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Tyler Cowen

China Is Not America’s Next Great Enemy

The Chinese just aren’t as threatening to Americans as the Soviets were.

Not as scary as the Soviet version.

Not as scary as the Soviet version.

Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac

If the lack of an external enemy since the end of the Cold War has made America weak and feckless, as some argue, then can the rise of China give America a newfound vigor and sense of purpose? Probably not.

There are several differences between the former Soviet Union and contemporary China which help explain why the U.S.S.R. came across as so much more threatening. The Soviets had a string of leaders who were well-suited to play movie villains. Stalin murdered millions and radiated evil. Khrushchev was more moderate in terms of domestic policy, but in New York he banged his shoe on the table and shouted “We will bury you!” He also moved Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba. Brezhnev came across as a crusty, malevolent stiff.