America First Foreign Policy in the South China Sea

Captain Geoffrey Gage, U.S. Navy, is a Federal Executive Fellow at The Brookings Institution Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in Washington, DC.  The views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) land reclamation and coercive maritime activity in the South China Sea (SCS) contradicts international law and threatens U.S. national interests while a nascent U.S. foreign policy and other strategic challenges limit U.S. options.

Date Originally Written:  February 10, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 10, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that current U.S. foreign policy, though limited in detail, provides a starting point for addressing the security situation in the SCS.

Background:  Among the competing claims in the SCS, the PRC considers most of the SCS sovereign territory.  Recent PRC maritime interference, land reclamation and fortification in the SCS constitute the most assertive claims and, despite international condemnation, have achieved de facto control of new territory.  More broadly, in dealing with SCS and other international relations issues, the PRC prefers bi-lateral problem solving in search of “win-win” outcomes, while prizing clout that derives from participation in multi-lateral fora, military exercises, and summit meetings[1].

Nascent U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration, labeled “America First,” prioritizes defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and rebuilding the military.  “Embracing diplomacy” is a stated intention while better trade deals for the U.S. are a constant theme[2].  Administration statements and actions have generally supported these priorities, though the President’s fiscal year 2017 budget suggests fewer fiscal resources for diplomacy.  In the near term this adds up to an economy of force: military operations focused in the Middle East, managing security commitments elsewhere in order to rebuild readiness, and forging advantageous trade deals.

Significance:  The security situation in the SCS threatens regional stability and the security of sea lanes.  The SCS is the maritime crossroads for trillions of dollars in trade between globally dispersed producers and consumers.  The SCS is also important for U.S. naval forces operating between the Pacific and Indian Oceans in support of regional alliance commitments and, more generally, maintaining freedom of the seas[3].

The SCS is not a vital national interest for the U.S.  The SCS is not as critical to U.S. national security as the prospect of North Korean nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.  Nevertheless, the security situation in the SCS is very important to the U.S. because of its alliance commitments and the potential for military conflict, indirect economic harm, and degradation of international norms.

The PRC view of the “South Sea” as a vital national interest explains, though does not excuse, their actions.  In addition to vital trade flows, the SCS offers an extension of PRC military capability.  What’s more, Communist Party of China (CPC) legitimacy derives in part from SCS adventurism.  In advance of this year’s 19th CPC Congress, even the status quo gains in the SCS may be sufficient for the party—and President Xi—to claim success and retain tight control.

The April 2017 U.S.-PRC summit will likely focus on basic relationship building, North Korea and trade.  The SCS security situation, if left unaddressed, could be construed as tacit U.S. acceptance.  A reasonable near-term objective may be to maintain the status quo.  Given emerging “America First” foreign policy priorities, U.S. SCS options are captured in two distinct categories, Indirect and Direct.

Option #1:  Indirect Approach.  Leverage issues outside of the SCS to influence the PRC in the SCS.  For example, tie the conditions of trade agreements to PRC actions in the SCS.  Another option is greater U.S. patience on North Korea in exchange for the PRC’s cooperation in the SCS.  A less fraught military option would be to exclude the PRC from participation in combined exercises such as Rim of the Pacific subject to better behavior in the SCS.  This approach hinges on the U.S. “ask,” ranging from maintenance of the status quo to reversal of the PRC’s SCS island reclamation and fortification.

Risk:  Linking largely disparate issues may confuse U.S. priorities and further complicate relations with the PRC.  Option #1, in the case of North Korea, could be perceived by South Korea as a sell-out for a less important issue, creating acrimony between allies and further destabilizing the situation on the Korean peninsula.  Similarly, if the PRC perceives its position in the SCS as an existential one, it may refuse to “give” on trade agreements, sparking a trade war.

Gain:  Option #1 effectively makes the SCS more important to the U.S. from the PRC’s perspective.  Success of this option depends on limited objectives and reasonable demands.  If executed deftly, these indirect levers to stabilize the situation in the SCS could yield progress across a range of mutually important Asia-Pacific challenges while keeping the issue safely on the back burner.

Option #2:  Direct Approach. Focus efforts in the SCS region.  Sustain the long-standing policy of routine military presence, including U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) near the contested land features.  Conducting FONOPs and other military operations in the region is an obvious lever, with the option to adjust the frequency and nature of those measures, including land-based exercises with local allied and partner nations.  Drawing “red lines” against further island reclamation or fortification is a logical consideration given past administration statements.  Targeted economic sanctions on PRC entities supporting SCS activities is another lever.  A novel and riskier measure would be to abandon U.S. neutrality with respect to claims in the SCS and endorse a solution—one that might include certain PRC claims.  Finally, the U.S. could tie maintenance of the One China policy to the security situation in the SCS—a direct measure because Taiwan is an SCS claimant whose nationalist forbearers conceived of the nine-dashed line[4].

Risk:  Option #2 presents an array of risks, not least being a military confrontation that could undermine broader U.S. strategic priorities.  In particular, drawing red lines in the SCS would dramatically increase the risk of confrontation, as would linking the One China policy to SCS issues.  Mitigating the risk of a direct approach is done through incremental steps that are mindful of the broader regional situation.

Gain:  Option #2 is unambiguous and reinforces U.S. commitment and resolve on the key issues of freedom of navigation, territorial integrity and treaty obligations.  The direct approach also contains the issue to the SCS, de-linking the matter from higher-priority issues facing the U.S. and the PRC.

Other Comments:  As the new U.S. administration develops a comprehensive national security strategy, foreign challenges and crises will not wait.  Every “environmental monitoring station,” surface-to-air missile site and high seas harassment in the international waters of the SCS constitutes a “win-lose” in the Sino-American relationship.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Foreign Ministry of PRC. (2017). China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation (http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805)

[2]  Trump, Donald J., President. (2017). America first foreign policy. https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-foreign-policy

[3]  Mission of the U.S. Navy. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/organization/org-top.asp

[4]  Fisher, M. (2012, November 26). Here’s the Chinese passport map that’s infuriating much of Asia. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2012/11/26/heres-the-chinese-passport-map-thats-infuriating-much-of-asia/

 

China (People's Republic of China) Geoffrey Gage Option Papers South China Sea Trump (U.S. President) United States

U.S. Options for the People’s Republic of China’s Maritime Militias

Blake Herzinger served in the United States Navy in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida.  He is presently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton and assists the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.  His writing has appeared in Proceedings and The Diplomat.  He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) Maritime Militias operating in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  February 21, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 6, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author believes in freedom of navigation and maintenance of good order at sea in accordance with customary and written law of the sea.  The article is written from the point of view of U.S. sea services leadership toward countering PRC maritime irregulars at sea.

Background:  The PRC employs irregular militia forces at sea alongside naval and maritime law enforcement units.  By deploying these so-called “blue hulls” manned by un-uniformed (or selectively-uniformed) militiamen, the PRC presses its maritime claims and confronts foreign sea services within a “gray zone[1].”  In keeping with national traditions of People’s War, PRC Maritime Militias seek advantage through asymmetry, while opposing competitors whose rules of engagement are based on international law.  The PRC Maritime Militia participated in several of the most provocative PRC acts in the SCS, including the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and the 2014 China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) 981 confrontation with Vietnam that also involved the smaller Vietnam Maritime Militia[2].

Significance:  On its surface, employing irregular forces may be an attractive option for a state facing a more powerful opponent, or for a state interested in “a less provocative means of promoting its strategic goal of regional hegemony” such as the PRC[3].  However, incorporating these irregular forces into a hybrid national strategy has deleterious impacts on the structure of the international legal system, particularly in maritime law and the laws of naval warfare[4].  PRC Maritime Militias’ use of “civilian” fishing vessels to support, and conduct, military operations distorts this legal structure by obfuscating the force’s identity and flaunting established international legal boundaries.

Option #1:  U.S. political and military leaders engage the PRC/People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLAN) directly and publicly on the existence and operations of the Maritime Militia, insist upon adherence to internationally-accepted legal identification of vessels and personnel[6], and convey what costs will be imposed on the PRC/PLAN if they do not change their behavior.

As an example, the Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, has voiced his frustration with PLAN unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of the PRC Maritime Militia and its relationships with state law enforcement and military forces[5].  In the event that the PRC declines to engage in dialogue regarding the Maritime Militia, discontinuing PLAN participation in the Rim of the Pacific exercise is the suggested response.

Risk:  Without clearly attaching costs to continued use of militia forces in operations against the USN, Option #1 is unlikely to affect PRC behavior.  Conveying possible imposed costs carries risk of further-degrading relations between the U.S. and PRC, but it is precisely PRC perceptions of their behavior as costless that encourages the behaviors exhibited by the PRC’s Maritime Militia[7].

Gain:  Option #1 is an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to underline its commitment to good order at sea and a rules-based maritime order.  By encouraging the PRC to acknowledge the Maritime Militia and its associated command structure, the U.S. can cut through the ambiguity and civilian camouflage under which the Maritime Militia has operated unchallenged.  In the event that the PRC declines to engage, conveying the possible imposition of costs may serve as a warning that behavior negatively affecting good order at sea will not be tolerated indefinitely.

Option #2:  U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) assists the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in developing and implementing an organic maritime domain awareness (MDA) capability with domestic, and international, interagency sharing and response capability.  For the purposes of this article, MDA will be understood to be a host-nation’s ability to “collect, fuse, analyze and disseminate maritime data, information and intelligence relating to potential threats to [its] security, safety, economy or environment[8].”

Risk:  Close to a score of abandoned information portals and sharing infrastructures have been tried and failed in Southeast Asia, a cautionary tale regarding the risk of wasted resources.  Building upon over 20 years of JIATF-W’s experience should help to mitigate this risk, so long as an MDA solution is developed cooperatively and not simply imposed upon ASEAN.

Gain:  By providing focused and long-term support to an ASEAN-led solution, the U.S. can make progress in an area where MDA has been plagued by reticence, and occasionally inability to share vital information across interagency and national borders.  Shared awareness and cooperation at sea will combat the ability of the PRC Maritime Militia to operate uncontested in the SCS by enabling more effective law enforcement and naval response by affected countries.  Working through existing regional institutions such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre would add increased value to Option #2.

Option #3:  Utilize U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to provide law enforcement and maritime safety training support to states bordering the ECS/SCS interested in creating their own maritime militias.

Risk:  Expanding a concept that is damaging the rules-based order may increase the rate of disintegration of good order at sea.  Any observable indication that the U.S. is encouraging the creation of irregular maritime forces would likely be viewed negatively by the PRC.  Option #3 carries risk of engendering diplomatic or military conflict between the U.S. and PRC, or between the PRC and U.S. partners.

Gain:  Option #3 might provide some level of parity for states facing PRC militia vessels.  Vietnam has already made the decision to pursue development of a maritime militia and others may follow in hopes of countering the PRC’s irregular capability.  USCG involvement in the organizational development and training of militias might provide some limited opportunities to shape their behavior and encourage responsible employment of militia forces.

Other Comments:  Encouragement for the expansion of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is not addressed.  The CUES  was adopted during the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and provides a basis for communications, maritime safety, and maneuvering guidelines for use by ships and aircraft in unplanned encounters at sea.  CUES is not a legally binding document, but an agreed-upon protocol for managing potentially escalatory encounters in the Pacific[9].  This author believes coast guards adjoining the contested areas of the ECS and SCS will continue to resist CUES adoption in order to maintain operational latitude.  Given the reticence of coast guards to accede to the agreement, drawing PRC Maritime Militia into CUES seems an unrealistic possibility.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea, Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[2]  Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” CIMSEC, 21 April 2016, http://cimsec.org/model-maritime-militia-tanmens-leading-role-april-2012-scarborough-shoal-incident/24573

[3]  James Kraska and Michael Monti, “The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia,” International Law Studies 91.450 (2015): 465, http://stockton.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Christopher Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia a Growing Concern,” DefenseNews, November 21, 2016,  http://www.defensenews.com/articles/new-website-will-allow-marines-to-share-training-videos

[6]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[7]  The Struggle for Law in the South China Sea, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016) (Statement of James Kraska, U.S. Naval War College).

[8]  Secretary of the Navy Approves Strategic Plan for Maritime Domain Awareness, U.S. Navy, Last updated 8 October 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp? story_id=91417

[9]  Document: Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, USNI News, Last updated 22 August 2016, https://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea

Association of Southeast Asian Nations Blake Herzinger China (People's Republic of China) Irregular Forces Maritime Option Papers South China Sea United States

Options for the People’s Republic of China following the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy.  He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94).  He can be found on Twitter @the_sailor_dog.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence, supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting, thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans.”  -Sun Tzu  

National Security Situation:  The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is vying to establish itself as the Asian Hegemon.  What caused this rapid shift in the PRC’s foreign Policy?  Why, after decades of growth, where the PRC was ascribed the long view, has it rapidly accelerated military growth, reorganization, and a diplomatic and economic expansion across the world stage in a scale not seen since Zheng He’s voyages of the 15th century?

Date Originally Written:  February 2, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 3, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is taken from the point of view of the PRC toward the U.S in the two decades following the third Taiwan Straight crisis of 1996.

Background:  In 1995, Taiwan’s president visited the U.S. to attend his graduate school reunion at Cornell.  His visit, coupled with the U.S. sale of F-16s to Taiwan, incensed the PRC at what they viewed as possible changes in the U.S. and Taiwan view of the One China Policy.  The PRC commenced a series of missile tests near Taiwan.  The U.S. responded by sending two aircraft carriers to the vicinity of the Strait of Taiwan[1].  The PRC realized they could do little to respond to U.S. actions and needed a way to ensure they never experienced this humiliation again.

Significance:  The law of unintended consequences often applies to national security.  While U.S. action in 1996 was a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve, the PRC’s response has been to pursue a series of actions to reduce and possibly prevent the ability of the U.S. to influence events in Asia.

Option #1:  After viewing the U.S. way of war against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, whereby the U.S. consistently pushes its aircraft carriers close to the coast and launches strike fighters and tomahawk land attack missiles against targets ashore, the PRC must find a way to extend its borders out to sea into the ocean.  This can be accomplished by placing relatively cheap long-range anti-ship missile batteries along the shore, increasing the number of ships and submarines in the People’s Liberation Army Navy and, in a bold stroke, build islands in the South China Sea (SCS), and claim the surrounding waters as historical boundaries of the PRC.

Risk:  There is a real danger that the U.S. will react to the build-up of PRC forces and rebuild its navy to maintain global influence.  Previous U.S. administrations justified naval build ups to counter the Soviet threat however, by keeping activities below the threshold of armed conflict, we believe the U.S. will not be able to convince its public of the need for a large military buildup, especially following the years of conflict the U.S. has recently experience in the Middle East.  While Asian nations could turn to the U.S. out of fear, this can be mitigated through strong economic measures.  Asian nations may also attempt to challenge the PRC in the international courts, but the lack of enforcement measures in the international system removes this a real concern.

Gain:  Option #1 will prevent U.S. access to the waters they need to block the PRC from maneuvering against Taiwan.  Due to the proliferation of short-range fighters, and the lack of anti-surface capability of many U.S. warships, the ability of the U.S. to offer a timely response to a forcible re-unification of Taiwan could be prevented.

Option #2:  When we look back to Sun Tzu, and realize the best course of action is to attack the enemy’s strategy, we must determine what other strategy the enemy could impose.  While Option #1 will be effective in countering the U.S. ability to easily execute its traditional means of bombardment from the sea, another option is available to the U.S.; the long-range containment strategy used against the Soviet Union could possibly be executed with a long-range blockade.  By focusing on key choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandeb from the Red Sea, an adversary could block much-needed commodities such as oil and rare earth elements needed in the PRC defense industry.  Just as the PRC invoked the historical nine-dash line to establish autonomy in the SCS, revitalizing the historical one belt one road to connect Asia to Europe and Africa will easily stop any means of isolating or containing the PRC.  By continuing investment throughout the world, especially in economically disenfranchised areas, the PRC can prevent the types of alliances used by the U.S. during the Cold War to isolate the Soviet Union.

Risk:  If the PRC moves out too quickly, it spreads itself too thin internationally, and risks alienating the very countries with whom it hopes to partner.  The drain on resources over time will become increasingly difficult.  The PRC’s ability to be a free rider on U.S. security will winnow as other countries will expect the same from the PRC.

Gain:  The PRC establishes itself as a both a regional hegemon, and a global power.  The PRC asserts influence over the global economy and geopolitics to rival the U.S. in a multi-polar world.  Option #2 removes the ability of the U.S. to polarize the eastern hemisphere against the PRC.

Other Comments:  Through a rapid economic development program centered on an export economy in a globalizing world, the PRC has embarked on a multitude of options, covering the diplomatic, informational, military and economic spectrum.  It has employed both above options, which have caused the world to react, often favorably to the PRC.  The question for the PRC now is how to maintain the momentum, solidify their role in a changing world order, and not show their hand too quickly lest they implode.  The question for the U.S. is whether it will continue to pursue the U.S. way of war that has been studied so ably by the PRC, or pursue other options as it both cooperates and competes with the PRC on a rapidly evolving world stage.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Ross, Robert, International Security, Vol 25, No 2 (Fall 2000) p 87 The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation

Bob Hein China (People's Republic of China) Containment Deterrence Option Papers South China Sea Taiwan

South China Sea Options: An Alternative Route

“The Black Swan” is an officer and a strategist in the U.S. Army.  He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has been a company commander, and served at the battalion, brigade, division, and Army Command (ACOM) level staffs.  The opinions expressed are his alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  Japan is one of the most stalwart allies of the United States (U.S.) in Asia.  The U.S. guarantees Japanese security and sovereignty.  Japan serves as one of the principal rivals of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in Asia.  Japan is an island, however, and depends upon seaborne trade routes, especially those that transit through Southeast Asia.  PRC claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea (SCS) pose a direct threat to Japanese security.

Date Originally Written:  January 29, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 30, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of Japan towards PRC claims in the SCS.

Background:  For the greater part of recorded history, Japan has been a rival of the PRC.  All Japanese attempts to dominate the Asian mainland however, have ended in failure.  The defeat of Japan during WWII decisively put an end to Japanese Imperial ambitions.  Since the end of the Allied post-WWII occupation in 1952, Japan has been one of the most stalwart allies of the U.S. in Asia, and a bastion of western values.  Japan is an economic powerhouse, a vibrant democracy, and possesses an extremely formidable military.  For those reasons, as well as historical animosity, Japan is one of, if not the main rival, of the PRC in Asia.

The lifeblood of Japan’s prosperity flows through the Straits of Malacca, and then northeast through the SCS en route to Japan.  The PRC has laid claim to the SCS as sovereign territory throughout modern history, as well as Taiwan, and Japan’s own Senkaku Islands.  Events in the 21st century have reached a culminating point.  While Japan and the U.S. have guaranteed the inviolability of Japan’s claims to the Senkaku Islands, the PRC has gained de facto sovereignty over the SCS.  The PRC has done so by the construction, improvement, and militarization of artificial islands.  The PRC has vowed to defend its claims, and no member of the international community has chosen to challenge them, beyond legal arbitration through the United Nations.  Recent PRC assertiveness has its roots in an impressive regimen of military modernization and diplomatic initiatives colloquially called the “rise of China”.

Significance:  The PRC control of virtually the entire SCS poses a direct threat to Japan.  The PRC could coerce or compel Japan in any number of ways by cutting or hindering maritime traffic to Japan as it transits out of the Straits of Malacca.  In the event of war, Japan would be at a distinct disadvantage for the aforementioned reasons, to say nothing of its close proximity to the PRC.

Option #1:  Japan diverts inbound maritime traffic immediately until such a time as the issue of the SCS reaches an acceptable resolution.  Maritime traffic exiting the Straits of Malacca/Singapore would transit through the Java to Celebes to Philippine Sea route.  Simultaneously, Japan invests in improving Indonesian and Philippine port facilities/infrastructure along the proposed route.

Risk:  Cost and time.  The current route through the SCS is the shortest route and therefore the cheapest.  Option #1 entails a significant increase in the cost of shipping.  Furthermore, it will be a significant diplomatic effort for Japan to induce the Indonesian government to allow transit on this scale through its territorial waters.  Option #1 will require further diplomatic and economic effort to induce the Indonesian and Philippine governments to allow investment in the type of upgrades to their facilities that would be necessary to sustain such traffic.  Also, this option may embolden the PRC and result in a loss of face for Japan, as it will be perceived that the PRC is driving Japan out of the SCS.

Gain:  Safety for shipping bound for Japan.  This option completely skirts all PRC territorial claims.  Option #1 entails the cultivation of alliances with several Southeast Asian nations.  Furthermore, Option #1 establishes a buffer zone by placing multiple nations, and miles of blue water ocean, between the PRC’s navy and Japanese shipping.  In the event of war between the PRC and Japan, this route would be most difficult to interdict.

Option #2:  Japan immediately begins regular freedom of navigation patrols with its maritime self-defense force (M-SDF) through the SCS, with the option to provide armed escorts to critical maritime traffic.  Simultaneously, Japan seeks military cooperation with SCS claimants other than the PRC (e.g. Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines) to protect maritime traffic.

Risk:  The regular deployment of M-SDF ships to the SCS would be viewed as an escalation by the PRC, and an infringement on its sovereignty.  The likelihood of a stand-off at sea would be high (especially if this is a coalition of Southeast Asian nations), with the correlating risk of miscalculation in the use of force becoming casus belli.  Additionally, the more M-SDF ships that are deployed away from the home islands are the more ships that are unavailable to defend the Japanese mainland.

Gain:  This option would establish Japan as the leader against PRC encroachment.  The operational experience and partnerships gained would be invaluable.  Most importantly, this option virtually guarantees U.S. support, if Japan is perceived to be burden-sharing, but especially if Japan is threatened or attacked.  Practically, beginning and sustaining such patrols early on gives the PRC the flexibility to adjust to a new status quo without a loss of face.

Other Comments:  It has been well established here, but is a refrain of paramount importance – Japan must have access to maritime shipping to survive.  Japan can rely on U.S. support, but must stand ready to safeguard its own interests.  Both options presented here have cooperation and alliances with other nations as a common theme.  Operationalizing that theme is the best way for Japan to weather events in the SCS.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

None.

China (People's Republic of China) Japan Maritime Option Papers South China Sea The Black Swan

U.S. Partnership Options in the South China Sea

Brett Wessley is an officer in the U.S. Navy, currently assigned to U.S. Pacific Command.  The contents of this paper reflect his own personal views and are not necessarily endorsed by U.S. Pacific Command, Department of the Navy or Department of Defense.  Connect with him on Twitter @Brett_Wessley.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  January 21, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 27, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a U.S. Naval Officer serving on staff duty at U.S. Pacific Command.  The article is written from the point of view of U.S. policymakers weighing options in Southeast Asia and the SCS.

Background:  Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to table the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration June 2016 ruling was a strategic setback for the U.S.[1].  While the Hague’s ruling legally invalidated the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “Nine Dash Line” under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), Duterte’s increased ties to the PRC and deteriorating relationship with the U.S. have led to a potential “fait accompli” in the SCS.  Instead of pressing their claims through international engagement, the Philippines has decided to engage the PRC solely through bilateral forums, and the status quo of the PRC occupying and building islands in the SCS will continue unopposed by the principal aggrieved party.

Significance:  The SCS represents a strategic point of friction between the PRC and the international community, particularly with the U.S.  While territorial disputes in the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan involve major military powers and treaty alliances with the U.S., the international environment in the SCS is more permissive to incremental PRC actions to acquire territory (aka “salami slicing”)[2].  The Philippines is the only regional treaty ally to the U.S., and Duterte’s sidelining of the Hague’s ruling imperils regional neighbors like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia – all of whom have territorial disputes with the PRC’s Nine Dash Line.  The danger for the U.S. is that the PRC may militarize its expansive holdings in the SCS and expand the People’s Liberation Army’s defensive perimeter to the south, thus reinforcing the PRC’s counter-intervention capabilities.

Option #1:  The U.S. repairs relations with Duterte and restore the alliance with the Philippines.

Risk:  Duterte has pushed numerous controversial policies within the Philippines during his short tenure as President, namely the extrajudicial killings of drug-related criminals[3].  Duterte’s rhetoric has been alienating and crude, particularly when involving the U.S. and the previous Obama Administration.  Duterte’s strong feelings about the U.S. are deeply rooted within his personal life and Philippine history, and this bias may be insurmountable through diplomacy.  Furthermore, the PRC has offered Duterte significant economic development and loans, all of which were aimed at dissuading him from aggressively pursuing the Hague’s ruling and improving relations with the U.S.

Even if the U.S. was successful in repairing the relationship with Duterte and the Philippines, doing so may create a perception that the U.S. will accept undermining the rule of law in return for strategic concessions.  This messaging is contrary to the U.S.’ position on the SCS and territorial disputes, in addition to open governance and a rules-based international system.  The greatest risk is that in persuading Duterte to move forward with the Philippine’s legal case against the PRC, the U.S. may be forced to abandon the international principles driving its foreign policy.

Gain:  Improved relations with Duterte and the Philippines would restore the U.S.’ foothold in the SCS for promoting a rules-based international system.  The Philippines is a treaty ally and historical partner of the U.S., and it is unlikely that a closer relationship could be formed with other SCS nations.  Additionally, the Philippines successful legal case against the PRC provides legitimacy to its territorial claims – namely against the illegal PRC seizures of several reefs and fishing grounds in the SCS[4].  Although the weakness of the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard has prevented aggressive patrols of its territorial waters, partnership with the U.S. would provide avenues for equipment and training, in addition to opportunities for intelligence sharing and improved maritime domain awareness.

Option #2:  The U.S. pivots diplomatic and military engagement to Vietnam in the SCS.

Risk:  Although the PRC more recently fought Vietnam during the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979, the bitter history of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War will complicate relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.  The nominally communist government of Vietnam, and its rejection of democratic governance in favor of one party rule, will likely be domestically unpopular in the U.S. compared to partnership with the Philippines.  Additionally, Vietnam’s historical partnership with Russia may impede meaningful intelligence sharing with the U.S.

Gain:  When compared to the other SCS claimants competing with the PRC, Vietnam’s investment in maritime defensive capabilities is outstanding.  The legacy of Soviet sea-denial strategies has led to Vietnamese investment in coastal defense cruise missiles, integrated air defense systems, submarines, and patrol craft to defend its SCS territories.  Vietnam has militarized its holdings in the SCS in ways the Philippines and other claimants have been unable or unwilling to do. Vietnam’s geography near the major PRC naval bases on Hainan Island, and its holdings throughout the Spratley Islands, would put PRC military assets at asymmetric risk in any regional conflict [5].

If the U.S. was able to gain basing rights from Vietnam, its ability to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations would be assisted by a Vietnamese Navy and Coast Guard capable of maintaining a presence in contested waters.  As a military partner to the U.S., the deterrent value of Vietnamese military capabilities in the SCS would be a credible improvement over the status quo.  U.S. pursuit of imposing cost on aggressive PRC expansion in the SCS would be uniquely complimented by Vietnamese military capabilities.

Other Comments:  It is important that the U.S. maintains a regional ally in the SCS with territorial holdings.  As an outside power, the U.S.’ goal of maintaining freedom of navigation in international waters can only be supported by partnership with a legitimate claimant.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Ben Blanchard and Reuters, “Duterte says U.S. has lost, aligns Philippines with China,” CNN Philippines, October 21, 2017.  http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/10/20/duterte-cuts-us-ties-aligns-with-china.html

[2]  Robert Haddick, “America Has No Answer to China’s Salami-Slicing,” War on the Rocks, February 06, 2014.  https://warontherocks.com/2014/02/america-has-no-answer-to-chinas-salami-slicing/

[3]  James Hookway, “Rodrigo Duterte Ushers Manila Into a New Era,” The Wallstreet Journal, January 16, 2017.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/outsider-ushers-manila-into-new-era-1484560813

[4]  Jaime Laude, “China takes Philippine atoll,” The Philippine Star, March 02, 2016.  http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/03/02/1558682/china-takes-philippine-atoll

[5]  Shang-su Wu, “The Development of Vietnam’s Sea-Denial Strategy,” The Naval War College Review, Winter 2017. https://www.usnwc.edu/getattachment/8756f6bf-78d0-4955-b1c6-ce8ee678f5c0/The-Development-of-Vietnams-Sea-Denial-Strategy.aspx

Allies & Partners Brett Wessley China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers Philippines South China Sea United States Vietnam

Options for the Philippines in the South China Sea

Joshua Urness is a U.S. Army air defense officer that has served overseas in Afghanistan and Bahrain.  He currently serves as a fellow in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Sovereign Rights of Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ)[1] in the South China Sea (SCS) and the legitimacy of the international system to enforce them.

Date Originally Written:  January 18, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 23, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is an active duty officer in the U.S. Army.  This article is written from the point of view of the U.S. towards the Philippines, with a desire to ensure the legitimacy of the international system.

Background:  The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is occupying and developing islands in the SCS based on the historical claim of its nine-dashed line.  These occupations have resulted in the direct challenge of the Philippine EEZ, an internationally recognized right of sovereignty, which fully includes the disputed Spratly Islands (Mischief Reef).  In 2016, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled that the Spratly Islands are technically rocks, and upheld that they are wholly within the Filipino EEZ.  Therefore, the PRC is in a “state of unlawful occupation[2].”  Countries especially impacted by the PRC’s expansion in the SCS, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam, do not currently possess the military or political capability to challenge the PRC’s actions independently.

Significance:  The stability of security and diplomatic relations in the SCS is important because of the economic trade routes which pass through the waterway, and the potential value of natural resources in the region.  The PRC’s willingness to ignore the UNCLOS ruling on the sovereignty of the Filipino EEZ is an affront to the legitimacy and credibility of the international system and the security status quo.  Further unchecked aggression by the PRC could embolden other states, creating further instability in other parts of the world.  The PRC’s disregard for the ruling, along with their military modernization and investment in power projection capabilities, will enable them to continue to challenge the sovereignty of EEZs throughout the first island chain.  Because the international system cannot enforce its decision, and the Philippines cannot enforce its own EEZ, the credibility of both international and state authorities will be questioned.

Option #1:  The U.S. facilitates Filipino acquisition of low-cost defensive capabilities which will enable them to enforce their own EEZ.  Examples of low-cost defensive capabilities include anti-ship missiles such as the RBS-16 which has a 100-200 nm range, coast guard equipment, and sensors.

Risk:  If the U.S. is not directly involved in the continued procurement and operations of the weapons given to the Filipinos, there may be an increased risk of mistakes or miscalculations being made by untrained and inexperienced Filipino weapons operators.  This includes the integration of sensors and shooters into an organized system in which commanders, with the authority to decide whether or not to fire a system, have enough information and time to make a good decision.  Because of the potential presence of Filipino Islamist or communist insurgents in areas likely to be chosen for weapon system employment, the security of the weapon sites must be emphasized.  If weapons are stolen or obtained by such actors with malign interests, this could destabilize the regions crucial shipping lanes and local maritime economies.  Additionally, inability or lack of political will on the part of the Philippines to use the capability to protect its citizens, or enforce EEZ claims, may perpetuate internal destabilization of the state.  Also, given the PRC’s positioning of military forces on these islands, the provision of weapons to the Philippines risks war over sea lanes through which 25% of global trade passes.

Gain:  Enforcement of the EEZ would enhance the legitimacy of the international system, even if the Filipinos themselves enforced it, as opposed to an internationally sanctioned coalition.  Option #1 would change the cost/risk calculation for the burgeoning PRC navy that may result in a deterrent effect.  Such a capability may also enable the Filipino government to protect its fishermen and economic interests in the EEZ from harassment from the PRC’s maritime militia.  This option would allow the Filipinos to demonstrate resolve, garnering regional and internal credibility, if they decisively utilize these capabilities to deter or defend.  Land based anti-ship missiles are easily maneuverable and concealable, therefore adding to the survivability and resilience of a force that could be in place for a long time.

Option #2:  A U.S.-led coalition defense strategy composed of states surrounding the SCS that is supported by U.S. foreign military funding centered on facilitating procurement, training and information sharing.

Risk:  A U.S. led coalition of SCS states could polarize the region and lead to a less effective Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN).  This coalition may also stimulate a regional arms race that would be expensive over time for the U.S., despite the somewhat low-cost of capabilities involved.  The cost of building partner capacity could also be expensive over time where countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, not accustomed to working with the U.S., would require courtship.  Direct U.S. involvement and partnership in mission command and the integration of sensors and shooters into an organized system would require increases in the forward presence of U.S. forces.  This would expose the U.S. to a higher diplomatic commitment than previously held.  This higher level of presence would be necessary to mitigate the risk of mistakes in the use of the capability, as well as the security and posture of the systems.

Gain:  The primary advantages of a U.S.-led coalition are two-fold; it would ensure the credibility of the international system to assist in the enforcement of edicts (though the U.S. is not a signatory of UNCLOS, it does have a vested interest in the stability of the international system), and it would build a broader foundation of deterrence against further PRC expansion in the SCS.  If the U.S. used a strategy similar to the one for which the RAND Corporation advocates, in their report titled Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific[3], coalition states could work towards building the capacity for a “far blockade” of the first island chain.  This would significantly increase the PRC’s naval risk when operating within firing range of any coalition state, challenging the cost imposition and aggression paradigm, while also building capacity and knowledge that may be useful in future conflict.  Similarly, the U.S. could use such partnerships to develop its own capacity and institutional knowledge in land-based maritime denial systems.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:  

[1]  China and the Philippines have both signed and ratified the UNCLOS. Part five of the convention, article 55 through 75, cover economic exclusion zones. UNCLOS Part V, Article 56, which can be found at http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf, states that; ” In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:

(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;

(b) Jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:

(i) The establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;

(ii) Marine scientific research;

(iii) The protection and preservation of the marine environment;

[2]  Graham, E. (2016, August 18). The Hague Tribunal’s South China Sea Ruling: Empty Provocation or Slow-Burning Influence? Retrieved January 07, 2017, from http://www.cfr.org/councilofcouncils/global_memos/p38227

[3]  Kelly, T., Atler, A., Nichols, T., & Thrall, L. (2013). Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific. Retrieved January 07, 2017, from http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR1321.html

Allies & Partners China (People's Republic of China) Joshua Urness Maritime Option Papers Philippines South China Sea

U.S. Options Towards a Rising People’s Republic of China

Captain Brian T. Molloy has served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and various posts around the U.S.  He presently works as a Project Manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, PA.  The opinions expressed in this article are his alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  U.S. options towards the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as it continues to rise and increase its influence in the region surrounding the South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  January, 26, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 20, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author is an active duty U.S. Army Officer.  Author believes in the use of force as a last resort and where possible, diplomacy should be the primary lever in influencing foreign powers.

Background:  The U.S. and the PRC are currently playing out a classic dyadic relationship according to power transition theory[1].  This power transition theory is playing out in the SCS with the rising PRC asserting itself militarily and the declining U.S. attempting to reassert control of the region by addressing such military action with “balancing” actions.  Recently U.S. balancing actions have utilized the military instrument of power with the Pacific Pivot[2] and freedom of navigation missions as the most visible.  This U.S. response is playing directly into the beginning stages of a conflict spiral that so often follows with a power transition[3].  The idea of a military deterrent is often floated as the logical alternative to war.  In this case, however, both of the major powers are already a nuclear power with a nuclear deterrent in place.  This nuclear deterrent works to ensure that a direct conflict between the two would be unlikely, however, as we saw in the Cold War, this deterrent does not keep the powers from fighting through proxy wars.  The options presented in this article assume rising influence of the PRC and a declining influence of the U.S., both militarily and economically, in the region.  The SCS has become a potential flash point between the two powers as the PRC uses it’s military to claim land that is also claimed by longtime U.S. Allies in the region.

Significance:  In an increasingly multi-polar global environment, regional powers such as the PRC are becoming a larger threat to U.S. interests throughout the world.  The potential for conflict in the SCS represents the opportunity for the U.S. to either assert influence in the region or cede that influence to a rising PRC.  Control of the SCS is essentially a trade-driven power move by the PRC towards its neighbors.  As such, trade could be the primary focus of the response from the U.S.towards the PRC vice a more dangerous military confrontation.

Option #1:  The U.S. and the PRC seek a strong bi-lateral trade agreement to replace the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S. leverages negotiations on this trade agreement to provide security guarantees to allies in the SCS region.

With the downfall of the TPP the option to enter into a strong bi-lateral trade deal with the PRC is now open.  Negotiating this deal requires nuance and the ability to intertwine defense and trade into an agreement that is both beneficial to all economically, but also sets limits on military actions seen to be provocative to the U.S. and its Allies in the region.  Precedent for this sort of diplomatic economic deterrent action can be seen in post WWII Western Europe with the European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC)[4].  When complete, Option #1 would be an economic deterrent to conflict in the region.  This economic deterrent will utilize trade agreements to ensure the U.S. and the PRC are entwined economically to the point that a military conflict, even a proxy conflict, would be too costly to both sides.  This economic deterrent could be the action that needs to be taken in order rebalance power in the region.

Risk:  The largest risk in entertaining this approach is that it opens the U.S. to the risk of an economic catastrophe if the approach fails.  This risk would likely be unpalatable to the U.S. public and would have to be crafted carefully.  Additionally, under the current administration, a trade deal similar to this could be difficult due to the ongoing rhetoric coming from the White House.  Finally, this approach risks leaving long-time U.S. Allies no way to dispute their claims in the SCS.

Gain:  This agreement gains the lessened risk of a conflict between the U.S. and the PRC and also has the potential for large economic growth for both sides.  A mutually beneficial trade agreement between two of the largest economies in the world has the potential to remove the risk of conflict and simultaneously improve quality of life domestically.

Option #2:  The U.S. can use its trade power to balance PRC influence in the region through encouraging the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to trade as a bloc.  This is essentially an Asian version of the European Union which can build multilateral trade agreements and also leverage economic sanctions to assert power in the region.  Building ASEAN to be able to handle this would require a more inclusive membership of some of the more powerful Asian countries, Japan, and the Republic of Korea among them.  This effort would require a radical overhaul of the ASEAN bloc but would benefit much smaller countries as they try to address the influence of the PRC.

Risk:  The U.S., particularly under the current administration, is not a proponent of supranational organizations.  In order for Option #2 to work the U.S. must have a stake in the game.  Additionally, the U.S. risks losing influence in the region to the newly formed ASEAN economic power.  There is the possibility that the newly formed ASEAN could forge close ties with the PRC and other trading partners and leave the U.S. out.  Finally, the SCS is fraught with competing claims not only between the PRC and ASEAN members, but among ASEAN members themselves.  Those conflicts must be worked out before the ASEAN bloc could effectively manage the PRC.

Gain:  This option allows the U.S. to leverage the comparative power of an ASEAN bloc of mostly friendly countries to impose sanctions on the PRC on its behalf.  In this way the U.S. is pushing regional allies take care of their own backyard while still maintaining influence in the region.  The U.S. also benefits as it is able to trade effectively with a large number of Asian countries without entering into a free trade agreement like the TPP.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Garnett, J. (2010). The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace, in John Baylis et al, Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies’ (3rd Edition OUP 2010), (pp. 19–42). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 3rd Edition

[2]  Panetta, L. E., & Obama, B. (2012). Sustaining U.S. global leadership: priorities for 21st century defense. (pp. 2). Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense.

[3]  Cashman, G. & Robinson L. (2007). An Introduction to the Causes of War. Patterns of Interstate Conflict from World War I to Iraq. (pp. 1–25). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc

[4]  Alter, K, & Steinberg, D. (2007). The Theory and Reality of the European Coal and Steel Community.  Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies, working paper No. 07-001

Association of Southeast Asian Nations Brian T. Molloy China (People's Republic of China) Economic Factors Option Papers South China Sea United States