In a new Washington Quarterly article titled “Presidential Alliance Powers,” we wrestle with a subject that has become familiar in these pages: the chief executive’s ability to dismantle American alliances. We argue that although many Trump foreign policy critics worry that his disdain for American alliances such as NATO might lead him to withdraw the United States, the more subtle, probable and already-manifest danger is that he weakens U.S. alliances from within.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has published a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, in which he offers the clearest and most detailed explanation the Department of Defense has given to date of the recent freedom-of-navigation operation in the South China Sea.
In yesterday’s post, we asked “What did the Navy do in the South China Sea?” That wasn’t a rhetorical question. The Department of Defense hadn’t yet clearly explained what the USS Lassen did during its recent freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea. Nor has it explained the precise legal basis for the operation.
After the U.S.S. Lassen’s freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the Spratly Islands last week, we wrote that the Lassen and the accompanying P-8 Poseidon aircraft appeared to have conducted normal military operations inside 12 nm around Subi Reef. That was important because normal military operations are not “innocent passage,” a demonstrably nonthreatening mode of transiting another nation’s territorial seas.
On Friday, we published a “what to watch for” guide to the then-imminent U.S. freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea. Yesterday, the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, transited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef—one of China’s artificial islands in the Spratly Island group.
It is widely expected that in the next several days, the United States will conduct a freedom of navigation exercise near China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. The Obama Administration has been debating the use of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the Spratly Islands for several months, and a public debate on the matter has been ongoing since May.
In recent years, analysts have devoted much attention to the fact that China continues to increase its defense spending by double-digit percentages annually. They have also focused on fiscal constraints in the United States, and how these may impact Washington’s ability to sustain its presence in East Asia. Less well documented, however, is what these trends have meant for other countries in the region. With a rising superpower rapidly expanding its defense capabilities, we might expect its neighbors to follow suit. But is this actually happening?