Naval Strategy in the South China Sea

You might want to take a look at Navy Lt. Brett Wesley’s post on countering China’s strategy in the South China Sea at RealClearDefense. Here’s a snippet:

As students of Soviet naval doctrine, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Navy (PLAN) have adopted an A2/AD [ed. antiaccess/area denial] approach to the United States in the Pacific (Chinese military strategists term the concept “counter-intervention doctrine”). 2 Following the success of the United States in Operation Desert Storm and advancements in precision strike by air and naval assets, China’s military strategy focused on preventing a similar scenario from playing out near its shores. Although China has drastically increased its navy’s blue-water capabilities over the past decade, the PLAN currently has no intention of facing the U.S. Navy in the open ocean. Recent developments in the South China Sea reveal the challenges the United States will face in any future conflict and the role naval intelligence must play to accurately assess the threat and provide creative and effective solutions.

His proposed strategy consists of the following bullet points:

  • Increase Maritime Domain Awareness.
  • Improve Regional A2/AD Capabilities.
  • Expand Intelligence Sharing with Key Partners.

I suspect he doesn’t realize how revolutionary that strategy would be. For the last 70 years we’ve pursued a strategy of carrying all the weight ourselves for weak allies. That worked as long as our economy was growing robustly. It doesn’t look nearly as sustainable now.

My questions are twofold. First, would it work? The Chinese have read Thucydides. They see themselves in the role of the rising power. They also appear to believe that foreign policy like trade are zero sum games, i.e. for them to win we have to lose.

Second, is it necessary? I think the Chinese are playing the world’s highest stakes game of brinksmanship. Maybe my knowledge is dated but I think the Chinese are punching above their weight. We should assess their actual capabilities and act appropriately.

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