WWIII Social Disruption

I’m new to straight dope. I had an argument with a friend of mine. I contended that China would suffer less societal impacts (economy, food availability, medicine, manufacturing, stock market, etc) than the USA in the event of WIII. Which country is more resilient?

It would really depend on where the main theaters of battle were. I feel the United States is less dependent on the regions which would be likely battle zones.

No offense, but if we’re at a conflict on the scale of the prior World Wars, rather than a 2-4 country conflict with additional nations supporting economically, someone, somewhere is going nuclear. At which point none of the resilient nature of the economy is going to matter.

We would need to vastly simply the scale of the scenario in order to even guess at the possibilities. Based on the US vs China conflict, I’m guessing that the conflict you and your friend had in mind was China invades Taiwan and the US intercedes militarily with the rest of the world joining in.

But give us your scenario for WW3 and we’ll be able to take a stab at it.

I believe US consumers are going to be more angry at not being able to buy Chinese products than the reasons for the war. Several years ago a woman did an experiment, buying nothing made in China. She could not find a coffee pot.

This is a tremendously important topic.

Right now, Chinese patriotic nationalism is strong, while Americans seem more loyal to tribal affiliation than the government.

However, the U. S. wasn’t unified in the 1930’s.

There is speculation that China would respond to U.S. support for Taiwan at war with attacks on Guam. The Pearl Harbor precedent suggests that Americans can quickly become unified should that happen.

If Trump was President, I don’t know. There is a lot to worry about here.

We must not allow a mineshaft gap!

Assuming no nukes.

China is neither food nor energy sufficient, and exports would collapse leaving massive unemployment. That would suck.

US would have to rebuild supply chains, and that would suck for 10 years. That said, US has the agriculture, manufacturing base, research, and safe borders.

For the long game, the US would come out far ahead.

I’d hate to see that theory put to test.

Taking nukes and Russia out of the equation.
China is not that self sufficient in food. But what food there is can be directed to the military. An incentive to fight. China has a massive manufacturing base. But does depend on imports of raw materials to support it. But during war, they will not be devoting resources to export manufactured goods, so might be able to sustain a good war directed manufacture rate.
The geographic and geopolitical location is very important. China versus just U.S.? China can hold out for so very long. U.S. would be attacking from the east coast. Missile technology makes the U.S. naval forces very vulnerable. Massive landings would have massive casualties and material losses.
U.S. and other countries are hostage to China manufacturing. So many of us are no longer countries. Just customers. Including our military high tech weapons.

I doubt that: every unemployed person can be sent to the front or to the military production line. Cannon fodder is good! (Mao Zedong, I believe I remember, maybe slightly misquoted).

The USA is a big importer of metals and rare earths too. I wonder from which side the first nuclear strike would come. Which is not a good prospect at all.

My understanding is that the US has significant reserves of these, but it’s more cost effective to get them elsewhere. In a scenario where there’s no alternative I would think we could develop these reserves.

I don’t think the USA has enough palladium, platinum, alluminum, copper, cobalt, tungsten and mercury, of the top of my head. And ramping up rare earth production could take a long time, even if you have the deposits. How long will WWIII last? No idea. On the other hand, the USA was once able to launch something like the Manhattan Project, so yes, everything is possible. Theoretically.
I don’t believe the USA is the same leading country it was 70-80 yrs. ago. But I don’t believe China is a super effective country either. Both could have significant problems motivating their people and soldiers.

The issue is that for the US, mining most rare metals, in light of human safety and environmental impact, is, as @OldOlds put it, not cost effective. And we’re all trying to avoid the World War aspect of the OP because, well, lots of reasons. But in such an event, I would strongly suspect that the US would be all-but demanding a lot of those resources from allies who were not directly fighting, and that, yes, production would be expedited for the greater good.

For that matter, the market dominance of the Chinese RE is one of the reasons Australia has been explicitly pushing to develop their own capacity -


The funding is part of a growing push by Morrison and his government to encourage self-reliance in important supply chains. In the announcement, Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said while Australia had some of the world’s largest reserves of rare earths, China dominated around 70% to 80% of the industry globally.

“This initiative is designed to address that dominance,” Taylor said in the statement. “These projects are not only game-changers for the local region with the creation of new jobs, they will also open up incredible export opportunities.”

Major snip because it won’t onebox, and again, will be quite a while as things stand before (if?) it enters production, but it’s been an ongoing strategic and economic concern.

A true world war 3 is very likely to involve nuclear weapons (its really difficult to imagine warfare on a wide enough scale to warrant the term “world war” that doesn’t involve nukes). In that case (as its equally unlikely that a nuclear exchange would not devolve to a full strategic nuke off) then its just a numbers game.

If its a Russia-US thing (e.g. something like the current Ukraine invasion escalating) then China could end up better off, even if they are targeted the majority of the nukes end leveling Russia, Europe and US. You could imagine they get off “lightly” (as in millions of people dead, whole cities wiped out, but a society and government still intact)

If is a China-US thing (e.g. a conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea that escalates) then China does not end up better off. The US has way more nukes than China, though China has plenty of nukes to ensure the US stops being a thing. So both sides end up a smoking ruin just China more so.

Any attempt to actually put boots on the ground in mainland China would be absurd. It would be massively playing into China’s hand - China is simply too big and has too much of a local manpower advantage for that to be feasible unless the Chinese government had already functionally collapsed. “WW III” or not any war over Taiwan would be naval and aerial outside of Taiwan itself. Which means like as not it would eventually end in some sort of negotiated stalemate rather than a WW I or II-style unconditional surrender.

I agree. It works both ways. Boots on the ground in the mainland US would be absurd.

I hope you’re wrong. But just assuming no nuclear weapons, and taking into consideration the the OP’s criteria - I think the US, Russia, and China all have technology, resources, and a significant population. I think the US has a geopolitical advantage. We get along ok with our only neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

China has a military disadvantage because it has no recent experience of war. I doubt a single one of their generals ever fought in one.

I think that the U.S. has less of a problem than China does in motivating soldiers, and more of a problem with motivating civilians. Remember “We’re at war, America’s at the mall."

Then, the U.S. switched from isolationism to acceptance of wartime conditions quickly after we were attacked. Cars last a lot longer now, so no new ones produced for a few years should easily accepted, right?

This sure has a 1930’s feel to me.

There might still be a few like Li Zuocheng. But in his case his brief combat experience as a young company commander, while certainly worth something, is not quite the same as higher-level command.

Again, assuming no nukes, but no trade and blockades where enforceable, the US still has more of everything and protected borders versus China. It becomes a war of attrition, and the US has a lot more food.

An Impressive post, regardless of whether the fact came from deep knowledge or web search skills.