In mid June, the U.S. Naval War College hosted its 66th annual Current Strategy Forum in Newport, Rhode Island. The College billed the event under the general title, “Strategy and Maritime Power in a Contested Environment,” but the main focus was China.
Admiral Michelle Howard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, delivered the first keynote address, in which she identified and explained America’s goal to maintain “all domain access” to the Indo-Pacific region; meaning the continued ability to access the region by sea, air, land, space, and cyber domains. Admiral Howard noted that China is developing a force structure that may enable it to deny U.S. access to the region by some or all of those domains.
Dr. Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments identified the Far East as one of three regions of Eurasia where U.S. interests are being challenged (by China); the other two being the Middle East (Iran, ISIS, Al Qaeda) and Eastern-Central Europe (Russia). Krepinevich views China’s challenge as the most serious and potentially the most dangerous should the U.S.-Chinese competition turn violent.
Dr. Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security suggested that China has become the new “peer competitor” for the United States, requiring the U.S. to back-up its rhetorical “pivot” to Asia with actual forces and strategy.
Dr. Peter W. Singer of the New America Foundation gave a sneak preview of his forthcoming technothriller, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, which envisions a global war between the U.S. and China.
Finally, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen discussed his new book, Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower. Paulsen described a Chinese leadership whose primary interest is in maintaining the power and privileges of the Communist Party, who will ignore international law to achieve its strategic goals, and who will seek to exploit any signs of U.S. weakness or timidity on the international stage. He also noted, however, that China’s economy is slowing down and it faces a demographic problem resulting from its previous strictly-enforced one-child policy.
The Current Strategy Forum is not just another academic conference. The Naval War College currently has some of the nation’s foremost strategic thinkers on its faculty, continuing the tradition started by the school’s founder, Admiral Stephen B. Luce, and it’s greatest instructor and geopolitical thinker, Alfred Thayer Mahan. The focus of this year’s forum is just another indication that the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific are likely to dominate the 21st century.
Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Transaction Books) and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War (University Press of America). He is also a contributor to Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics (Potomac Books). He has written on historical and foreign policy topics for Joint Force Quarterly, American Diplomacy, the University Bookman, The Claremont Review of Books, The Diplomat, Strategic Review, the Washington Times and other publications. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.