The Corner

In the East China Sea, Three Broader Policy Lessons for America

When America and China have a falling out, the world tends to take notice.

That’s no surprise, of course. This relationship doesn’t just shape the interests of two nations; it heavily influences the economic, military, and political trajectory of the world. Indeed, because of this reality, the prospective consequences of a serious U.S.-Chinese dispute actually help decrease the likelihood of such a dispute’s occurring.

Still, I think there are three lessons that we can take from the present crisis.

1. In order to be real, American power must be projected.

As I suggested earlier this week, it’s very likely that this new ADIZ flowed from China’s desire to test American resolve. Yet even as the Obama administration has (thus far) acted courageously, the very fact that China decided to launch this challenge should be a serious cause for concern.

For all the imagery of American military power — jets shooting off carrier decks, tanks storming across deserts, vast ground deployments abroad — American power isn’t real unless it’s perceived practically. Just as our aircraft carriers cut waves through the sea, those vessels also cut waves of geopolitical consequence. This is a truth that we must embrace. In order to positively influence American foes and consolidate American friends, the United States must apply its power without apology.

2. The sequester is physically degrading U.S. national security.

For the U.S. military, this is just another day at the office. Facing a mission portfolio that ranges from piracy to terrorism and Chinese expansionism to humanitarian disasters, the Navy has long understood the value of a ready and reflexive capability. Unfortunately, robust capability also requires significant resources. Absent those investments, capability rots.

Consider the present crisis. Today, thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Navy’s emergency deployment (one-week notice) capability has been reduced from three carrier strike groups to one. At the same time, as the head of the U.S. Navy has recently noted, the U.S. lacks a good understanding of the Chinese navy’s strategic intent.

As we’re seeing in the East China Sea, where military capability disconnects from strategic reality, the ramifications are potentially severe. To be sure, the U.S. 7th Fleet represents an extraordinary force. Nevertheless, the proof is now forensic — the sequester is jeopardizing national security.

3. The U.S. has a diplomatic opportunity here.

Isn’t it interesting how anti-Americanism goes dormant when a threat knocks at the gates?

When it comes to Japan and South Korea, whether by encouraging both nations to spend more on national defense (and so relieve some of the burden on American taxpayers) or by helping facilitate new trade deals, the U.S. should use this crisis to advance our broader interests. In a similar sense, regarding Vietnam, the U.S. has an opportunity to move conclusively past former enmities and eventually forge a new strategic alliance with that nation.

In the end, if the U.S. grasps this moment, we won’t simply serve the interests of peace and trade; we’ll help create a buffer of allied democracies on the frontiers of Chinese territory. Over time, by basic economic necessity, that buffer will force China to engage more constructively with the structures and norms of the international system.

Don’t get me wrong: I realize that this crisis is precarious and undesired — that the first priority is China’s acceptance (whether tacit or overt) that it cannot dominate the region. Yet our reaction to this challenge cannot simply exist in the moment. We also need to take stock of the deeper policy lessons it’s elucidating.

If we do, we’ll be acting in that finest of American traditions — forging lasting good from a negative situation.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to TheWeek.com and the Guardian.

Tom Rogan — Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

Religion

The Catholic Church’s Rotherham

‘We are deeply saddened.” So begin the many perfunctory statements of many Catholic bishops today in response to the Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailing how priests in that state abused children and how bishops shuffled these priests around. What deeply saddens these men? The rape of children, the ... Read More
Elections

My Journey into the Heart of Obama-Trump Country

After eight years of displeasure with Barack Obama’s presidency, Carla Johnson was ready for a drastic change. The 41-year-old lab technician from Cresco, Iowa, fell for Donald Trump very early in the 2016 primary season. She loved his “take-no-[sh**]” style, his conservative stances on gun control and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Was Never That Great

Governor Cuomo is shouting again. It must be time for reelection. Queen Victoria complained of William Ewart Gladstone that he “speaks to Me as if I was a public meeting.” Andrew Cuomo has the opposite problem: He addresses public meetings as if trying to convince a recalcitrant octogenarian that the fire ... Read More