The Threat from Under

The weather is beautiful, wish you weren't here. (Shutterstock image)

The weather is beautiful, wish you weren’t here.
(Shutterstock image)

PJM’s own Richard Fernandez has a must-read piece on the undersea contest for control of the Asia-Pacific shipping lanes. You might have caught it yesterday, but please re-read these two paragraphs because they serve as a perfect lead-in to a broader discussion:


We are probably witnessing the first post-Cold War naval competition in those waters for interests which are really far greater than conventional diplomacy would suppose. Most analysts regard the naval competition off the Asia coast as an expression of belligerent nationalism. It all seems rather silly from that point of view. But clearly what is at issue is far more serious.

For Japan it is protection of the sea lanes upon which its survival depends. For China it is the ability to control its nearby waters. For America it is its future as a maritime power, upon which is special world status depends. Each in its own way is seeking to preserve what it values most. This makes the competition far more dangerous than it would at first seem.

Read the whole thing, of course. I’d also direct your attention to this from Richard’s comments section:

Classic Mahan. Changing from an infrastructure based on coaling stations we are thinking about infrastructure based on data. From oars to sail to coal to oil to nukes, the tools change but the sea remains the same; and still covers 70 percent of the planet.

Mahan remains vital reading because although he wrote at a time when steel ships powered by coal fired bullets at one another from within visual range, the principles he deduced about seapower remain eternal.


The last time a rising naval power came to dominance peacefully, it was when the US Navy took over the global dominance job from the Royal Navy. But really, that was merely a passing of the baton between runners on the same team.

Before that, Imperial Japan tried its luck to dominate the Pacific. What began in earnest with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 ended with the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost exactly 40 years later.

Before Japan, Imperial Germany tried to challenge the Royal Navy with a massive construction program, beginning in the late 19th Century, of dreadnoughts it didn’t really need. The Kaiser’s naval program threatened Britain directly, and that more than any other single thing was the progenitor of the First World War.

The irony is that the Great War which destroyed Wilhemine Germany was caused in no small part by the Kaiser Wilhelm II reading Mahan — and taking Mahan’s thesis to heart just enough to lead his empire to ruin.

Rising powers, especially global trade powers, will eventually need or at least think they need a navy to match. Existing powers, especially global trade powers, will respond to the rising threat accordingly.

The takeaway from Richard’s piece is in the last two lines quoted above:


Each in its own way is seeking to preserve what it values most. This makes the competition far more dangerous than it would at first seem.

The South China Sea is being primed for war between China’s rising power, America’s status quo power, and Japan’s essential need to keep the sealanes open 24/7.

America’s most serious foreign policy needs for the previous two decades, and for the two or three decades to come, rest on three pillars:

• Peacefully accommodating China’s rise.

• Peacefully managing Europe’s demographic decline (Europe in this case includes Russia).

• Containing modern Islam’s religious-cultural malignities.

At present, all three pillars appear to be crumbling.


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