Archive for the ‘East Asia’ Category


How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015

April 9, 2014

That is the title of a 2010 journal article by James Kraska:

By 2015, U.S. command of the global commons could no longer be taken for granted. The oceans and the airspace above them had been the exclusive domain of the U.S. Navy and the nation’s edifice of military power for seventy-five years. During the age of U.S. supremacy, the Navy used the oceans as the world’s largest maneuver space to outflank its enemies. Maritime mobility on the surface of the ocean, in the air and under the water was the cornerstone of U.S. military power. The United States was able to utilize its maritime dominance to envelop and topple rogue regimes, as it demonstrated in Grenada and Panama, and use the maritime commons to ferry huge ground armies to the other side of the world and sustain them indefinitely, as it did in Vietnam and twice in Iraq. The unique capability to project decisive power rapidly in any corner of the world gave the United States deterrent power and unrivalled military influence.

All that changed in 2015, when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, sunk to the bottom of the East China Sea. More than 4,000 sailors and airmen died and the Navy lost eighty aircraft. A ship that would take seven years and $ 9 billion to replace slipped into the waves. The incident upset not just the balance of naval power in Asia, but ushered in a new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerged to displace the United States.

If you have never read Kraska’s article, read it now.  If you have, read it again.  And ponder it while listening to senior US and Chinese officials trade tough talk over maritime disputes in the Western Pacific.


A new “scramble for Africa?”

January 16, 2014

The Scramble for Africa is a term for the 19th century colonization of that continent by all the major European powers.  It is considered one of the darkest periods of European imperialism, and many claim the sad state of much of the continent today is a direct legacy of that period.

Might we be seeing a new scramble for Africa, this time featuring Asian powers?  China has been actively pursuing both economic and political interests in Africa for nearly two decades, and now Japan is responding in kind, with Prime Minister Abe having recently returned from a major trade mission to several African nations.  The Japanese deny that they are in direct competition with China, but even if indirect, they are certainly in competition.

The East Asian nations are not the only ones.  India has always been involved in East Africa and are the nearest major power, with direct sea lanes across the Indian Ocean.  Over the last two years, I have noted how several Muslim states – in particular Qatar – are seeking to gain influence in North Africa and the Sahel.

None of this, of course, is akin to 19th century colonization, and there is no new Berlin Conference on the horizon where the map will be carved into spheres of influence.  But in many ways, this 21st century scramble is a more sophisticated version of the same geopolitical impulse.  Just as British power was perceived to be on the wane in the late 19th century, thus opening up the world to competition from other powers, so, too, is US power seen on the wane.  Into the perceived power vacuum, other powers – both regional and global – are jockeying for position before the next macrodecision begins.

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching


US ditches Monroe Doctrine, while China appears to be construcing its West Pacific analog

November 25, 2013

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed that the nearly 2 century old Monroe Doctrine, through which the US claimed hegemony over most of the Western Hemisphere, was “dead” (although it should be noted that Kerry either mischaracterized or misunderstands the Monroe Doctrine to begin with).

This week, China has added a new layer to what is essentially its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in the East and South China Seas, identifying areas in international space and even legally Japanese space as subject to China’s air defense rules.   This follows by just a few months China’s extending its controversial “9 dash map” with an even more expansive 10 dash map.

China does not have the military power – yet – to successfully challenge the US on these matters.  However, they are probably banking on the fact that the US in general and this president in particular are not positioned for a fight and will likely let these matters drop with nothing more than a protest.  This gives China its de facto claim over the waters, while at the same time diminishing US credibility as an effective counterbalance to her growing power.  This is a significant victory in the coalitioning phase of the current world power cycle and China has, in effect, won this round without firing a shot.

Read Andrew Erickson for updates on the ADIZ (air defense identification zone) controversy. 


Australia places itself in the center of things

May 15, 2013

The new Australian Defence White Paper has been noted for its conciliatory language toward China, leading some observers to wonder whether the Aussies are beginning to stray from the long-time US alliance.  That language, though, is not that much different from what you hear emanating from Tokyo, New Delhi or Washington, DC.   All of these powers speak of peaceful co-dominion with rising China, but at the same time all are preparing for containment of or outright conflict with her.

Indeed, the Australian defence planners have placed themselves in the center of the maritime encirclement of The Dragon.  Whereas the Aussies previously spoke of their primary strategic interest in the Asian-Pacific region, the new White Paper introduces the new term “Indo-Pacific” region.  The Indo-Pacific strategic arc begins in India, traces across the Indonesian Archipelago and up to Japan.

Indo Pacific Arc large

Australia has a tricky relationship with China:  On the one hand, China is Australia’s largest trade partner, but on the other hand the aggressive territorial claims and ambitions of China has the Aussies (like every other nation in the region) worried.   Also, the large trading relationship with China is dwarfed by the even larger collective relationship with nations often at odds with her (see graphic below).

Aussie trade partners

Some in Australia fret that they have to “choose” between their relationships with China and the US.   Some – including former Prime Minister and noted friend to the US John Howard – call such a debate “infantile.”  I don’t think it is infantile – it is simply a choice that does not need to be made today.  For now, Australia has managed to cut the baby in half – maintaining its lucrative trade ties with China while also being a lynchpin in the US-led virtual maritime containment of the same.  With any luck – and skillful diplomacy by all involved – the choice will never have to be made.  But, if that day comes, Australia’s defense planners are quite clear that they will be in the middle of things.


China’s Growing Naval Prowess

April 24, 2013

This month’s edition of Proceedings (the journal of the US Naval Institute) focuses on the growth and development of the Chinese Navy, or the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as it is known there.    China is aggressively adding capability to its naval forces in order to meet three goals of increased scope and difficulty.

First, to secure their anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy, which is designed to upend the near 70 year US  naval domination of their waters.   This is the “first island chain” strategy, outlined in the infamous “nine-dash line” map.  China first seeks to achieve hegemony within the waters bounded by the first chain of islands off her eastern shore.

Second, to extend their own naval hegemony beyond their near waters and out to the “second island chain,” a series of small atolls farther out into the Pacific, then sweeping down to include the Indonesian archipelago.  Dominating this chain was the same strategic goal that the Imperial Japanese Navy pursued in World War Two; controlling this chain would fully isolate the US from East Asia and force its allies to seek accommodation with China.  Achieving this goal would probably require open war with the US, as it would necessitate seizing control of US territories Guam and the Marianas Islands.

second island chain

The third goal of Chinese naval strategists would be complete domination of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.  This would seem to be relatively easy, as the US would have been defeated in the completion of the second goal.  Only India, which is also building up a formidable naval force, would be left to compete with the PLAN.

Of course, parts 2 and 3 are long term goals, and the successful completion of even stage 1 is far from a sure thing.  Especially given that the US navy is taking Chinese developments seriously.  This issue of Proceedings has a number of articles that examine Chinese seamanship, their growing blue water capabilities, their submarine forces, and other factors.  It is a must-read issue for anyone interested in the potential Sino-American naval competition in the coming years and decades.


Australia in the Asian Century: Gov’t releases new White Paper

October 30, 2012

The Australian Government has released an optimistic new White Paper assessing the ongoing economic rise of East Asia and the ability of Australia to benefit from it.  The paper almost reads like a product from the neo-liberal hey day of the early 1990s, extolling the virtues of free market and trade to enhance everything from economic growth to democratic reform to expansion of human rights.   At the same time, the paper downplays the security threats in the region.  Now, this may be well justified, as most of the nations in the region certainly prize economic prosperity over territorial gains.  However, the overlapping claims of sovereignty in the South China and East China seas cannot be overlooked and will remain possible flashpoints for conflict in both the near and medium terms.

Conflicting territorial claims in the East China (above) and South China (below) Seas

Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies sees reason for optimism in the recent dispute over the Senkaku Islands – the fact that China deliberately sent fishing vessels rather than armed naval craft indicates to him that the preference is for a peaceful, negotiated settlement.  Counter to this analysis, however, is today’s report that China is refusing to join its South China Seas neighbors in negotiations for a multi-lateral “code of conduct” in the waters.   China does not want to be bound by a group treaty, preferring to negotiate separate deals with each individual nation.   In one-on-one negotiations, China can overawe each of her negotiating partners, something that is much harder to achieve when they band together.


Chinese fishing flotilla fizzles

September 20, 2012

The reported flotilla of 1000 Chinese fishing boats headed to the Senkaku Islands to protest Japanese government ownership of the islands have not materialized.  The Japan Times reports that a smaller number – about 700  boats – are fishing in a region about halfway between the islands and mainland China, over 100 miles away.  A smaller group of fewer than 25 boats may be within 75 miles.  There are no reports of any Chinese military ships in either mix.  There is no indication of whether the initial report was a hoax or just over hyped.