Sunday, December 30, 2012

Could a Dispute Over Uninhabited Islands Drag the U.S. into a Pacific War in 2013?

Could a Dispute Over Uninhabited Islands Drag the U.S. into a Pacific War in 2013?:
It was
recently reported
that Japanese fighters were conducting
flights over islands claimed by both China and Japan. Japan's
Defense Ministry has said that the fighters were scrambled to
intercept Chinese planes that approached the disputed islands. The
uninhabited islands at the heart of the diplomatic spat have a
collective area of a little less than three square miles. However,
despite their small size and lack of population, Hugh White,
professor of strategic studies at the Australian National
University, believes that the territorial dispute is the latest
sign that China and Japan are heading for war. Perhaps most
worrying, White foresees the U.S. getting dragged in.
Writing in
The Sydney Morning Herald
White says:
THIS is how wars usually start: with a steadily escalating
stand-off over something intrinsically worthless. So don't be too
surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China next year over
the uninhabited rocks that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls
the Diaoyu islands. And don't assume the war would be contained and
short.
White also points out that, as with other conflicts, the
bickering between China and Japan is really a symptom of other
tensions, namely those between American and Chinese interests:
In the past few years China has become both markedly stronger
and notably more assertive. America has countered with the
strategic pivot to Asia. Now, China is pushing back against
President Barack Obama's pivot by targeting Japan in the
Senkakus.
The Japanese themselves genuinely fear that China will become
even more overbearing as its strength grows, and they depend on
America to protect them. But they also worry whether they can rely
on Washington as China becomes more formidable. China's ratcheting
pressure over the Senkakus strikes at both these anxieties.
The situation puts all of the major players in an awkward
situation:
These mutual misconceptions carry the seeds of a terrible
miscalculation, as each side underestimates how much is at stake
for the other. For Japan, bowing to Chinese pressure would feel
like acknowledging China's right to push them around, and accepting
that America can't help them. For Washington, not supporting Tokyo
would not only fatally damage the alliance with Japan, it would
amount to an acknowledgment America is no longer Asia's leading
power, and that the ''pivot'' is just posturing. And for Beijing, a
backdown would mean that instead of proving its growing power, its
foray into the Senkakus would simply have demonstrated America's
continued primacy. So for all of them, the largest issues of power
and status are at stake. These are exactly the kind of issues that
great powers have often gone to war over.
The U.S. has managed to get involved in some truly silly
disputes, but this one would be especially notable.