Coming to a (War) Theater in 2013
This is how it happens. No one wants war, especially world wars that engulf the entire planet in the disputes that are usually idiotic. But it appears that another of these situations is coming to the Pacific Ocean, involving Japan, China and the United States. Once these three get involved, more are sure to follow. The worst part is that there really appears to be no way out. With the current administration having no block to endless war now that the anti-war progressives are on board with wars they start and this one being made more difficult because of this administration’s actions, it really does appear to be just a matter of time.
There are some rocks in the Pacific Ocean that Japan calls the Senkakus Islands and China has dubbed the Diaoyu Islands. Both are claiming them as their own. In recent months, more and more military posturing over the uninhabited lands has taken place. Japan and China have both been flying planes over the islands. There is hope that this can be stopped before it goes any further. This is, however, unlikely to happen. This is, after all, how wars get started.
It seems almost laughably unthinkable that the world’s three richest countries – two of them nuclear-armed – would go to war over something so trivial. But that is to confuse what starts a war with what causes it. The Greek historian Thucydides first explained the difference almost 2500 years ago. He wrote that the catastrophic Peloponnesian War started from a spat between Athens and one of Sparta’s allies over a relatively insignificant dispute. But what caused the war was something much graver: the growing wealth and power of Athens, and the fear this caused in Sparta.
The analogy with Asia today is uncomfortably close and not at all reassuring. No one in 431BC really wanted a war, but when Athens threatened one of Sparta’s allies over a disputed colony, the Spartans felt they had to intervene. They feared that to step back in the face of Athens’ growing power would fatally compromise Sparta’s position in the Greek world, and concede supremacy to Athens.
The Senkakus issue is likewise a symptom of tensions whose cause lies elsewhere, in China’s growing challenge to America’s long-standing leadership in Asia, and America’s response. In the past few years China has become both markedly stronger and notably more assertive. America has countered with the strategic pivot to Asia. Now, China is pushing back against President Barack Obama’s pivot by targeting Japan in the Senkakus.
The Japanese themselves genuinely fear that China will become even more overbearing as its strength grows, and they depend on America to protect them. But they also worry whether they can rely on Washington as China becomes more formidable. China’s ratcheting pressure over the Senkakus strikes at both these anxieties.
And why can’t we just stop this nonsense?
These mutual misconceptions carry the seeds of a terrible miscalculation, as each side underestimates how much is at stake for the other. For Japan, bowing to Chinese pressure would feel like acknowledging China’s right to push them around, and accepting that America can’t help them. For Washington, not supporting Tokyo would not only fatally damage the alliance with Japan, it would amount to an acknowledgment America is no longer Asia’s leading power, and that the ”pivot” is just posturing. And for Beijing, a backdown would mean that instead of proving its growing power, its foray into the Senkakus would simply have demonstrated America’s continued primacy. So for all of them, the largest issues of power and status are at stake. These are exactly the kind of issues that great powers have often gone to war over.
And it gets worse. Already five countries are now claiming ownership of the islands. The Philippines have moved people onto the island they call Thitu Island. It appears that the area is rich in oil and gas reserves.
And today, China has sent its newest warship to the region.
The Taiwan-owned China Times reports the Liuzhou Type 054A warship entered the South China Sea Fleet of China’s PLA Navy, making it the sixth 054 warship in the area.
Happy New Year, and may peace be with us all.