La Riposte

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finland is Not in Asia, and Neither is Voldemort

Andrew Krepinevich’s latest opinion page in the Wall Street Journal misses the mark, and falls short to splash into the veritable sea of similar pieces regarding China’s designs in the Western Pacific.

He begins the article by invoking the spectre of the Cold War, but the “Finlandization” he describes is simply what all regional hegemons attempt to do with smaller neighbors – persuade them to support the hegemon’s foreign policy objectives.

If Krepinevich is to be believed, only the dubious advantage of the American military presence in Western Europe prevented this from becoming the lot of all European states. Ipso facto, a strong US military presence in Asia is the only way for America to prevent China from shaping the region’s foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the Western Pacific in 2010 is nothing like Western Europe in 1980. The US cannot provide a credible military advantage in this theater – even if it wasn’t bogged down in land wars elsewhere. The long-standing “cult of the carrier” has seen the American hare caught napping by the side of the road, long since passed by a slow and steady Chinese tortoise that has been willing to re-imagine naval warfare in the Western Pacific. While American Naval power was viewed in an expeditionary nature in the 1994 doctrine of “Forward… From the Sea”, China’s can very easily be condensed to “Fire… From the Shore.”

Lord Nelson opined in the Age of Sail that “a ship’s a fool to fight a fort” – acknowledging the superior firepower that shore-based weaponry could bring to bear on ships of the line. There’s nothing new under the sun, and technology has once again put the advantage firmly on shoreline – and this has implications that go far beyond China. Any country (or non-state actor) with a few million dollars in hand can purchase “missiles in a box” that will seriously challenge current expeditionary military capabilities – even those of regional hegemons such as the US, China, and Russia.

Krepinevich appears to acknowledge this fact in the middle of his article, yet makes no solid recommendations for changing the seemingly inevitable shift in military power. The remainder of the article has the obligatory China-bashing – they didn’t acknowledge North Korea’s role in sinking the Cheonan (we did, but took no real action to punish the alleged perpetrators) and characterizes the country as Voldemort – the root of the Navy’s concerns about “assured access”, but one that is not officially named in reports such as the current Quadrennial Defense Review. He closes by stating that:

Washington's longstanding allies and friends in the Western Pacific want a stable military balance in the region that will encourage Beijing to pursue its goals according to accepted international norms of behavior.

But there hasn’t been a balance of power in the Western Pacific since 1945 – the US has always been militarily predominant in this theater. The rise of Chinese military power is only now beginning to create a balance – and it is a balance that will inevitably shift to favor China – no surprise, as any test of military might in the waters immediately adjacent to the North American land mass would tend to favor the US.

It’s long past time to stop kvetching about the military aspect of China’s “peaceful rise” and acknowledge that rather than taking on the improbable challenge of matching their military, we should start laying the groundwork for bilateral cooperation in the defense sector – open ourselves to China as a true ally and partner, rather than continuing to regard them as Voldemort – the enemy least mentioned, but most feared.

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