Sea disputes are vexing phenomena for sailors and statesmen who subscribe to a worldview based on political realism. On one hand, such disputes are readily understood by the Bismarcks of the world in that the contenders’ national interests include the exploitation of fish, oil, and gas resources. Additionally, it is well known that states such as China desire larger swaths of sovereign waters to serve the dual purpose of extended security zones for defense in depth and to encourage a surge of nationalism that strengthens the power and constituency of its Communist Party. However, rather than being responsive to shifts in balance of power, sea disputes are more sensitive to a balance of legitimacy whereby contending states employ combinations of “lawfare,” “alliancefare,” and “tradefare” to achieve their ultimate objective—regional and international recognition of their claims. (Those three terms refer to the manipulation of law, alliances, and trade associations—such as fisheries—to gain asymmetric advantages in conflicts.
Fly the U.N. Pennant Over East Asian Waters
A United Nations–led maritime task force could be the way forward for maritime peacekeeping in the contentious South China and East China Seas.
By Commander Jeremy Thompson, U.S. Navy