Russia and China watched as the US struggled to wage war on two fronts during the Iran and Afghanistan Wars. During that time, challenges to US influence and credibility from Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea were weakly contested. Throughout the Ukraine Crisis, China has avoiding taking an overtly aggressive stance as Russia tested the ability of the West to corral its domineering behavior.
What China has observed is that a large world power can withstand Western attempts to isolate it without a catastrophic outcome. It has also reaffirmed Westerners are conflict averse and focus on economic security above global security. After all, even threats like the Islamic State went unchallenged until the actions of the terrorist group were framed as a global threat. Presiding over the second largest economy with the third most powerful military in the world, it seems Beijing’s calculations more and more mirror those of Russia, which has the second most powerful military.
Before the Ukraine Crisis and the rise of the Islamic State, escalating Chinese aggression had become a focal point for US national security as the Obama Administration tried to make reengagement in Asia a top priority. Despite a temporary plateau in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, tensions have steadily intensified. The South China Sea has long been an area of potential conflict, but China’s decision to build artificial islands and stock those structures with military hardware is raising alarms.
At the root of this brewing South China Sea conflict is China’s claim that it owns somewhere around 80 percent of the waters. Clearly, this conflicts with the standard territorial claim supported by International Law of 12 nautical miles from a nation’s coast, plus up to 200 nautical miles for a so-called exclusive economic zone. In a region of densely populated countries rot with poverty, the South China Sea represents more than just a lucrative trade route for the developed world. Losing their rights to the South China Sea and its immense resources may well doom the economic future of the Peoples of surrounding nations.
National holidays like Memorial Day are good times to reflect on the commitment and sacrifices of US troops who have fought in the wars their fellow Americans have asked them to fight. It is only reasonable to expect the American People and their political leaders to honor the dedication of these men and women by the showing the same level of commitment to their Country. In the modern age, US national security hinges on more than just war while it requires commitment and sacrifice from all Americans.
Commitment and sacrifice do not mean shedding American ideals and freedoms out of convenience. They require defending the American People from those who wish to harm them while upholding human rights and civil liberties for even those who threaten us. When confronted with the reality of terrorism on September 11, 2001, the reaction was to sacrifice freedom by embracing laws like the Patriotic Act and sacrificing American values by engaging in fruitless torture of alleged criminals.
This week’s meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Yemen and Syria reinforces concerns that were raised when America’s top diplomat met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
It is feared the Obama Administration may be taking a softer stance on the Ukraine Crisis at the expense of broader and long-term Western interests. Indeed, the likes of Vladimir Putin benefit from framing US interests in terms of a chose between holding Russia accountable for the Ukraine Crisis and defeating the Islamic State.
There is no better place to bury a problem than at sea. Fortunately, for thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi castaways, the US is stepping in to fill the leadership vacuum in yet another crisis on the other side of the world. Instead of focusing on the cold calculus of public policy interests, the Obama Administration is responding to emotion-driven expectations to help those suffering.
Absent strong leadership from Asian governments, the US must resort to negotiating with Asian countries to save Asians. Somewhere around 7,000 refugees, in a region of densely populated nations capable of absorbing such a small number of individuals, have been imperiled by the decisions of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to turn them away.
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