchange for soft commodities. It was also reported that the Chinese entered into a live cattle export agreement with Australia to meet its rapidly growing beef demand. Starting in 2016, China was expected to spend as much as $2 billion per year to import one million head of livestock cattle annually from Australia. Meanwhile, China is working on a cow-cloning factory to try to produce its own cows on a massively expedited basis.
However, the bottom line is: China cannot produce enough food for its people right now.
Now if you were a nation that was facing a choice between possibly losing 20 million people or more to starvation or aggressively pushing your boundaries and using every means at your disposal to acquire and control food sources to assure a constant supply of enough food, would you consider military aggression? What is the loss of several hundred thousand soldiers in a short, sharp campaign in order to guarantee that millions of people who would otherwise starve can actually be fed and survive?
China already suffered through the “Great Famine” of 1958-1962, during which they may have lost between 20 million and 40 million people to starvation and social unrest. They have no intention of ever suffering a famine and social upheaval on that level again. They suffered under Japanese aggression in the Second World War, losing some 14 million people and suffering 80 to 100 million refugees. They now celebrate an unofficial annual “Day of Humiliation” in which they actively remember their grievances with Japan and the world at large. That day was September 18.
A heightened state of awareness is probably appropriate until a peaceful solution to China’s food problem is developed.