Frankie Says Relax

A couple of political scientists look at the unintended (?) results of China’s One Child policy, and worry about the future:

The result appears to be that China now has 41 million more men than women. These surplus men are concentrated in the youthful age range of 15 to 34. They are over-represented among poor, transient and unemployed men who will be drawn together into “bachelor subcultures.” Citing other scholars, Ms. Hudson and Ms. den Boer speculate that the young-male surplus will translate into higher rates of crime and violence and possibly more political instability. If the government recruits surplus men into the armed forces to keep them under control, it may become more willing to engage in aggressive military actions.

Let’s take a deep breath before we get all breathless over the thought of millions of Chinese draftees invading Taiwan, Siberia, Japan, or the Upper East Side.

Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

Or if it does happen, it won’t be because China has too many young males of military age.

Look. As America keeps teaching the world, in warfare, numbers just don’t count for much anymore. It’s no coincidence that it was the US military that coined the phrase “target-rich environment.” (If you don’t know, it means that when you’re outnumbered, you just have more things to break and people to kill — not that you’re going to lose.) For sixty years now, Americans have trained to fight outnumbered, and trained to win. And we haven’t done a whole lot of losing.

If China wants to draft 41 million men — fine. I’d like to see them produce that many uniforms. And rifles and tanks and planes and training, etc. In the meantime, we’ll just load up a few extra flights of F-35s with 250-pound smart bombs. Problem fixed.

Or let’s play the numbers game. China has 1.3 billion people. The US has around 300 million. Let’s be generous and say that China has four times the population of the US. If they want to draft 41 million men, that would be like drafting 10 million American boys. And they’d have to do it with an economy half the size of ours — assuming, of course, zero economic dislocations from having taken 41 million people out of the workforce.

Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

Now let’s get realistic, and suppose that China drafts “only” an extra three million men — just enough to double the size of the PLA.

I still say, fine, let them try.

Today, China has two distinct militaries. One is strictly Old School. Poorly-armed men trained to fight in outdated “human wave” attacks. (See the explanation of “target-rich environment” above.) The other PLA is much smaller, and potentially, much more effective. After the 1991 Gulf War, China decided, wisely, to modernize. And not just equipment, either. They decided to go whole-hog American — better pay, few numbers, better equipment, more realistic training. Rich, smart bombs instead of poor, dumb infantry.

And they’re paying for the New School army by shrinking the old one.

That’s why they won’t double the size of their Army. To do so, China would have to scale back the modernization of that small fraction of the PLA which might actually be suited to modern warfare.

Probably the best thing China could do with those young men would be to draft them as Interior Ministry troops (or whatever the Chinese call it — I’m using the old Soviet model here). Give’em fancy uniforms and AK-47s, and keep them uninformed and politically reliable — in case they need to be used to put down protests in Hong Kong or Shanghai or even Tiananmen Square.

Whatever China decides to do with all those young men — young men with no hope for love or marriage or a future — they’re more likely to be a danger to China than they are to us.