24 August 2015

New U.S. Security Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough on South China Sea

New Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: necessary but insufficient…

Andrew S. Erickson, “New U.S. Security Strategy Doesn’t Go Far Enough on South China Sea,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 24 August 2015.

The Pentagon just released an “Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy.” … … …

In sum, the report represents progress, but much work remains. Here’s what the Obama administration still needs to do to defend U.S. interests and the global system, and thereby shore up its Asia-Pacific legacy:

1. Issue a comprehensive Asia-Pacific Strategy. Such a document would offer the broader context lacking in the Pentagon’s publication and clarify to allies, partners and potential challengers alike that all key executive branch stakeholders are on board—currently not a universally-shared perception.

2. Call out China’s “Little Blue Men.” Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin used so-called “Little Green Men” in the 2014 Crimean Crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping is now accelerating the development of maritime militia elements in part to advance China’s position in claims disputes, particularly in the South China Sea. Before these irregular forces interpose themselves at Second Thomas Shoal or some other contested location, the U.S. government must publicize the details of their existence and clarify that their use to resolve disputes or impair foreign vessels operating legally in international waters will not be tolerated.

3. Create friction to impose costs on harmful Chinese behavior. Washington must seize the initiative and demonstrate that it is resolved to keep the region open for all to use freely and without fear. The U.S. response to actions by Saddam Hussein’s forces during Operation Southern Watch offers an extreme conceptual example of creative cost imposition. With respect to Sino-American relations, by contrast, friction can be managed; thanks in part to substantial shared interests, Beijing has as much incentive as Washington to avoid escalation.