America’s 21st-century competition with China is likely to be more dangerous and more complex than its old Cold War with the Soviet Union. This is partly because China’s economic power makes it a much more formidable and resourceful opponent than the U.S.S.R., and partly because the technological environment has changed so dramatically in the past generation.
The development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles shaped the Cold War. The resulting nuclear “balance of terror” kept the Cold War cold; neither power was willing to risk total annihilation. Arms-control talks became a centerpiece of superpower relations as both sides sought to stabilize the nuclear balance.
The information revolution has brought new dangers to the fore. Cyberweapons can devastate their targets, crashing power grids and transportation networks, paralyzing financial systems, and destroying the functionality of anything from hospitals to government offices. The development of these weapons is much harder to control and their use much more difficult to deter.
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