The world desires and needs American leadership to confront the expansion of authoritarian regimes that seek to undermine the global economic system and the rule of law that so many have labored so hard and sacrificed so much to establish over the past 70 years. But from Central Europe, where Russian aggression has illegally occupied the Crimea and other regions of Ukraine, to the Middle East where ISIS seeks to destroy every aspect of stable order, to the western Pacific where China is attempting to bully other nations into accepting its historically unfounded claims of sovereignty over international waters, that system of governance is under constant attack. Hence it was a disappointment to read that Rear Adm. Jeff Harley said this about the South China Sea: “There is room in the maritime realm for multiple powers, really all powers”, even as a Chinese admiral on the same stage said, “The South China Sea, as the name indicates, is a sea area that belongs to China.” The contrast between the two voices could not have been more stark — or ominous.
Jerry and Bryan are two of the smartest naval strategists out there today. Interestingly, they have very differing views on many topics, and their arguments have been lively (though professional). To see them coauthor a piece tells you just how important they see this forfeiture of US leadership.
This comes on the heels of reports that the Obama administration has forbidden US warships from cruising within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese artificial islands. That’s de facto recognition of Chinese sovereignty of those islands and waters. But international law (and long standing US policy) doesn’t recognize artificial islands as being sovereign. Nor has previous US policy ever bowed to reducing the freedom of navigation, anywhere.
But as we’ve seen so many times before with the Obama administration, the law doesn’t matter, and US leadership is seen as a force for evil.