Some thoughts at 1945 about deflating the “optimism” that there might be a single decisive conflict with China that would allow everyone to move on with their lives.
Competition between the United States and China might look less like a single sharp, decisive conflict between Washington and Beijing, and more like a series of militarized conflicts in a broader context of trade and cooperation. This would represent more of an 18th-century appreciation of international conflict, seeing no wars as particularly decisive in themselves, but rather each as a step to improving a state’s position for the next conflict. As Paul von Hindenburg said of annexing the Baltic States into the German Empire during World War I, “I need them for the manoeuvring of my left wing in the next war.”
It’s really easy to envision a world in which China and the US flail at each other, run out of missiles, conduct an armistice, and then plan on doing the same thing over again a few years later. That’s not as grim a future as the US and the Soviet Union annihilating one another, but it’s still pretty grim.