Thursday, November 4, 2010

China Looks Out to Sea—and Sees a Threat

Does China have an enemy threatening them at sea? Not really. However, if you are responsible for 1.3 billion people and you can envisage any country or combination of countries that could cut off your access to sea-borne energy and other vital resources, then it is your responsibility to be prepared to defend and control your coastline out as far as possible.

There are two recent articles that address China’s naval intentions and the possible implications for countries in the region. Robert Kaplan wrote an article titled The Geography of Chinese Power, and Seth Cropsey provided Keeping the Pacific Pacific. Both articles appeared in the journal "Foreign Affairs." The Kaplan article provides an interesting assessment of how China views the world. Cropsey is more interested in how the U.S. should respond to China’s growing naval capabilities.

If you examine the map below you can identify what Kaplan claims the Chinese refer to as "the first island chain."
"The Chinese navy sees little but trouble in what it calls the "first island chain": the Korean Peninsula, the Kuril Islands, Japan (including the Ryukyu Islands), Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. All except for Australia are potential flashpoints. China is already embroiled in various disputes over parts of the energy-rich ocean beds of the East China Sea and the South China Sea: with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and with the Philippines and Vietnam over the Spratly Islands. Such disputes allow Beijing to stoke nationalism at home, but for Chinese naval strategists, this seascape is mostly grim. This first island chain is, in the words James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the U.S. Naval War College, a kind of "Great Wall in reverse": a well-organized line of U.S. allies that serve as a sort of guard tower to monitor and possibly block China's access to the Pacific Ocean."

This web of allies and alliances is a remnant of World War Two and the subsequent Cold War. There need not be an actual threat in order for China to be concerned that there could be. Therefore there must be a response.
"Beijing is developing asymmetric niche capabilities designed to block the U.S. Navy from entering the East China Sea and other Chinese coastal waters. China has modernized its destroyer fleet and has plans to acquire one or two aircraft carriers but is not acquiring warships across the board. Instead, it has focused on building new classes of conventional, nuclear attack, and ballistic missile submarines." "As part of its effort to control its offshore waters in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, China is also improving its mine-warfare capability, buying fourth-generation jet fighters from Russia, and deploying some 1,500 Russian surface-to-air missiles along its coast. Furthermore, even as they are putting fiber-optic systems underground and moving their defense capabilities deep into western China, out of potential enemies' naval missile range, the Chinese are developing an offensive strategy to strike that icon of U.S. power, the aircraft carrier."

"China is not going to attack a U.S. carrier anytime soon, of course, and it is still a long way from directly challenging the United States militarily. But its aim is to develop such capabilities along its seaboard to dissuade the U.S. Navy from getting between the first island chain and the Chinese coast whenever and wherever it wants. Since the ability to shape one's adversary's behavior is the essence of power, this is evidence that a Greater China is being realized at sea as on land."
It would be easy for the U.S. to view this as a threat to its interests and commitment in the area. Kaplan suggests a cautious approach, and a less dire interpretation.
"There is, however, a contradiction at the heart of China's efforts to project power at sea in the Asian Mediterranean and beyond. On the one hand, China seems intent on denying U.S. vessels easy access to its coastal seas. On the other, it is still incapable of protecting its lines of communication at sea, which would make any attack on a U.S. warship futile, since the U.S. Navy could simply cut off Chinese energy supplies by interdicting Chinese ships in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Why even bother trying to deny access if you never intend to enforce it? According to the defense consultant Jacqueline Newmyer, Beijing aims to create "a disposition of power so favorable" that "it will not actually have to use force to secure its interests." Showcasing new weapons systems, building port facilities and listening posts in the Pacific and Indian oceans, giving military aid to littoral states located between Chinese territory and the Indian Ocean -- none of these moves is secret; all are deliberate displays of power. Rather than fight the United States outright, the Chinese seek to influence U.S. behavior precisely so as to avoid a confrontation."
What we are left with is an ever more powerful, but slightly paranoid, China viewing a potentially threatening encirclement. The encircling countries view the growing naval power of china as a potential threat. The result is that everyone seems to be trying to improve their naval capabilities in anticipation that things could take a turn for the worse. Of course having an arms race is not the best way to go about avoiding conflict, but it does work occasionally. Let us hope for the best.

Cropsey’s article, "Keeping the Pacific Pacific," was prompted by the news that China was almost ready to make operational an anti-ship ballistic missile with a range of about 1000 miles. He fears that such a weapon would accomplish the Chinese goal stated in Kaplan’s article of being able to keep the U.S. fleet far offshore. He views this as a threat to U.S. dominance in the region. Cropsey approaches this issue with a mindset reminiscent of the Cold War, with China replacing the Soviet Union. That is no longer a helpful attitude. Copsey’s desired response would appear to be rather ambitious.
"China's ASBM threat is serious, but the United States has the capacity to respond. Reductions in the size of U.S. carriers, increases in their number, and changes in aircraft design to expand their range, as well as other new technology, could neutralize the threat of Chinese missiles. Yet the growing U.S. deficit makes this unlikely, as does U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates' skepticism regarding the utility of such large naval forces."
It is not surprising to learn that Copsey is a former naval officer. That helps explain this overwrought conclusion.
"The Obama administration should also lift its seeming gag order on the U.S. Navy's ability to speak candidly about the dangers posed by China's naval enlargement. Allowing the Navy to publicly discuss China's naval buildup as strategic justification for a larger naval force and presence could be useful: it might help build congressional support for reversing the U.S. Navy's virtual self-disarmament. The likely alternative to a more vigorous and robust security and diplomatic policy in East Asia is that the U.S. will be forced to surrender the benign preeminence it has exercised in the Pacific to the benefit of our own economic interest as well as the security of nearly half the world's population. China's anti-ship ballistic missile will not determine the future of U.S. power; the United States' future actions will."
We should thank Copsey for reminding us why it is so important to have civilian control of the military.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Lets Talk Books And Politics - Blogged