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.