Archive for October 5th, 2011

October 5, 2011

The GOP’s Mister Magoo Moment

First of all, I’d like to thank my friend Millie over at Fittingly for linking this blog in a post the other day. Also apropos are thanks to Capitol Hill Gang for linking as well, as it’s the first blog run by a complete stranger to actually read my work. Progress? I can guarantee that neither of you will see a spike in readership from your generosity but linked you are nonetheless.

In any case, after that last lengthy post, we now return to what is rapidly becoming our basic format on At Water’s Edge: an extended pop-culture metaphor serving as the framing mechanism for the IR-ish current events topic of choice. I may one day grow tired of writing these kinds of posts. But today is not that day. The comparison subject du jour is none other than The Nearsighted Mister Magoo. Why that man never invested in a solid pair of bifocals is beyond me. His stubbornness caused mishaps of the outlandish comedic variety, often drawing humor from the irony involved with Mister Magoo putting himself in grave danger unbeknownst to him but perfectly clear to the observing audience. The inability to see too much further than an inch past his face led me far too quickly to realize that he is the perfect symbol for Republican’s extremely nearsighted budget cutting mania, especially when it comes to the Foreign Aid budget.

In fact, ‘extremely nearsighted’ is putting it mildly and indeed gently when it comes to the overarching determination to shrink the size of the Federal government. I’m, if you could not tell, in favor of greater Federal power over the states, but I can understand the arguments that states’ rights people make in certain regards; when the country was founded, the Constitution was intended to truly bind the states into one country, while still preserving large swaths of independence. However, the world, the country, and even the Constitution, has evolved since those times, in ways that the established norms that were at the forefront of thought at the drafting of the Constitution could not predict nor would they be entirely applicable as a frame of reference in many of today’s issues. In areas like education, I can almost understand why some would advocate a reduction of government spending and an increase in the power of the states to determine their own course. When it comes to matters of national security and foreign affairs though, you really can’t make anything that resembles a Tenth Amendment argument. No debate is needed about the Constitutionality of the Federal government providing structures to advance foreign affairs. These are the issues that precipitated the very necessity of the Constitution; you need the Federal government to draw up the agenda and make the decisions necessary for the US to play on the world stage, in a way that fifty competing states just can’t.

Despite this need, the common defense provided for by the Preamble of the Constitution only extends as far as the armed services in the eyes of many. It’s ridiculously easy for GOP candidates and elected officials alike to take on straw-man Federal targets that the Republican Party thinks aren’t useful, or are over-bloated, or wasteful. These are all valid points in some areas, but not when it comes to the foreign policy mechanisms of the Federal government. The items in the budget under fire are some of the most important parts of the Federal government when it comes to keeping Americans safe, at home and abroad, at least on the same par as the deterrence that our armed forces represent. The United States is a poor target for states militarily due to the very basic fact that state-to-state, we still possess the hard power to take out almost any adversary in a blaze of blinding glory. There are maybe five states that could one day serve as an actual threat to the United States militarily, even less that would rate the level of existential threat. What you see instead of true sabre-rattling and actual military threats by states that disagree with or would wish to harm the United States is either support of various non-state actors who then act kinetically against the US and its allies or a slandering of the United States in the hopes that their views become a meme, part of the overarching narrative in global affairs today. The latter is what the US needs to get far better at preventing, because what’s the point of military deterrence when you lose every fight that isn’t on the battlefield? You can steamroll everyone’s army, but if nobody likes you enough to support any of your goals aside from at the barrel of a gun, what’s the point?

Arguments can be made that by sheer size of its economy that it makes it impossible for the US to be ignored, but the fact still remains that even trade alone does not make for partners whose goals align in lockstep with yours (see: the US and China). This need to influence other states without bombing or buying them makes particularly attractive Joseph Nye’s idea of soft power, a concept that the majority of Republican officials these days refuse to even acknowledge exists except to mock it. Strategically this makes no sense: When you can attract instead of deter, it makes things a lot simpler in terms of getting your way and is far, far cheaper in the long run.

As it stands, however, the Department of State is taking hits across the board, facing huge budget cuts as we (finally) begin discussing the FY 2012 budget.

As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to American military power. It also would begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

The State Department already has scaled back plans to open more consulates in Iraq, for example. The spending trend has also constrained support for Tunisia and Egypt, where autocratic leaders were overthrown in popular uprisings. While many have called for giving aid to these countries on the scale of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European democracies after World War II, the administration has been able to propose only relatively modest investments and loans, and even those have stalled in Congress.

Emphasis on the last paragraph cannot be stressed enough. In a time of global upheaval, where the world is looking to the United States for more than just military support, we’re instead severing ties, making it all the more likely that incoming rulers in states affected by the Arab Spring and other revolutionary movements will be that much less influenced by the United States, let alone friendly.

And let’s bear in mind just how little cutting the budget of the State Department will affect the overall budget, deficits and national debt. Over on Duck of Minerva, they’ve come up with an impressive list of analogies, about how little these cuts will help the overall budget crisis. My favorite has to be “Cutting foreign aid to address the budget crisis is like getting your hair cut in an effort to lose weight.” Numerous polls have proven that the American public has no earthly idea how much the US spends on its foreign aid, in March calling for the foreign aid budget to be cut from 25% of the budget to 10% of the budget. The problem, as anyone who reads cares about this stuff enough to actually read this knows, is that the actual percentage is close to 1. 1%.  As Josh Lyman once put it “68% of respondents think we hand out too much in foreign aid, 59% think it should be cut”, once again proving that The West Wing is applicable in nearly any situation.

Also of concern is that the same spending cuts are also threatening the growth of the Foreign Service:

Among the largest House subcommittee reductions was a nearly 20 percent cut in the funds that pay for Foreign Service officers and the civilians who support them. In justifying this action, the subcommittee report said it eliminated funds sought for 184 new staff because since 2008, some 1,622 Foreign Service officers and 1,001 civilians had been hired above attrition.

Ramping down the Foreign Service is about the worst idea you could possibly have at this time. As we begin cuts in our military which will necessarily affect our global strategy, and many people on both sides of the aisle say are necessary, we have to have some way to leverage US power into actually policy decisions by other states that benefit us. The most cost-effective way that we can maintain American prestige is to hire more Foreign Service Officers as the number of soldiers decrease, a strategy that Secretary Clinton has followed over the past several years, as can be seen by the amount of growth since 2008. To slow that growth is a tremendous mistake right now.

Now, I said “majority of Republicans” earlier, because there are most certainly vocal advocates of the benefits of smart power, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Secretary Gates spoke together with Secretary Clinton numerous times on the idea of smart power, to Congress and to the public, in ways that you would think would carry more weight than coming from State alone. Here you have the leader of the Department of Defense begging and pleading that the military be given more civilian support in keeping the peace, and the Congress saying ‘no’. In fact, with the proposed cuts, it seems to be more of a ‘hell no’. Shouted through a megaphone. The fact that the all-star combo of Clinton/Gates was ignored by Congress on advocating smart power says a lot to me about how little I want the Legislative Branch determining foreign policy. Granted, given their power of the purse some involvement is inevitable. But to use their platform to dash foreign aid against the rocks by strangling it to death, to mix metaphors, is atrocious.

The State Department is not alone in the crosshairs. USAID also took a hit in the same House subcommittee, going from $1.5B requested to $900M, which could seriously undermine the strategy laid out in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. What’s more, that perennial foe of the Republican party, the United Nations, is a prime target this Congress. The 1980s saw the US withdrawing from UNESCO due to objections of the Reagan Administration over the agenda. The US went into arrears in the 1990s as the United States refused to pay the entirety of its dues. Only through a push by Ted Turner the United Nations Foundation’s Better World Campaign and the results of a bipartisan effort were we able to pay off our debt and become members in good standing again. Already, those efforts are under threat, as we are currently $736M in debt to the UN. Thanks, House of Representatives.

Well, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin is at it again. Earlier this year, after being handed the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Congresswoman convened hearings in January titled “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action” and in April called “Reforming the United Nations: The Future of U.S. Policy” with Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice testifying. The latest salvo, H.R. 2829, the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011, was introduced in late August to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Despite the bill’s title, filled with words that few people could disagree with, the bill would put unrealistic pressure on the Secretariat to produce changes that would be more detrimental than actually improving the UN. The GOP has long called for a ‘voluntary’ model for paying for the UN, in essence cherry-picking what it does and does not want to support and pay for, else the US would reduce its payments by half. In addition, the bill, if passed, would end U.S. funding for any UN agency that does not sign a special “transparency certification” with the U.S. Comptroller General. And it would cut U.S. funding to any UN entity tasked with implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have the US’ vote in the General Assembly withdrawn due to lack of payment? In addition, lawmakers seem to be missing out on the fact that the United Nations is the best foreign policy investment we could ever hope to make. In the January testimony, Better World Campaign Executive Director Peter Yeo stated that for every dollar of US investment in the UN, it delivers $1.50 in investment in American firms and companies. The same could most certainly not be said in the case of military spending in Iraq. Also, according to Ambassador Susan Rice in an interview on PBS in 2009, “if the US was to act on its own – unilaterally – and deploys its own forces in many of these countries, for every dollar the US would spend, the UN can accomplish the mission for twelve cents”.  So to fix the budget, the GOP would have us spend eight times as much on foreign intervention, or cut off all overseas missions. Sounds right to me. Thankfully, there’s been plenty of pushback against this bill, which never stands a chance of passage through the US Senate or not being vetoed by President Obama. That the GOP can score points this way though is highly disturbing.

Despite all of my arguments, it does stand to reason that it is hard to explain to American citizens why their money is going “over there” to build schools and roads when our infrastructure is crumbling, disaster relief when people are still struggling from last year’s oil spill in the Gulf, and food when we have children starving in our inner cities. The simplest of answers is “because we can”; that despite all of the economic hardships our country has had in the past three years, we are still the richest and most powerful state on Earth, and to turn our backs on the rest of the world would be callous beyond reason. The less altruistic view is the one that I ascribe to, that this foreign aid helps keep the world safer and America strong abroad, which is a necessity in a world that has shrunk down as we become more connected. To cut the knees out from under the foreign policy mechanisms now is amazingly short-sighted; this is a time where we need more friends abroad, not fewer, and withdrawing from the initiatives of the Foreign Service and the United Nations will undoubted prove detrimental in the long-run. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration floated the idea of combining the budgets of the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and DHS into a “unified security budget”. It’s an idea that’s worth discussing, but unfortunately, the GOP can’t see past their own face, or rather their next election, where the idea of cutting defense in favor of agricultural support seems downright un-American. The Mr. Magoo cartoons made light of the issue of myopia, but when it comes to the United States, it’s no laughing matter.

October 5, 2011

Base Assumptions: Predicting China’s First Overseas Naval Base

Alright, I know that in my introspective post on international relations theory I discussed moving away from the idea of Great Power politics as a baseline for IR, and it’s true, there’s too many factors in this multilinear world to allow ourselves to get caught up on just one factor, states. But let’s be real here: Great Power politics are just more interesting. Period. I can’t go full-on realist ever, but if you try to tell me that the machinations of states as they struggle for primacy is anything less than fascinating, you will receive the coldest of shoulders from me. There’s a reason that Paul Kennedy is still one of my favorite historians, and that’s because his subject matter is intriguing. Besides, even in a world that is without poles in some areas, there are still concentrations of power that exists in the hands of a few select countries. So is the case with China, my second area of intellectual fascination after the UN.

In any case, over the last few months, there’s been a goodly amount of buzz on the blogosphere about the implications of China launching a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier under the flag of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Despite the chatter, it looks like the Pentagon doesn’t much care about the deployment, though keeping an eye on supposed carrier-killing missiles that China is developing, as actually being able to use these tools effectively is going to take many, many more years.

That doesn’t change the fact that China’s Navy is now able to be considered a blue water navy, to a certain extent, capable of operating far beyond China’s shores. Operations have been taking place in the Indian Ocean for years now to head off Somali piracy and protect key shipping lanes. As the map from Wired Magazine below shows, a huge amount of sea traffic follows well-established routes and a great deal of that cargo is going to and from Shanghai and other Chinese coastal cities.

Major Shipping Routes 2009

Overseas methods are still far cheaper than overland or flight when it comes to transporting goods and materials. Wars have been fought and most likely will be fought to either control these routes of trade or to ensure that they remain open for the world to use. China’s navy is going to have to do one or the other one day, much to the chagrin of the US Navy, which sees itself as the protector of the seas around the world.

To become a true global naval power on the level of the United States, if not to become the dominant force on the seas to at least ensure that encroachment by the US to shut off trade is unable to occur, China is going to need someplace to shore up, refuel, and project its power from, away from the Chinese shoreline. At present, the Chinese military has sought to protect its sea lines of communication along what has been dubbed the “String of Pearls” [PDF], a set of friendly and often Chinese-built ports along the most critical of China’s sea lines of communication. The pearls fall along the line between the Horn of Africa and Hong Kong, including the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca among other potential choke points and has been used by the Chinese government to illustrate the non-offensive nature of the PLAN. This message of non-interference has made up the core of Chinese foreign policy for decades, even as it shows double-digit increases to its military budget annually.

All of these ports are owned and operated by their host country however, and despite close ties remain out of Chinese control. Memorandums of understanding are all well and good, but in a time of extreme need what is to stop the attempt to deny entry into these safe harbors? Granted, it’s an unlikely scenario that any of these locations would have the naval capability of deflecting a Chinese fleet, but why take the risks? What’s more, none of these ports are military in nature, instead being for commercial use only. That begs the question: where will the first permanent Chinese overseas naval base be located?

I’m not concerned about when or if this is going to take place – the fact is that it will happen and most likely within the next ten to fifteen years (which I am well aware is the most comfortable of projections for anyone unsure of a date). As I said before, sea routes are arguably as important now as they were over a hundred years ago for enabling trade, barring some unforeseen increase in technology that makes the air domain cheaper than transport by sea. As the PRC continues to grow and interact more with Latin America and Africa, seeking new markets sell its finished products and access to greater and greater amounts of raw materials that the Chinese mainland doesn’t possess, the eventual need to begin to set up and maintain overseas bases is as apparent as America’s in the 19th Century. Where that base is built will be much more key and display more about China’s potential strategic outlook than the timing around it. As a caveat, I’m not speaking of establishing bases in the context of colonization of an entire area and population, but rather as leased land to provide an area to establish ports, much as the United States currently has in Guantanamo Bay, Bahrain, or Okinawa. Furthermore, this is not meant to be like so many other ominous “China is a threat” posts on the blogosphere; this doesn’t presume that China means to attack the United States or anything ridiculous like that, rather that China, like all states, has strategic interests and can and will use a forward-projection of force to protect them when within its capability. I don’t see China acting in the manner of the United States soon and projecting forces outside its strategic interests.

As far as I can tell, there are three serious potential locales for the first permanent base: in the Gulf of Aden, on one of the Spratly Islands, or on the Indian subcontinent. The last is much less likely than the first two, but I include it for reasons I’ll get into soon. A base in Latin America also came to mind but I’m ruling it out for three reasons. First, it’s a bridge too far, no matter the close ties between China and countries on the Pacific coast of the continent like Venezuela. The idea of placing your very first overseas base at the outer edges of your naval capacity sounds like a recipe for disaster; any additional trade benefits would be hampered by the amount of fuel-carrying ships that would be needed just to get to the base in the first place. Second, trade that current exists between China and Latin America would almost certainly improve from the addition of a Chinese naval base, it currently would not be worth the investment. Third, and almost more importantly, no matter what rhetorical sparring China and the US may get into from time to time, I am positive that China is in no hurry to provoke the United States in what would surely be labeled a gross violation of the Monroe Doctrine and inflame tensions to unheard of heights, especially in a Congress that is already spooked by China’s rise.

Bearing those things in mind, we’ll begin with the least likely candidate that is still in the running: the Indian subcontinent. The Financial Times back in May report that Pakistan was inviting China to go beyond a request to take over operations at a port in the southwest of the country but instead build a permanent base:

“We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s defence minister, told the Financial Times, confirming that the request was conveyed to China during a visit last week by Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister.

This request was then turned down by a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman two days later.

It’s easy to see why China would reject the offer. While a naval base in Pakistan would allow for easy projection into the Indian Ocean, the costs that would come from such a move would far outweigh the advantages. First, it can be pretty easily seen that the Pakistani offer was intended to be a message to the United States in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid. Pakistan has been working over the past several months to show the United States that it could just as easily have China as its partner in military and strategic issues, hoping to lessen the pressure for changes in Pakistani strategy against terrorist cells that operate within its borders. This message, “we don’t need you, we can take our business elsewhere”, was muted by the Chinese in a setback to Pakistan’s tactics but it isn’t clear that Pakistan would have gone through with the plan should China have accepted.

Second, constructing a base out of Pakistan would cause India to be even more nervous about Pakistan than they currently are, which is no mean feat. Having India go from a competitor for markets to a full-scale adversary is absolutely nowhere on the Chinese plan for a peaceful rise. This in turn would force the United States to choose between supporting India as a counterweight to China and Pakistan’s somewhat shaky partnership in combating terrorism. Should the US choose India, this places pressure on the China/India border while destabilizing Pakistan further, just what you want when the naval bases that the host country owns are coming under attack, let alone a foreign controlled base. In fact, just today, China has cancelled what was supposed to be Pakistan’s largest foreign-investment deal, due to concerns about security. A naval base would be both more and less secure than a coal mining operation, more secure but a much more likely target for assault.

This takes us to the second choice in the Gulf of Aden, off Africa’s eastern coast. The Gulf acts as the bridge between the Horn of Africa and the greater Indian Ocean. This in turn makes it the prime hunting ground for Somalia based pirates. Indeed, the Gulf of Aden has been one of the most dangerous waterways in the world for the last half decade, even with naval forces from the United States, France, India and China all patrolling the waters. China’s eighth patrol and escort flotilla recently returned from the Gulf, with a ninth already deployed. These patrol fleets are currently allowed to refuel at a French naval base, after the initial wave kept at sea for 124 days without docking, a logistical challenge that is avoided with ownership of a base.

Despite the dangers, the area is extremely vital to international trade. As the map above shows, a huge amount of traffic flows through the Gulf, as ships pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean at-large on their way around the Arabian peninsula and towards East Asia. Oil tankers are frequent travelers in the Gulf of Aden and China is dependent on the crude and refined that makes its way through. Were the area to become fully crippled by pirates, or the strait were to be closed by force, it would be a crucial blow to China’s ability to support itself. Any attempt by any navy,  other than the United States for now, to attempt to close the Gulf of Aden or the Bab-el-Mandeb will quickly find itself facing China’s ire.

China’s continued presence in the area makes it a natural for speculation about potential permanent bases. In December 2009, Chinese Admiral Yin Zhou gave an interview that was subsequently posted to the defense ministry’s website, suggesting that a permanent base in the Gulf of Aden would be beneficial to Chinese patrols, saying “I think a permanent, stable base would be good for our operations”. The defense ministry website being as tightly controlled, if not more, than the rest of Chinese media, the interview was most certainly sanctioned by the PLA. But two days after the interview went live, an article was posted in the China Daily, China’s English-language newspaper, quoting the Defense Ministry as saying that “Some countries have set up overseas supply bases (but) the Chinese fleet is currently supplied at sea and through regular docking”. The quick turnaround in this retraction is most likely due to international concern about the strategic meaning behind actually announcing its first base. In this particular instance, the test balloon was quickly shot down and avowed to have never existed.

The problem with a scenario where China breaks ground in the Horn of Africa or to the opposite side of the Bab-el-Mandeb is one of increasingly shrinking options for a proper host country with access to the Gulf of Aden. An option that came to mind was the former French colony of Djibouti, but it would seem that the Chinese have missed the proverbial boat there. Japan has instead opted to build its first overseas military base in this small country, for the very reasons that China would be wise to take up a stance in the Gulf: protecting trading ships from piracy. It’s worth noting that Japan’s decision to take this step was not met with nearly the same sort of intense speculation as China’s pondering. In any case, Djibouti is not likely to place host to two separate navies patrolling the same area. On the Arabian peninsula, Yemen has far too many problems for China to consider investing money and resources in building a naval base there. The payoff of constructing a stronghold would be far outweighed by increasing ties with President Saleh at a time where his regime is increasingly isolated and desperate. And so Yemen is duly ruled out.

This leaves the most likely location in this region as the relatively young state of Eritrea. After gaining its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has managed to stagnate in terms of growth and regress in human rights. Not that this matters to the People’s Republic, which maintains strong ties with Eritrea, serving as one of the impoverished state’s largest trading partners. The influx of money that would surely come with the construction of such a base and hosting of the Chinese navy would be a strong draw for Eritrea, as well as solidifying its link to China.

That brings us to the final option, the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea. I can already hear some people saying that this should not count as an option, as in China’s view, the islands are part of Chinese territory anyway. We’ll come back to that argument, but for now we’ll treat it the others, as locating a naval base on any of the Spratly Islands would be far enough removed from mainland China to make an impact on force projection.

Compared to Pakistan and the Gulf of Aden, this could very easily be seen as the conventional choice. As mentioned briefly, the Chinese lay claim to the entirety of the island chain, making it not outside the realm of possibility that arming the islands and constructing bases would be forthcoming to protect its territory. Relatively close to China, the islands could serve as a forward point as Guantanamo Bay at Cuba did for the United States at the initiation of the lease.

Aside from shoring up Chinese claims to the South China sea, the strategic value of having ships launch from the Spratly islands is clear. Such a base could easily be used to ensure that the Malacca Strait, between Malaysia and Indonesia, remains open to commercial vessels at all times and free of piracy. The strait is extremely important to international trade, as 25% of the world’s oil moves through it every year, as well as the mind-boggling statistic of 40% of the world’s trade total, making it a strategic chokepoint. Currently, the area is patrolled by the Indian Navy to prevent piracy, as part of a partnership with Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. The litorral states are well aware of the fact that China would rather patrol the area itself, but have strove to keep the Malacca Strait from becoming a flashpoint for the big powers, namely China, India, Japan and the United States.

All of this leads neatly into the main problem with calling the Spratly Islands the most likely choice of the location of China’s first overseas base. The Spratly Islands, for all their desolation and unproven mineral resources, are in part or in whole claimed by several states in the region, including China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Taiwan. While People’s Liberation Army has issued several declarations of ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the chain, others are not so easily convinced. Tensions have gotten even more tense over the last several years, with more aggressive Chinese claims being viewed warily by other states in the region, culminating in Chinese patrol boats clashing with Vietnamese oil and gas survey ships.

Moving so boldly in the region would be a near total reversal of China’s current foreign policy, which stresses its peaceful rise above all else. Any advantage that could be seen gained from constructing a base on the Spratlys would be outweighed could be counterbalanced by moving more neighbors into the camp of other powers in the region. At the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) meeting this summer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on all parties in the conflict to back up their claims to the Islands with legal facts, veering off from the US’ historical preference of taking no sides whatsoever in the dispute. Vietnam is also partnering with India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation to explore the areas around the islands it lays claim to, a move that has disturbed the Chinese, and lends credence to the fact that India is moving to take advantage of the fears a rising China stokes. In East Asia, as anywhere, when the beginnings of hegemony are seen, states who wish to preserve the status quo will band together to act as a counterweight to the rising state. It was true in Europe as Germany united, precipitating the alliance between the UK and France, and it can be seen here, though China is doing its very best to take as few actions as possible that push states into banding together in an anti-Chinese alliance. Militarizing the Spratly Islands would only inflame others in the region, and lead to even greater mistrust of Chinese intentions, and benefit India and the United States.

After weighing all of these options, I’m inclined to believe that Africa wins out in terms of the most strategic return on investment for China. The economic imperative of protecting the shipping lanes in and near the Gulf of Aden and the lack of geopolitical cost in setting up shop there makes it the ideal location, especially when compared to the other two. Constructing a base in Eritrea will serve the Chinese well, by allowing for the long-range missions necessary for keeping the commons open, and acting as a Western anchor to the range of the Chinese Navy, which will then have a vast swath of the Indian Ocean well within its reach. Will this actually come to pass anytime soon? I suppose that we will just have to wait and see, but I know that I, for one, will be ready to pull up this post at a moment’s notice when it’s finally proven or disproven. Your move, PLAN.

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