Our founding fathers warned about “foreign entanglements”, given the horrible history of wars they knew from Europe. Today that same worry rings just as true.
The US is on the hook around the world, at risk of being drawn into some conflict should a local quarrel break out. From Israel to Europe (NATO members) to India to Korea and Japan, attacks upon those nations would result in an obligatory US response.
Consider that the situation in the Ukraine is dangerously close to other NATO members who are also potentially exposed to the same type of old Soviet provocation. If Russia were to attempt the “Crimea thing” in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia, the NATO treaty compels all other members to come to their defense. Hmmm.
But here is a much murkier situation to understand.
The US has important relations with both China and Japan. While the US has no requirement to come to China’s defense, it does have one with Japan. So what happens when both of these nations claim the same uninhabited chunks of rocks in the sea east of China and west of Japan?
The Senkuku Islands (Japanese term) or the Diaoyu (Chinese term) lie some 1170 miles southwest of Tokyo and about 400 miles southeast of Shanghai. These islands are only about 800 miles south from Seoul, Korea and 200 miles north of Taipai, Taiwan. Yet both Japan and China have declare they will fight for these islands.
At this point you can safely guess that the region surrounding these islands must hold the promise of mineral wealth. Mixing the prospect of oil and gas with lost centuries of past military strength, modern China and Japan seem locked in a course that will lead to conflict.
What should the US do?
In President Obama’s visit to Japan this week, he said the Islands would fall within the US-Japan mutual defense agreement. That would call for the US to come to Japan’s assistance should China take control of the islands or the area around them by force.
That is an outcome clearly not in the anyone’s best interest. As in most similar issues, there are much more sensible solutions than claiming national integrity.
Western thinking would support a strong initial position (these islands are ours) followed by negotiations (China gets this much territory and Japan gets this much). But the Senkukus/Diaoyus fall under Eastern thinking and Eastern history.
The US has a dog in this fight even though it does not really care who controls these islands. Much of the world’s shipping moves through the China Seas and a much of Southeast Asia’s exports to the US (and vice versa) sail to their destinations from these seas. The US has a national interest that these waters remain open and safe for travel.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, western powers used force to get their way. It seems obvious that force in the age of nuclear weapons and globally linked economies will produce no winners. Playing for time seems the best options even if one of the parties were to use force.
While China is big enough to exert its will through military force, China is highly dependent upon exports to support its people. Much the same can be said for Japan although it would take years for Japan to rearm.
Entanglements exists whether we like it or not. The US has played the world’s policeman since WWII and the role is getting old. US influence, however, could still have value.
The world is well on the way to total global interdependence. Small shifts in trade can be even more effective than bombs. Loss of trade will hit the pocketbooks of a country’s wealthy quickly.
Trade wars are not risk free either. Never the less, they are a better way to attempt to resolve disputes until the principles can conduct sensible negotiations.