I agree with the policy prescriptions put forth by “Revising US Grand Strategy Toward China” I’m in favor of the TTP for the reasons put forth in the full report.
The Spratly Islands chain consists of by more than 100 small islands and reefs in the South China Sea. As Brantly Womack points out, “The islands themselves are insignificant as real estate, with a total of only five square kilometers of damp sand and no fresh water. They do not qualify as habitable according to the Law of the Sea, and thus do not carry rights of coastal waters.” The island chain holds, however, potentially immense economic benefits. The Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has estimated that the Spratly area holds oil and natural gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons. By comparison, the Emirate of Kuwait, a very energy rich state, holds 13 billion tons of hydrocarbons. If the PRC’s analysis is accurate, the Spratly Islands would be the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. As the eminent political geographer Saul Bernard Cohen writes, “It is unlikely that China will yield on the Spratlys because of their oil and gas potential and China’s growing dependence upon imported energy supplies.” Consider Beijing’s recent bullying in the South China Sea. In March 2014, Chinese coast guard boats blocked the Philippines from accessing its outposts on the Spratly Islands. Two months later, China moved an oil rig into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, clashing with Vietnamese fishing boats. In regard to actualized resources, the South China Sea’s share in world fish production grew from 7 percent in 1961 to 35 percent in 2010, making it a vitally important area for commercial fishing enterprises.
I haven’t heard the military options SecDef Carter mentioned. Do you have a link? The US will not be directly involved in a military confrontation regarding the Spratlys unless China acts to control the South China Sea shipping lane, among the world’s most important. A skirmish in the region could easily escalate into full on war. The name of the game will be deterrence, as indicated by the so-called “pivot” to Asia. By 2020, the navy and the air force plan to base 60 percent of their forces in the Asia-Pacific region. Although deterrence through the prospect of punishment, in the form of air strikes and naval blockades, has a role to play in discouraging Chinese adventurism, Washington’s goal, and that of its allies and partners, should be to achieve deterrence through denial - to convince Beijing that it simply cannot achieve its objectives with force.
I believe that land-based missile systems stationed in critical regions (such as the South China Sea) will constitute a key part of deterrence. Missile-intensive forces are better at denying opposing forces the ability to project power than conducting cross-border invasions. They represent the leading edge of so-called anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems - along with air defenses, antisatellite weaponry, advanced fighter aircraft, quiet diesel submarines, mines, and cyberweapons - which are raising the costs for outside countries to project power. These advanced missile systems could also be supplied to other states who have claims and military forces forward deployed in the Spratlys, namely, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines.