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The Great Game on the High Seas

In the competition between Asian countries and Pacific powers like the US, sea-power is critical. The US, the dominant Pacific ocean power for decades, remains far ahead of its competition. But Japan, China, India, and even Australia are quickly building up, and new technology is making some of America’s most important assets (like aircraft carriers) less secure.

One important frontier in the new naval race is under the water. The Boston Globe has a story on the Asian naval arms race that makes the point:

China is pouring money into enlarging and modernizing its fleet, and India is planning to get a nuclear-powered attack submarine — the INS Chakra — on a 10-year lease from Russia as early as this month.

Australia is debating its most-expensive defense project ever — a submarine upgrade that could cost more than 36 billion dollars.

Japan is adding another eight to its 16-boat fleet. South Korea is selling them to Indonesia. Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and even Bangladesh either now have or are planning to acquire subs.

North Korea, which has a large fleet of mini-subs, allegedly put them to deadly use in 2010 — killing 46 South Korean sailors in the worst clash since their war ended in 1953.

So far, the clash that killed the South Korean sailors and an assortment of territorial and fishing disputes are the only times competition in Asian waters has turned violent. Asian leaders across the region have publicly committed to peacefully resolving their issues and sharing resources.  US primacy and the emerging entente among other countries who feel threatened by China’s sometimes muscular maritime diplomacy are the reasons why the naval competition has so far been expressed reasonably peacefully.

Hopefully those factors will continue to limit the likelihood for naval conflict in the region, but even so we should expect much muscle-flexing, bullying, naval games, territorial claims, and tense moments on the high seas as this struggle continues in the future.

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  • Anthony

    “Proliferation, Great and Small….” Power, regional power balancing, security, and Pacific water contention are all menu items influencing various strategic considerations in “The Great Game on the High Seas.”

  • Mike M.

    Yet more good reasons why a significant downsizing of our military might not be such a great idea.

    Every time we have done this in our history, other less benign powers have been more than happy to try to fill the vacuum, and this time will be no different.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Good reasons to downsize the Army & Marines as they won’t be fighting ground wars for a while, cut back carriers and Zumwalts as they are just targets and accelerate submarine and asw sensor construction as they are the weapons that will be used in this theater.

  • Jim.

    Honestly, we probably shouldn’t even have mothballed our battleships. Most of the population of this world lives within reach of their guns.

    The fact is that aircraft carriers have been “obselete” for, oh, 60 years now because “new” technology has rendered them “less secure”. Read John Keegan’s Cold War-era “The Price of Admiralty” if you doubt.

    The fact is, if aircraft carriers are “obselete” then so are oil tankers and cargo ships.

    In anything other than an all-out nuclear war, carriers are too useful to be ditched. We’re smart to have so many. We’d be smart to maintain strong ground forces as well, so we don’t find ourselves in the same position as Britain did before each World War. If they’d been better prepared, they wouldn’t be in such a sorry state now.

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