The US Navy remains the strongest and only true blue-water naval force in the world and is the enabler and enforcer of much of the Global Commons, a system of free trade and unfettered economic and political access. As such, it appears to be the object of a different Chinese worldview, one of limited access for others and exclusive access for China. Meanwhile, the result of China’s asymmetric anti-access and area-denial strategy is a growing Navy-killing array of ever more capable anti-ship missiles and other weapons. Beijing is trying to establish the precedent for limited access on its own terms and diminished freedom of navigation.
Time would be well spent in developing strategies, capacities and interoperability with allies and partners in the region. A parallel international emphasis on ensured access to the Global Commons would remind that the international community expects a rules-based system, and not one based on arbitrary uses of power and exertions of ownership. Freedom of the Global Commons provides a rationale for greater cooperation among like-minded countries, including support for partner navies and Air Forces in the region.
At the same time, the United States should step up naval and air cooperation with regional partners. Options include freedom of navigation missions; anti-submarine warfare practice; missile defence collaboration; and non-traditional missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response as well as counter-piracy.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
While Beijing will want to stipulate that it is, after all, simply asserting its own Monroe Doctrine, a strong Navy and Air Force working in tandem with allies and partners is one of the most effective reminders that the analogy is specious, and that the maritime approaches to East Asia are Commons that must be preserved for access by all.
Some might protest that assertive actions will play into the hands of hardliners in the People’s Liberation Army. China’s recent penchant for aggressive action would argue otherwise. The United States and its allies should promote and support an international legal and security environment that induces China to choose cooperation over confrontation and recklessness. Beijing needs to be reminded that all parties are prepared for useful dialogue and welcome opportunities for meaningful cooperation with China, but that aggressive behavior will be met with strength, the necessary bulwark for effective discussions.
In short: talk to China, organize the region and preserve US and allied maritime and aerospace power. It’s in everybody’s interests.
Patrick M. Cronin is Senior Advisor and Asia Security Program Senior Director at the Center for a New American Security; Paul S. Giarra is President of Global Strategies and Transformation.