Monday, September 9, 2019

Get Out And Don't Come Back

Get out and don’t come back.  That’s the message from China, Russia, and Iran to the US regarding the presence of our warships in the East/South China Seas, Black and Baltic Seas, and the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, respectively.  Of course, these are international waters that all countries are free to travel.  Despite that, the respective countries apparently view the waters as theirs and call any US presence destabilizing or worse.

There is a school of thought, promoted by misguided, shallow thinkers, that suggests that if we did as requested and left the regions as demanded, that all would be peace and love in the world – that it’s only the presence of the US that makes otherwise happy, peaceful, caring, and responsible countries act irrationally.  Aside from being idiots, these people seem unaware of the number and size of the areas that we would be excluded from if the peaceful countries had their way.  Also, the amount of international commerce that transits these waters is staggering.  With no US presence to ensure the safety of that shipping, piracy, be it traditional criminal piracy or government sponsored “fees” for the privilege of passage, would become rampant.

What’s disturbing about this issue is that we’re essentially complying with the demands. 

We’ve completely ceded the entire South and East China Seas with nothing more than an occasional impotent Freedom of Navigation exercise which, truth be told, only strengthens China’s claims and demands.

We’ve largely backed off any enforcement actions against Iran in the Middle East.  They’re bombing commercial vessels, seizing ships (including US naval ships!), shooting down our drones in international air space, and harassing ships and aircraft with near impunity.  The only reaction from the US has been one downing of a drone that we’re not even 100% sure was Iranian.

Russia has largely forced us out of the region and aggressively harasses any ships or aircraft we dare to send in.

Russia, Iran, and China are all closely watching our reactions to the various provocations and exclusionary demands and our lack of reaction (appeasement) only encourages additional, more aggressive actions on their parts.


  1. Totally agree. At some point you have to stand up to a bully. The longer you leave it the harder it becomes.

    1. Not only does it become harder, but then YOUR actions are seen as the departure from normal/peaceful.

    2. Isn't that what they are doing standing up to a bully who sends fleets of ships to their door?

    3. ??? Completely lost me. Who and what are you talking about?

    4. I think he means that China is standing up to the US who sends carrier groups through waters they claim.
      I dont think that is the case here at all, but thats the way I read Stevens comment.

    5. The problem is the US dithers between realpolick and idealism. Do we have a military to protect our vital interests or to promote our vision of what the world should be?

      China is a perfect example. We have never been in a situation where we are geopolitical rivals with our largest trading partner! We got to this position because we want the benefits of cheap goods and access to the world's largest potential market. But we also don't like their repressive internal policies and we don't like them expanding their geopolitical power.

      And yes, there is plenty to argue about regaring historical US and western attempts to dominate China, US support for Taiwan, the recent history of US preemptive military action, etc. etc.

      To me, the key question for geopolitical strategy isn't so much about there being a "right" or a "wrong", but understanding the other party's strategic world-view and how they will react to your actions. And then deciding if the risk/benefit is what you want.

      We know that Russia will view any further expansion of NATO eastward as a threat and respond. We know that China sees the US as a geopolitical rival and will take steps to ensure they can resist US pressure. We also know both states desire a larger role in the global arena and wish to view themselves as global powers. We further know that the US desires to have global influence both in military terms, but in particular in economic terms. These are fundamentally conflicting views. All parties will seek advantage through whatever means they feel has a positive risk/benefit calculus. If that means hacking US elections or military secrets, they are going to do so. If that means supporting states that the US opposes (Iran, Syria), they are going to do so. Likewise the US is going to support the pro-western forces in Ukraine, seek to limit China's access to global telecommmunications markets, and limit both states access to arms markets.

      But what are the vital interests of the US? What is the importance of the South China Sea to the US if China isn't our biggest trading partner? What is the importance of Ukraine to the US? How critical is Saudi Arabia to US vital interests?

      My fundamental question is that if the US isn't willing to confront China economically, then why are planning on confronting them militarily? It's very much a "have our cake and eat it too" lack of decision in US policy. The two parts of US policy are fundamentally at odds, but no one is willing to pick, so we'll just drift along and wake up surprised some morning at how the world has turned out.

      To be clear, I think US policy should be to wean ourselves off of economic dependence to China before we can seriously evaluate our vital interests in the region. Until then, we're spending money to defend shipping lanes to...our potential enemy?

    6. I'll also add that I am not an idealist at the global level. Neither the US, nor any major power, has sufficient moral standing to declare "right" vs. "wrong". Any discussion along these lines immediately descends into "whataboutism". For example, I don't see much difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia when it comes to reflecting American values. They are regional rivals and will do whatever they can to establish dominance over the other states in the region.

    7. Clarification - when I said "access to arms markets", I meant the ability to export arms around the globe.

    8. "The problem is the US dithers between realpolick and idealism."

      You've offered a nice summary of what you view as the problem. Well done. You stopped short of offering a solution other than weaning ourselves off of Chinese economic dependence which I happen to completely agree with. What else would you suggest we do?

      Weaning ourselves would not only clarify our own position and interests but it would have the corollary effect of economically isolating and weakening China - so, win-win!

    9. "To me, the key question for geopolitical strategy isn't so much about there being a "right" or a "wrong"

      There absolutely is a right and wrong (talking morality now) and it is imperative that all our actions be guided by that recognition. A country that acts without a clear sense of right and wrong is, by definition, evil. China, Russia, Iran, NKorea, and others have no sense of right and wrong - only a desire for power - and are evil because of that lack.

      A moral compass is an absolute requirement on both an individual and national level.

      America has a moral compass. Do we always faithfully follow it? No, but we inevitably come back to it, regain our bearings, and try to correct our mistakes. That's the difference between us and the other countries I've mentioned.

      Also, the habit of citing past historical failings (slavery, treatment of Indians, Spanish-American War, etc.) as proof that we are no better than other countries is flawed. Countries are like children: they start young, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, grow and evolve, and become better people/countries. That is what America has done. Russia, China, Iran, NKorea, and others have not grown and evolved. They've remained evil.

      If it seems as if I've wandered off on a diatribe, the point/purpose of this comment is to emphasize the unbreakable link between morality (right and wrong) and geopolitical strategy.

      Our Founding Fathers understood the link between God/morality and government. They knew that God was a vital part of the daily workings of the government. Note that this is different from establishing a state religion which is what they wisely prohibited in the Constitution. They did not, as so many mistakenly believe, outlaw God from government. Okay, now I am wandering off topic!

    10. I completely agree with your point of citing historical failings. But, I feel that historical memories typically are very long. The tensions between, for example, China and Vietnam, or Korea and Japan date back centuries. Even the globalism of Marxist-Leninist communism wasn't able to overcome those tensions.

      Regarding morality, the problem with morality at a nation-state level is "whose morality". For example, Quakers reject any resort to violence in support of geopolitical strategy. There are several definitions of "just war" within Christian theology, some of which would only support war as a last resort. Which moral code does a nation follow? I would argue that in a democracy, the nation follows the moral code of it's elected government. But, in my opinion, we've already moved out of idealism and into pragmatism by being willing to accept that the government might not accept my exact moral worldview.

      I have no problem agreeing to disagree on this topic. If we could hash this out to our mutual satisfaction in a couple of conversations on a blog, we'd get the Nobel prize for political science (or something) for resolving a topic going back to Augustine :-) It's certainly been a feature of American political discourse since the founding of the Republic.

    11. Regarding policy towards China, I don't think we can move forward until we resolve the contradiction at the center of American policy towards China. And part of that means recognizing the success of China's long-term policy.

      IMO, The CCP saw the outcome of the US-USSR conflict and determined an alternate strategy. They confronted the US with a paradox that our cold war policy had never envisioned: a communist state participating in the global free-market economy. They exploited the American believe that any "free-market" economy would align, at least at a broad level, with US policy.

      As long as the US continues to effectively fund the Chinese military buildup, we're fighting a two front war. We have to spend more money on defense to counter Chinese growth which consequently weakens the US economy vis-a-vis spending that money on things that would contribute to consumer demand. Plus, by trying to stay ahead of the Chinese technologically, we wind up funding their R&D directly by espionage, and indirectly by providing funding for their manufacturing base to gain expertise in high technology. Not to mention erosion of the US manufacturing base's infrastructure.

      How are we supposed to go to war when our defense establishment can't function without our enemy's industrial output? And the long it goes on, the worse it will get. But until the economic elites feel threatened by China the way they did by Russia, we won't have a fundamental change in US policy. China's role in the global economy enhances corporate America's earnings for the next quarter. No one in corporate America looks beyond that so they won't consider that in the long run China's role might become a detriment to their interests.

  2. So, welcoming Chinese and Russian patrol in the gulf of Mexico, and between the US and Bahamas.

    1. Not sure what your point is but Russian intel collection ships have routinely, if not frequently, operated off the east coast of the US and in the Gulf of Mexico near Cuba. The US notes and monitors their presence but otherwise offers no resistance and makes no protests while acknowledging their right to sail those waters.

    2. The difference may be the nature of the ships. Exercising one's freedom of navigation with a "research" ship that has at the most defensive weapons or a destroyer that carries cruise missiles capable of reaching major cities deep inland makes a bit of a difference. This also ties in with the discussion about the pros and cons of VLS and dedicated launchers. VLS may be politically less palatable.

    3. "Exercising one's freedom of navigation with a "research" ship ... or a destroyer that carries cruise missiles … makes a bit of a difference."

      Not legally, it doesn't. What point are you trying to make?

    4. Legally it does not, true. The point I am trying to make is that a ship with substantial land attack capability may be seen as more threatening. Hence, freedom of navigation may be a role for LCS or some other small warship. Provided one wants to avoid getting the other side needlessly nervous.

    5. Are you nervous when Chinese and Russian warships pass through our territorial waters? If not, why do feel that China/Russia/Iran ought to feel nervous about our warships?

      Also, by definition, a freedom of navigation exercise is the movement of ships through INTERNATIONAL waters where they have every right to be. The movement of ships through international waters should not cause anyone to be nervous.

      Your point seems to be that the US shouldn't sail ships in international waters but that China/Russia/Iran/NKorea can do so freely. Is that really what you're saying?

    6. Anon you do realize that when US intelligence ships go threw the south china sea alone they get rammed by Chinese fishing vessels (hmm it cost a awful lot of money in damages Chinese fishing seems to be insanely lucrative) or harrased by other vessels of the CPC. They have stolen US government property?

  3. I'll try to make this as less political as I can:

    Not saying I disagree BUT isn't there a fundamental problem when a significant amount of Americans (and the current POTUS) say they are tired of being the world police? You can't have it both ways: we get out of the way since it's not our immediate concern OR we are the world police and we enforce the law.

    In a more general outlook (something that drives me crazy about American politics and something that NEVER gets told to the average American!) we always try to have it both ways: we shirk our responsibilities BUT we want the benefits!!! As an example: I bet most Americans want nothing to do with patrolling or doing something about SCS or Baltics BUT they sure would want the freedom to navigate! NOPE, that's not how it works, we are the world police 24/7 or we're not, this sometimes we are, sometimes we aren't, is complete BS IMO....It's something very noticeable when you travel around the world and talk to the locals, they always ask where are the Americans and the USG. Just look in HongKong, apparently they started signing the US national Anthem! SO are the world police: the world leaders when the going gets hard or are we only when it's easy and convenient?!?!? I know to answer to that one...

    Sorry for the rant....

    1. "Sorry for the rant...."

      This blog serves many purposes and if it can be a therapeutic outlet on occasion, all the better!

      " isn't there a fundamental problem when a significant amount of Americans (and the current POTUS) say they are tired of being the world police?"

      Excellent question and I happen to have an excellent answer! Preface: the United States has always had a strong isolationist tendency. It's why it took so long for us to enter WWII. Americans want to 'leave alone' and be left alone. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way.

      Now, to your specific question about being tired of being the world's police … No, it isn't that the US is tired of being the world's police but that we're tired of being the ONLY police (and only bill payer for policing services!) when there are many other countries that are fully capable of assisting in the world police effort. What Americans are looking for is a FAIRLY SHARED world police effort. When we see Europe making little effort to provide for their own defense, for example, it makes us want to withdraw into our own sphere of interests and leave everyone else to fend for themselves.

      "we always try to have it both ways"

      Let's be fair and note that that is not an American habit, it's human nature! Look at Europe (sorry to keep using them as the example) - they want the security and benefit of defense but don't want to pay for it and maintain credible, appropriate militaries. They're happy to sit back, do little, and let the US shoulder the responsibility and cost. So, human nature.

    2. I have a different understanding of the significant number of Americans that are tired of being the world's policeman.

      I don't think anybody is talking about naval presence. Heck, the average American rarely thinks about the navy.

      They are talking about the army being deployed all over the world. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria...not to mention our permanent deployments all over the world like Germany, South Korea, etc.

      That is how being the world's policeman manifests itself in the mind of the American public.

  4. sorry , but is this statement refering to the Stena Impero capture ? i dont see iranian navy have the balls to capture USN ships unless they want to go to heaven early

    " seizing ships (including US naval ships!) "

    1. Iran seized two US riverine vessels and crews a little while ago, in violation of UNCLOS Innocent Passage procedure.

  5. Judging by the shape of the force, a global withdrawal might be inevitable when all this deferred maintenance and 6-9mo cruises finally come to a head.

  6. Regarding International Airspace, they arent the same concepts as International waters. Early on most nationals seem to have decided that air space wouldnt be free unlike that decided for the High Seas.
    Plenty of countries have ADZ which extend far beyond their waters and they regulate air traffic especially military flights

    In the Strait of Hormuz , it may be a transit point for shipping and naval vessels but that doesnt apply for aircraft . Civil aviation has certain prerogatives.

    1. "Plenty of countries have ADZ"

      I assume you're referring to Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ)? These have no legal basis in international law nor are they explicitly prohibited. They have arisen as a customary practice and are often disputed (Japan, China, Taiwan and others have overlapping zones, for example).

      As regards international air space, there have been several international treaties over the years, as you seem to be aware. The central tenet in all of these is that a country has sovereign control over the air above its territory, to include the 12 mile sea limit. By implication and exclusion, all other air is free international air space.

      There have also been several treaties regarding international air travel and the central tenet is that treaty members grant each other the right to use their air space for commercial travel.

      The international body of law that covers air travel through straits is "Transit Passage" and is derived from UNCLOS.

      Here is a quote from one international airspace law article. I won't bother citing it because you can find readily find such references from a simply Internet search.

      "Transit passage is defined as the €œexercise . . . of the freedom of navigation and overflight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the straits between one of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or exclusive economic zones. Furthermore, all ships and aircraft enjoy the rights of unimpeded transit passage.[10] As for coastal states, UNCLOS Article 44 provides that “States bordering straits shall not hamper transit passage …"

      We see, then, that aircraft do have a passage right through straits and other chokepoints where adjoin countries have overlapping territorial claims.

    2. I didnt think of the UNLOS approach , but it does seem clearer than the Civial aviation approach.

      Looking at the actual text

      Right of transit passage

      1. In straits referred to in article 37, all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded; except that, if the strait is formed by an island of a State bordering the strait and its mainland, transit passage shall not apply if there exists seaward of the island a route through the high seas or through an exclusive economic zone of similar convenience with respect to navigational and hydrographical characteristics.

      2. Transit passage means the exercise in accordance with this Part of the freedom of navigation and OVERFLIGHT SOLEY for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone. However, the requirement of continuous and expeditious transit does not preclude passage through the strait for the purpose of entering, leaving or returning from a State bordering the strait, subject to the conditions of entry to that State.

      3. Any activity which is not an exercise of the right of transit passage through a strait remains subject to the other applicable provisions of this Convention."

      Clearly the RQ-4 drone and maybe even the P-8 accopaning it werent in transit or as it says 'the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait' . Its was a military surveillance mission.
      A quick check from one of the flight tracking sites shows air traffic flies over the UAE peninsula separating the Gulf and the Arabian Sea ,as of course aircraft dont need a navigable strait to pass from one area to another ( The exception seems to be Qatar Airways who are banned from Saudi and UAE airspace)

  7. All I can say is forge VERY strong ties with those in the Region who are resisting China....which unfortunately seems to count out the Philippines.

    The problem with the approach that we are currently taking which seems to be the modern western one of "Act like you are above it and make nice with everyone" means in the end no one will take you seriously.

    When faced with as cultural issue like china always has with the idea of power you HAVE to make sure that you always show you won't be pushed back.

    If they know your first response when pushed is to push back they will be wary of you. IF however you always retreat the very act of defiance will enrage them. They have become used to using power to back you down.

    With humans it means giving them a beating that may kill them or put them in the hospital often. With another nation state like China....its a hell of a way to make decisions.


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