You are on page 1of 9

The Protection of

US Allies

Hoover Institution Working Group on Military History

Alliance, Engagement, and Americas


Indolent China Strategy
MILES MAOCHUN YU

The fact remains indisputable that the United States has been the most consequential
superpower in the world for the last seven decades. Yet the supremacy of the United States
in world affairs has not come as the result of a global military conquest, but rather as
mainly an outcome of Americas ability to use its superpower status and the ecumenical
appeals of its political, economic, and cultural institutions, as well as its founding values,
to forge an elaborate system of alliances worldwide against common threats, regional and
global. This US-led alliance system has been the most effective guarantee and protection
ofinternational peace and global commons, including the freedom of navigation, free
tradeand flow of information, economic prosperity, and political democratization.
Backed by the military might that the American taxpayers have helped to create and
maintain, the United States has been able to establish credible strategic deterrence
against expansionist and revisionist regimes such as the Soviet Union, North Korea,
andChina during the Cold War, the Iraq regime under Saddam Hussein, and the
Islamicfundamentalist state of Iran since the Cold War.
At the core of this alliance system are the various collective defense arrangements
Washington has signed with its allies, including the North Atlantic Treaty and various
bilateral treaties with the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, resulting in
hundreds of thousands of Americas soldiers being forward-deployed in the worlds trouble
spots since the end of World War II.1
While wordings are slightly different, these collective defense arrangements all stipulate that
an armed attack against one or more of the signatory nations shall be considered an attack
against them all; and that each signatory nation within that particular arrangement agrees
that it will act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.
To make such collective defense arrangements work, Americas leadership and unwavering
pledge of its treaty obligations have been crucial factors in the spectacular success of this
global alliance system.
American leadership has also manifested itself as a mature and just arbiter within the
alliance, in part because the United States has been able to utilize its prestige and respect
Views expressed here are the authors own. They do not represent any official US government policies
andviews.

Military History

A HOOVER INSTITUTION ESSAY ON THE PROTECTION OF US ALLIES

to proactively prevent internecine spats over old wounds and narrow nationalistic surges
ofterritorial disputes among many of its allies.
In Europe, Americas adroit play of the arbiter role has helped prevent regional conflicts
among its European allies. This remarkable phenomenon has been noticeably articulated
by the American political scientist Josef Joffe in his influential 1984 essay, Europes
American Pacifier, which argues that the overwhelming influence of the United States in
European affairs had served as the most meaningful and effective factor in keeping peace
and preventing conflicts in Europe, which had witnessed centuries of internal strife and
instability.2
In East and Northeast Asia, the most destabilizing political entities have been China and
the handful of nations within the Chinese geopolitical orbit, especially North Vietnam
before 1975 and North Korea since 1950. As in Europe, the United States has also been
a great pacifier in this region, leading a powerful defense alliance centered on the
Washington-Tokyo-Seoul axis to prevent military provocations and defend the allies if
and when military conflicts arise. More importantly, US leadership and prestige have been
instrumental in gluing its Asian allies together by transcending internecine bickering
and historical grievances to focus on primary and existential security threats from the
regions chief sources of instability, in particular North Korea and China. To that end, the
United States has had its largest overseas forward-deployed military force, the Seventh
Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan, since the Korean War, in addition to the 28,000
American troops stationed in South Korea.

However, another fact is also indisputable: the US-led Asia-Pacific alliance is now in a major
crisis, mainly caused by Americas deep belief in the effectiveness of a comprehensive policy
of engagement with a revisionist and aggressive China in order to temper Chinas appetite
for changing the geopolitical status quo. This policy has greatly eroded Americas alliance
leadership and prestige, with a devastating cascading effect on the very strategic framework
the United States has so elaborately built since the end of World War II.
Nowhere is more manifest of the pernicious consequences of Americas weakening
hegemony in world affairs than East and Northeast Asia, where a rising China is
directly challenging Americas preeminent leadership in the region and the unity of
theWashington-led defense alliances is in great danger.
In the West Pacific region, the United States is no longer determining the course of events
or setting the direction of geopolitical movements. Instead, China has been taking strategic
initiatives, while the United States and its allies are merely responding to what China says
and does.

Miles Maochun Yu Alliance, Engagement, and Americas Indolent China Strategy

Since 2008, China has dramatically increased its bellicosity and provocation in the western
Pacific, including the East China and South China seas. Beijing has unilaterally raised
tensions with almost all of its half-dozen maritime neighbors over issues long considered
dormant or settled. Chinas dispute with Japan over the uninhabited specks of isles in the
East China Sea known as the Senkakus, which are under Japanese administration, has
constantly brought the two nations ever closer to an armed confrontation, with each side
increasing armed patrols and fortifications around the isles. The number of near misses
or close encounters in the air and on the sea between Chinese and Japanese warships and
warplanes has reached an alarming level, challenging the strength and credibility of the
US-Japan mutual defense alliance and presenting Washington with the macabre prospect of
bringing the worlds three largest economiesthe United States, China, and Japaninto
ageneral war.
In addition, China has entered the implementation stage of its extravagant claims over
virtually the entire South China Sea, pitting Beijing against nations in the regionVietnam,
the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and lately Indonesiathat have legitimate
territorial control of waters that overlap Chinas claims. To defy international laws, regional
protests, and US warnings, the Chinese navy has recently pumped vast amounts of sand
toform artificial islands in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea, upon which to
build aircraft landing strips, anchorage facilities, and lighthouses.
Yet, the United States, which has the nations largest overseas military deployment in
the region with scores of warships and tens of thousands of troops, is not acting strongly
enough to rebuff Chinas challenges, because Washington has been blindsided by a cult of
engagement, a geopolitical policy that is based upon the concept that if the United States
is nice to a bully, the bully will stop being a bully.
The United States has only made anemic statements to evoke the US-Japan mutual defense
obligation in response to Chinas threat of war against Japan over the Senkakus. Under
the Obama administration, the primary strategic initiative in Asia and the Pacific region
is not related to the ominous China threat, but to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade
negotiations. When China took a unilateral move to pump massive amounts of sand in the
Spratlys to form artificial islands as its own sovereign territory, a move in blatant violation
of international laws, it took the United States five months to send a lone destroyer to sail
through one of the man-made isles within the twelve nautical miles of sovereign Chinese
waters, followed immediately by a friendly visit of Chinese naval warships to Americas
Atlantic sea ports and an accompanying high-level US naval delegation to Beijing to
engage the Chinese provocateurs.
The centrality of the engagement strategy in Americas China policy has severe
consequences that affect Americas alliances in Asia, the bedrock of our relationship
andpresence in that part of the world.

Hoover Institution Stanford University

First of all, emphasis on engagement with a bellicose China has greatly eroded the unity of
the Washington-led alliance. Japan, the most important and reliable ally of all in the region,
has interpreted this comprehensive, and excessive, engagement with China as a softening of
the US commitment to Japans defense. While various US political and defense officials have
stated that the United States will fulfill its mutual defense treaty obligations to defend Japan
if the Senkakus ever come under attack from China, many in Japan view these statements as
a reluctant, passive clarification of legal obligations with Japan, but not categorical support
for it. As a rule, the official US reiterations of Americas mutual defense terms are followed
by waves of senior US defense officials and military officers flying to Beijing to engage
with their counterparts in the communist government. Those trips are viewed as missions
to seek explanations from the aggressor. This sends a signal to Americas traditional allies
that confrontation, which is the opposite of engagement, with China may have become a
policy impossibility for Washington, no matter how unpreventable the confrontation might
have become.
This obsession with engaging China militarily has been a primary reason in Japan for the
rise of an autonomy-seeking defense strategy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Confidence
in Americas categorical support for Japans defense against a potential Chinese attack is
eroding, despite the perfunctory announcements of treaty obligations.
Of all US allies in the world, there is perhaps only one that is capable of defending itself
on its own. That country is Israel, which is eternally grateful to the United States for
its consistent defense pledge and political support, but nevertheless is suspicious of the
vagaries of Americas political environment. Now Japan is fast moving toward becoming
another Israel with its own defense capability to fight China, with or without Americas
involvement. The fundamental difference between Israel and Japan is that the former has
a powerful influence in Americas domestic politics while Japan does not. This makes Japan
even more vulnerable to the pernicious consequences of Washingtons reluctance to offend
China and to lead in the mutual alliance, and it makes it more likely for Japan to act alone,
without Americas leadership as the ultimate pacifier, a dangerous path to revive old
regional woes and a recipe for yet another geopolitical mess.
Mostly out of concern for Americas commitment to mutual alliance, under Prime Minister
Abes helmsmanship, Japan has jettisoned its decades-long self-imposed ban on conducting
military operations outside of Japanese soil. Japan has also passed a set of sweeping national
security laws that dramatically redefine Japans role in the world and at home as a normal
nation with a highly modernized defense force featuring world-class military design and
engineering capabilities. But more significantly, Japan has increased its defense budget and
re-prioritized its defense weapons systems to focus on instruments of war that will deal with
the specific military challenges from China, including the launch of the Izumo-class flattop
vessels that in real terms are functional aircraft carriers, suitable for a naval showdown with
China over the disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Miles Maochun Yu Alliance, Engagement, and Americas Indolent China Strategy

Like Israel, a traditional ally that is now cozying up to Russia due to Americas opaque
Middle East policy and Washingtons excessive engagement with Israels adversaries in
the region, Japan, because of its dissatisfaction with Americas obsessive efforts to engage
China, has embarked on an independent route to seek its own allies in the region that share
a common security threat from China, but are not necessarily within the US geopolitical
orbit, making Americas leadership role in the collective defense alliance in the Asia-Pacific
region less relevant.
A salient development in this direction is the rapid march toward a quasi-new regional
alliance between Japan and India, a country which also has had an acrimonious territorial
dispute with China since 1959. This new Japan-India alliance, primarily caused by common
concerns over China, has the potential to change the military status quo in the IndoPacific region and reshape the existing collective defense arrangements centered on the
Washington-Tokyo defense alliance.
In 2008, India and Japan signed a mutual security pact, followed by frequent joint military
exercises, including naval drills in each others home waters. For the first time in more than
a half-century, Japans emperor and empress paid a high-profile visit to India. Abe became
the first-ever Japanese prime minister to be honored as the Chief Guest at Indias largest
annual extravaganza, the Republic Day Parade. At present, the largest numbers of defense
attachs Japan sends out worldwide go to New Delhirepresenting all branches of Japanese
military, air, sea, ground, and coast guardto monitor Chinas defense moves and to
cooperate with their Indian counterparts.
The strategic significance of the Japan-India alliance lies in the fact that it is being developed
almost entirely without Americas initiative or close participation. Japan, a junior partner in
the Washington-dominated West Pacific collective defense alliance, is now taking a major
step and leadership role in forming its own regional alliance with India, a third nation that
shares common threats from China. This does not bode well for the old alliance, whose
leader is seen as wobbling on China.
A similar situation is evolving between Japan and Taiwan as Chinas threat against Japan
over the Senkakus and Chinas existential threat against Taiwan have pushed the two
toward the signing of a series of bilateral understandings and agreements to avoid direct
conflict and to conduct mutually acceptable fishing operations in the disputed waters near
the Senkakus. As a result, the prospect of a direct military confrontation between Taiwan
and Japan over the Senkakus is almost nonexistent.
Closely monitoring Americas leading from behind act, China is sensing the potential
crack in the US-led collective defense alliance in the western Pacific and enthusiastically
exploiting the situation, making ominous moves to further weaken that vital alliance. The
primary target is another partner in the US-led alliance, South Korea, and the instrument
ofBeijings destructive endeavor is South Koreas historical grievances against Japan.

Hoover Institution Stanford University

Unfortunately, South Korea has taken Beijings bait and rapidly run afoul of Tokyo and
Washington. The issue is not a small matter, primarily centering on the comfort women
from the colonized Korea who were forced by the Japanese military to become sex slaves
during World War II. But this old historical wound is being played up by China and
SouthKorea as a strategic issue big enough to change the fundamental alignment of the
USJapanRepublic of Korea alliance.
President Park Geun-hye of South Korea has not held any official meetings with Prime
Minister Abe of Japan since they both came to power in 2012, despite Japans repeated
urging. In fact, the two have barely spoken to each other in the past three years, even when
both were present at various international conferences, while President Park has been a
frequent guest of honor of President Xi Jinping of China. At present, South Korea and Japan,
the two closest allies of the United States in Asia, treat each other more like adversaries than
allies, while China and South Korea are behaving like old friends newly reunited.
The Beijing-Seoul warm-up is not just political but also military, which is at the core of the
US-led Pacific alliance that is being protected by more than 28,000 American troops in
South Korea. Under Chinese protest, South Korea has rebuffed Americas proposal to install
the missile defense system in Korea known as THAAD (terminal high altitude area defense).
In September, China held a large anti-Japan military propaganda parade in Beijing, with
some of the worlds most notorious dictators as Chinas guests, including Russias Vladimir
Putin and Sudans president Omar al-Bashir, who is currently under indictment by the
International Criminal Court for genocide. Most leaders from the major democracies in
the world boycotted Beijings propaganda stunt. President Park of South Korea was the only
exception. She showed up for the anti-Japan hoopla standing next to Russias Putin and
Chinas Xi Jinping at Tiananmen Gate.
As another by-product of Americas inability or unwillingness to exert leadership in
rebuffing Chinas ascendance with an expansionist vision, some of Americas trusted
partners are abandoning Washington for Beijing. While President Obama was adamant
that Chinas effort to establish a Beijing-dominant Asia Investment and Infrastructure
Bank (AIIB) should not be supported because of its revisionist nature against the existing
international monetary system, Great Britain completely ignored Washingtons call and
led a group of European nations (all protected by the United States through the NATO
alliance) to embrace the AIIB. The sting felt in Washington as a result of this British
disloyal act is palpable. The insult from Americas old ally that is often framed as a
special relationship deepened in October2015, when, after ample display of red carpet
in Washington and a state dinner at the White House, President Xi Jinping of China
received a much more extravagant reception in London from all of the important political
and social elites Great Britain couldproduce, from the queen, princes, and princesses to
prime ministers and soccer stars. Again, America grinned with discomfort at its special
relationship ally.

Miles Maochun Yu Alliance, Engagement, and Americas Indolent China Strategy

The only meaningful strategic response to Chinas provocations is the Obama


administrations Asia Pivot initiative, also known as force rebalancing. It was announced
toward the end of Obamas first term in 2011, after China had turned actively revisionist for
a number of years. The Asia Pivot envisions a redeployment of 60percent of Americas naval
assets in the Asia-Pacific region in the near future; it also seeks to strengthen Americas
alliance with regional nations that share common security concerns, be it from China,
North Korea, or any other sources.
But the Asia Pivot initiative has no deterrent effect whatsoever because it has long been in
shambles. The initiative was announced with great fanfare but it quickly faltered, without
any meaningful follow-up. The major doctrinal concept of an air-sea battle approach for
the Asia Pivot has all but disappeared from the Pentagons consideration amid budgetary
and priority squabbles within competing service branches. Just as the Asian countries
with common concerns over China were ready to embrace Americas pivot to the region,
President Obama kept cancelling his scheduled trips to Asia to meet with allies. At least
three such trips were cancelled by the White House on account of domestic gridlocks.

The United States assumes a unique role in world affairs, whether it likes it or not. Without
Americas leadership and robust intervention as a pacifier in East and Northeast Asia, the
carnage of war and prolonged geopolitical struggles will be the result, as the history of thepast
seven decades has proven. Facing an economically powerful and militarily modernizing
China, an authoritarian country with revisionist ambitions to changethe status quo by
force and coercion, the United States should abandon its passive and counterproductive
policy of stressing the preponderance of engagement with China. America should rebuild
and regain its leadership and respect within the Asian alliance that has been the pillar of
peace and stability for the region since the time of President Harry S. Truman.

NOTES
1 US Collective Defense Arrangements, US Department of State, http://go.usa.gov/3yN25.
2 Josef Joffe, Europes American Pacifier, Foreign Policy 54 (Spring 1984): 6482.

The publisher has made this work available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license 3.0. To view a copy
of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0.
Hoover Institution Press assumes no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party
Internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will
remain, accurate or appropriate.
Copyright 2015 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

Hoover Institution Stanford University

Working Group on the Role of Military History


inContemporary Conflict

About the Author

MILES MAOCHUN YU
Miles Maochun Yu is a professor
of East Asia and military history
at the United States Naval
Academy (USNA). He is the
author of OSS in China: Prelude to
Cold War and The Dragons War:
Allied Operations and the Fate of
China, 19371947. He has received
numerous awards, including
the USNA top researcher award,
several USNA Special Action
Awards, and the Navy Meritorious
Service Award. He holds degrees
from the University of California,
Berkeley, Swarthmore College,
and Nankai University.

Hoover Institution, Stanford University


434 Galvez Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6003
650-723-1754

The Working Group on the Role of Military History in


Contemporary Conflict examines how knowledge of past
military operations can influence contemporary public
policy decisions concerning current conflicts. The careful
study of military history offers a way of analyzing modern
war and peace that is often underappreciated in this age of
technological determinism. Yet the result leads to a more
in-depth and dispassionate understanding of contemporary
wars, one that explains how particular military successes
and failures of the past can be often germane, sometimes
misunderstood, or occasionally irrelevant in the context
ofthe present.
The core membership of this working group includes David
Berkey, Peter Berkowitz, Max Boot,Josiah Bunting III, Angelo
M.Codevilla, Thomas Donnelly, Admiral James O. Ellis Jr.,
ColonelJoseph Felter, Victor Davis Hanson (chair), Josef Joffe,
Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Edward N. Luttwak,
Peter Mansoor, General Jim Mattis, Walter Russell Mead, Mark
Moyar, Williamson Murray, Ralph Peters, Andrew Roberts,
Admiral Gary Roughead, Kori Schake, Kiron K. Skinner, Barry
Strauss, Bruce Thornton, Bing West, Miles Maochun Yu, and
Amy Zegart.
For more information about this Hoover Institution Working Group
visit us online at www.hoover.org/research-topic/military.

Hoover Institution in Washington

The Johnson Center


1399 New York Avenue NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
202-760-3200