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A Defence Academic's thoughts on Bear and the Dragon
on 23 November 2000
I bought the latest Clancy/Ryan novel because I have always been a Clancy fan, and the idea of the clash between Russia and China in Siberia is an interesting, and increasingly plausible scenario. Ultimately though I was dissapointed with this novel, and Clancy's work has shown distinct deterioration in quality since Debt of Honour.
Increasingly Clancy's novels are becoming more a vehicle for his own political views, and less an entertaining read. Clancy manages to get every element of the right wing conservative political philosophy in the novel - maybe he should run for the Republican ticket in 2004! To me a novel should not be a medium to impose one's own political views on the rest of the world - that's rather selfish of the author.
The book is very long, and the first 700 pages drags on and on and on...yet it is easy to know where it is all heading. Russia is an economic mess after 70 years of communism. It discovers a big oil and gold reserve in Siberia, and needs US assistance to exploit it. President Ryan turns this opportunity into an excuse to bring Russia into NATO - a very unlikely prospect in the real world - just in time to deal with a plot by the 'Evil Empire Mark II' - the Chinese - to try and grab the oil and gold themselves.
The 'good guys' - the Americans and the Russians are cardboard cutout characters. Ryan has become the 'perfect Republican President we would all like'. He is a man of honor, truth and justice - with perhaps one failing of liking to smoke. Forget sacrificing principles to get into power, and stay in power - Ryan never does anything wrong and is purely concerned about doing good in the world. His advisors are equally virtuous and decent people - Washington is Camelot once again. The Russians are portrayed as honourable warriors having put the past behind them. Their politicians are carbon copies of Ryan - their soldiers are all carbon copies of American military officers. A nice vision - but neither the US or Russia is really like this. Politicans are corrupt, principles are negotiable, doing good is optional. Soldiers whilst having a sense of duty and honour can make mistakes, can be afraid, can be corrupted.
Clancy paints the Chinese as one dimensional, bumbling bad guys - so over the top in fact that China could be the Third Reich reincarnated. The political leadership are portrayed as purely evil in every respect, and totally 'stupid' in their ability to assess the intentions or policies of the outside world. Yet the real world suggests that the Chinese Government are in fact far more intelligent and formidable as a potential opponent than Clancy would have us believe. An intelligent, calculating adversary is for me far more interesting than a bunch of stupid dictators, and the Chinese are not stupid.
Likewise when the action finally does begin, Clancy portray's the Chinese armed forces as equally as 'stupid' as the political leadership. Clearly Clancy has ignored the reality of current Chinese military planning which is based around exploiting US military weaknesses via assymetric response. Instead, the PLA blindly charge into the sights of US and Russian armed forces, with the US easily winning purely through reliance on superior military technology. There are zero or minimal casualties on the US side - real wars in the future are not likely to be that way, especially given that the Chinese did learn the lessons of the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo Conflict, and have developed their military strategy around denying the US an easy, cost free victory. Clancy clearly is an advocate of the Revolution in Military Affairs, and paints a picture of the US forces as reluctant warriors who always win because they are after all the 'good guys' and because they have the 'silver bullet' of advanced tech. In this assertion, Clancy completely ignores (or maybe he is ignorant of?) the on-going debate about the true value of advanced military technology in future war. It will not be as one sided as Clancy would have us believe.
The novel reaches a climax in dealing with the issue of use of weapons of mass destruction. Clancy portrays a future in which the US and Russia have eliminated virtually all of their nuclear capabilities - also highly unlikely - and here Clancy manages to make it clear that he is an advocate of National Missile Defense. I am too...but not at the expense of maintaining a nuclear deterrent. Clancy provides an 'easy test' for an NMD capability and thus does not have to face the question of what happens if hundreds or thousands of warheads are inbound. He ignores the reality that the Chinese are planning to upgrade their capability from the 20 or so old liquid fueled ICBMs they currently have to maybe several hundred mobile solid fueled ICBMs - because this clearly would fly in the face of his distaste for maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent in a period when the WMD threat is increasing - not decreasing.
Ultimately the perfect President Jack Ryan, and some good old American technological know how saves the day, in China the young educated capitalist students rise up and the evil dictators and Chinese communism are banished to the ashheap of history. Predictable, unimaginative, boring. The Americans and the Russians walk off into the sunset together, having saved the world for democracy, and we all wait for the next novel.
I have nothing against a conservative world view. Were I an American (I'm not - I'm Australian) I would probably vote Republican rather than Democrat. But having or portraying a realistic world view is vital - and in The Bear and the Dragon, Clancy portrays a completely unrealistic perspective of how America should be, what it should be doing, and how it might defeat future security challenges. Clancy's novel is way too black and white - when in fact the world of international security is always shades of gray.