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The first variable is the bilateral naval balance between China and the United States.

How America became a superpower

The Sino-U. But, this does not fully capture the balance. China also possesses other elements of seapower. Anti-ship ballistic missiles, such as the DF and the longer-range DF, can reportedly strike large surface combatants at great distances. These land-based capabilities enable China to impose its will on its adversaries at sea by launching striking power from the Chinese mainland. But, the military balance still represents only a partial picture.

We have to consider the non-military implements of Chinese military power. When considering the military balance, we also have to think more broadly about the fundamental asymmetries between a local power and a global power. The United States is a global power that must defend its interests globally. It therefore needs a global navy that conducts a whole host of missions worldwide. In practice, only a fraction of a fraction of the U. Navy is ready for action in Asia. The rule of thumb is that the U. Navy deploys a third of its forces at any given time, owing to maintenance and workup cycles.

Of that third, only a portion of those forces is in Asia at any given time while the rest of the fleet is operating elsewhere around the globe. By contrast, China, the local power, can devote the bulk of its forces in its own backyard. I think this asymmetry puts the naval balance in perspective. However, another asymmetry—the role of allies and friends—works in favor of the United States.

Washington boasts many high-quality, like-minded maritime allies around the world. Extra-regional powers, including India and even Britain and France, are also turning their attention to the Western Pacific.

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The naval balance looks very different when considered in the context of coalitions. But, this by no means suggests that we can take our allies for granted. On the contrary, we need to continue to cultivate close operational ties with our allies to maintain our collective competitive edge. Cris Lee: Starting with the s and going to the late s you studied the Chinese Navy which encompasses essentially the bulk of their present period of modernization. How far has the Chinese Navy come in terms of capacity and what they can do now, and how this has affected the military balance?

How the United States Can Maintain Its Dominance in the Pacific Ocean

China already has the largest navy in Asia. This has been the case for quite a few years. Some earlier estimates predicted that the Chinese Navy will be the largest navy in the world by and that, by , it will be the second-most capable expeditionary force, second only to the U. More recent estimates have concluded that the Chinese Navy has already surpassed the U.

Navy in size. By my own calculations, in , China had about seven surface combatants that could be considered modern by western standards. By , that number jumped to around By the end of , based on my calculations, China could have more than 90 modern surface combatants. This represents a remarkable shift in the naval balance. From a historical perspective, this kind of buildup happens infrequently. Its infrequency can be measured in generational terms. Comparable frenzied naval buildups took place prior to both world wars. Historically, when these buildups have occurred, they have preceded great power competitions and global wars.

It is not just the Chinese Navy. In fact, it is larger than all of the other Asian maritime law enforcement fleets combined. From an operational perspective, China has modernized its navy, in part, to fight the U. Navy in a war at sea. In other words, Chinese missile salvos could reach our forces well before we can get within range to hit back.

The Chinese Navy has been honing its skills as an expeditionary force. China has conducted uninterrupted naval operations in the Indian Ocean for a decade, making it a legitimate Indian Ocean power. It now has a base in Djibouti, allowing China to have a permanent presence in a region that was once the exclusive preserve of Western seapower. These sorties have demonstrably enhanced the tactical proficiency of Chinese naval forces.

It was not so long ago that a U. Today, a U. This is the new normal. This is something we have to come to terms with. Cris Lee: With regard to that evolved capacity, how do you think perspectives have changed on the Chinese Navy, particularly those of its peers and the U. Let me take you back to the s. In the s and well into the s, condescension characterized our views of the Chinese Navy. Moreover, some asserted that China would struggle to become a regional navy well into the early decades of the 21 st century.

Sea Power and American Interests in the Western Pacific

Today, it is no longer controversial to describe China as a serious seapower. It is widely accepted that China is a genuine maritime power capable of challenging the United States and its interests in Asia. Indeed, by many non-military measures, China is already a leading maritime power. Its merchant fleet and fishing fleet are already among the largest, if not the largest, in the world. Yet, a kind of smugness still persists. We still come across inapt tactical comparisons between U.

What these assessments miss, in my view, is the dynamic character of the rivalry. China will pose a far more complex set of challenges at sea than is generally assumed. A clear-cut conflict with a discernible beginning, middle, and end—during which the United States can amass leisurely its military power for a decisive operation—is not the most likely scenario.

China will likely employ a mix of military and non-military means in the twilight between peace and war.

Table of Contents

These so-called gray-zone tactics are designed precisely to constrain, or preclude altogether, our ability to employ our military capabilities and to offset our technological and operational superiority. Side-by-side comparisons of individual naval platforms and comforting narratives about how many more carriers we have compared to the Chinese are at best simplistic, if not misleading.

Cris Lee: So this kind of smugness, does it reflect an old lineage of thinking that involves assumed U. How does that kind of assumed supremacy continue to affect American maritime approaches for the Pacific? What problems arise because of that? Each fallacy creates its own set of analytical problems. Underestimation certifies institutional inertia and deepens our comfort with the status quo. The siren song of our accustomed supremacy at sea is really hard to resist.

The temptation to rest on our laurels is risky. Such complacency might mean that we could be surprised at the tactical and strategic levels. Indeed, the Chinese have consistently sprung surprises on us with their many technical and tactical developments. Overestimation creates its own set of analytical dysfunctions. We might as well learn to live with a very powerful China.


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We should cut a deal and reach a grand bargain with China before its too late such that China becomes so strong that it can dictate terms to us and our allies. These polarized views and their policy implications are not helpful. Rather, we need to think productively about China in ways that neither downplay its strengths and its ability to challenge the United States at sea nor overlook some of its structural weaknesses.

Toshi Yoshihara: A key danger is the growing mismatch between American commitments and resources. When our resources are inadequate to meet our commitments to defend Asia, we have a situation akin to bluff. The bigger the gap, the bigger the bluff waiting to be called by our adversaries. A related danger is the declining confidence among our allies and friends about the credibility of our commitments.

If our allies and friends begin to doubt our security commitments to the region, they may begin to make their own calculations, pursue their own independent policies, and perhaps even cut their own separate deals with China, accommodating it or bandwagoning with it. Some may embark on an independent strategic path, such as going nuclear. Those large-scale drills are seemingly conducted to verify the combat readiness and mobilization postures of units in the Russian Far East, including the Arctic.

The arms embargo against China by Western countries after the Tiananmen Square incident, coupled with the end of the Cold War, reopened an old avenue for Sino-Russian military cooperation, and China started to purchase Russian arms.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

Bilateral military relations reached a peak around Despite the existing mutual distrust, Moscow found Beijing to be an important partner when the United States and other Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Beijing likewise viewed Moscow as an indispensable supporter when the United States announced a strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific, which China perceived as an attempt to contain its rise.

China and Russia started combining military exercises in , with most of them being conducted within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation framework and focusing on counterterrorism. These exercises have provided China with an opportunity to learn from Russia about military operations in a complex multilateral environment.

The two countries also launched the annual bilateral Joint Sea naval exercise in These exercises help the two militaries enhance cooperation in areas such as amphibious operations, air defense, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue. China and Russia use these naval exercises as a strategic communication tool. For example, Joint Sea was conducted in the South China Sea two months after the international arbitral ruling that denied Chinese claims in the disputed waters.


  • Re-Orienting American Seapower for the China Challenge.
  • Maritime Power and U.S. Strategic Influence in Asia.
  • Changing Course: Making the Case (Old and New) for American Seapower;
  • China’s vast fleet is tipping the balance against U.S. in the Pacific.
  • Daimones: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.1;
  • China and Russia possessed a shared interest in preventing a U. Chinese and Russian marines take part in the meter sea-crossing and landing training as a part of the China-Russia naval drill Joint Sea on September 13, in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. With regard to cooperation on military technology, Russia became more willing to provide advanced technologies to China, partly in order to stimulate its own weakened economy.

    In particular, Russia decided to sell China the Su fighter and the S surface-to-air missile defense system. China could use the Su as its main fighter until its J and J fighters enter into full service. Recent developments in China-Russia military cooperation can be seen even in daily operations. The first such example was observed in June , when three Russian warships entered the contiguous zone of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, followed by a Chinese warship.

    Sea Power and American Interests in the Western Pacific | RAND

    What actually happened is still not known, but the Chinese warship seemed to be following the Russian ships. Similar cases have happened in the air as well. The Pentagon believes that the Chinese air force was demonstrating its capability to strike U. Likewise, Russia is raising the readiness and war-fighting capabilities of its forces in the Far East while keeping the Sea of Okhotsk as a strategic bastion.

    For both countries, the primary security concern is the presence of the U. For both China and Russia, bilateral military cooperation promotes their mutual strategic interests in the western Pacific. Despite their profound mutual distrust, the two former allies have re-established a new strategic partnership. China-Russia military cooperation thus has the potential to greatly affect the military balance in the western Pacific. For both Washington and Tokyo, the rise of China is the primary long-term strategic concern. However, it is not practical for the United States and Japan to align with Russia to balance the growing Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific region given the strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow.

    The U. Instead, Japan believes that a partnership with Russia would help ease the negative impact of the rise of China on Japan and the region. Official website of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet. This perception gap between Japan and the United States on Russia could have a negative impact on the alliance as China and Russia continue to deepen their strategic and military partnership.