September 1, 2015

Strategic Opportunity and Risk in China

Written by Ben Nichols, ‘16

In February 2015, when Lieutenant Colonel (now Colonel) David Menser came to speak, david-menserChina had been only a shadow in the news cycle, with multiple other major world events taking precedence. However, it is important we not forget the emerging world power across the other pond. Col. Menser brought an interesting perspective to the subject, as he is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer specializing in China and Taiwan. Since July 2013, he has been the China Deputy Division Chief at the Joint Staff Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate. Because Menser is also a graduate of West Point, one might have a certain idea as to his position on politics and the intricate situation between the two nations, but his experience in Beijing as military attaché at the US Embassy in Beijing and his work in Chinese Studies have given him a profound understanding of the bi-lateral situations happening across the Pacific. It is not a battle between nations. There is no espionage war, no declared cyber war, no war going on between China and the US. Just two countries looking out for their own interests, trying to be as prosperous as they can, just as any individual works to serve his/her own self-interest and improve the quality of life.

What Col. Menser offered was a perspective that isn’t frequently presented in the classroom: countries are people too. They are not inherently evil––at least China and the US are not. They are simply expansions of their inner beings, a collective of the population; they are two actualities, trying to survive in the anarchic world that is international politics, each possessing, of course, some trust issues. Every living being on this earth has a very simple purpose: survival. That is what states are trying to do as well: survive and prosper. If we started applying a little more humanitarianism to our international relations, the world would be a better place.

And yet, while that is lovely and principled, we must not forget that states still wage war on one another. We remember that Col. Menser’s roots are military, and we remember that the world is unpredictable, especially in the East China Sea. There is a light and a dark side to everything (no, not The Force, Luke), but what I took away from Lt. Col. Menser was that amongst all of these ambiguities, we can still all benefit from being a little more optimistic. 

This piece appeared in the International Studies Program Newsletter September 1, 2015 edition.


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