In today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal there is an article, ‘Rising Naval Power Creates a Dilemma for US‘, by Andrew Browne, that compares the US incursion in Taipei in 1996 to the current spat over the Chinese building of bases on sandbars in the South China Sea. Mr. Browne highlights how in years past the US would beat its chest and use its aircraft carrier assets to ensure Western-based security in and around China’s activities. Mr. Browne suggests the US should not use its airtcraft carriers this time around: they are a target.
Well I disagree with Mr. Browne. The US should deploy one, or two, of its airtcraft carriers to the South China Sea. The US should and must – just because they are targets. It will demonstrate to the world that the US is not afraid, and is willing to assert its power reach in every way. Do you really think the Chinese would target and attack one of those assets? The whole point of a nuclear or terrible deterrent is that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is. If there was any hint that you would not, the deterent was wasted and useless. China will not attack the carriers.
Worse case is that there might be a scuffle between a few smaller craft nearby. There will be some close fly-by’s. There will be some heated words. There might even be a political incident – but so be it. That is what is needed for the US to assert its authority. By NOT deploying aircraft carriers it signals to China, and others, that the US is unsure of the outcome. The US needs to tell the word, “We don’t care what you think – we are here and that’s the way its gonna be – so get on with it.”
What if China did attack a carrier? Well, all hell would break loose. I would hope that the US military are confident that they could thwart an attack, such that it could not become a serious event. I would hope that the US military is confident enough that they could enagage with limited but necessary forced to neutralize the threat without risk of escalation. That requires a) competence, b) confidence, c) trust, and d) a cool hand. I would rely on the US miliatary to be the judge of their own capabilties. If, when they do this soul searching, they come up short, then we are all in a lot more trouble than we thought.