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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

America Ignores The Pacific Islands At Its Peril

U.S. Navy
130105-N-ZZ999-001 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (Jan. 5, 2012) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) operates in the Arabian Sea during sunset. John C. Stennis is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions for Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Yeoman 3rd Class James Stahl/Released)

With last month’s release of its new National Security Strategy, the Biden administration has framed America’s unfolding strategic competition with China in distinctly historic terms. “We have entered a consequential new period of American foreign policy that will demand more of the United States in the Indo-Pacific than has been asked of us since the Second World War,” the document reads.

The symbolism is rife. The allusion to the deadliest conflict in human history underscores the gravity of China’s contemporary threat to not just the United States, but to the allies and partners who live in Beijing’s shadow. Many of these nations have historically trusted the United States with their security and for good reason. Washington, after all, was instrumental in toppling Imperial Japan during WWII and helping to rebuild economies thereafter. Today, however, the People’s Republic of China is waging a diplomatic and economic offensive to undermine these alliances – and Beijing has been alarmingly successful in doing so.

Take the Pacific Island nations, for example. This past April, the PRC scored a strategic coup when it signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that dramatically expanded its standing and military access there. That, however, was just the beginning. Subsequently, in October, reports emerged that the country’s police officers were even receiving training and instruction in China. Additionally, Beijing has expanded its influence in the Pacific Island states through initiatives such as a multi-billion dollar resort development program in the Marianas and environmental diplomacy toward the Marshall Islands. Through these steps, and others, the PRC has steadily chipped away at the durability of America’s longstanding regional partnerships.

That the U.S. was unprepared or unable to prevent these inroads is concerning enough. But Washington’s reaction to Beijing’s advances is even more troubling. When the Solomon Islands and the PRC announced a joint port access agreement in August, America and Australia panicked. Senior Biden administration officials rushed to Honiara to undo the damage, while leaders in Canberra issued thinly veiled threats. These steps, however, only made matters worse, and President Mannasen Sogavare responded by denying U.S. naval vessels docking rights.

Similar rifts are emerging in America’s partnership with the Marshall Islands, for which the United States has long served as the chief financial benefactor. Decades of Cold War nuclear bomb testing have terraformed the archipelago. The U.S. has lagged in addressing the environmental and health crises currently gripping the islands – openings that Beijing is deftly exploiting.

What accounts for America’s slow and unserious response? Washington’s longtime dominance in the Pacific Island region undoubtedly plays a part. Simply put, given the historic position occupied by the United States – which protected the supply and communication links between U.S. and Australia, destroyed Tokyo’s war-making industrial capabilities, and liberated the Philippines more than half a century ago – policymakers in Washington have tended to take the Pacific Island states for granted.

That’s a mistake because those partnerships remain crucial to America’s regional priorities today. For instance, access to the South Pacific on the part of Australia, a key regional ally, will have to be protected with the Solomons’ help. Air bases in the Philippines have the range to strike targets in the Taiwan Strait and are consequently crucial to any potential scenario involving a Chinese invasion of the island. The Marshalls and Marianas, meanwhile, secure lines of supply and communication from Hawaii and the West Coast. Simply put, the U.S. cannot credibly project power into the Pacific without the partnership of these small island nations.

It’s a reality that U.S. officials don’t seem to understand. During her recent visit to the Solomons, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman lamented the absence of Prime Minister Sogavare from the main ceremonies – without recognizing that it was in fact America which, through its lack of dynamic engagement, had missed an opportunity to head off the CCP’s encroachment. But the United States now confronts a stark reality: when it comes to its regional position, heritage and hegemony are waning assets. And both are being progressively eroded by China’s inroads.

Not all is lost, however. Rejuvenating the alliances that ensured victory in World War II – and may ensure victory in the new Cold War with China – is still possible. But in order to do so, America can no longer afford to take these archipelagos for granted. Our position in the Pacific depends on it.

Kyle Sajoyan is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Written By

Kyle Sajoyan is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. We Never Learn

    November 22, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    We fought the Korean War because Dean Acheson told the world, and the North Koreans, and the Russians who ok’d their attack, that Korea was outside of the U.S. protection sphere.

    We seem to be inviting the same kind of trouble again. We never ever learn the lessons of history.

  2. jeff

    November 22, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    Under Obama we should have taken a stand against China’s creation of artificial islands. China held it’s conquest under Trump and now under Biden they are once again pushing forward in their efforts to control the China Sea. If our current administration does not do something soon the Pacific will be lost to China.

  3. Tony L Cothron

    November 22, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    Solomon Islands are truly a strategic location. China will move quickly to leverage and make use of its partnerships. The CCP’s strategic use of Solomon Island territories will create serious operational national security problems for the US, Australia and our allies.

  4. 403Forbidden

    November 22, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    America has bases and powerful military battle groups all over the pacific, even turning australia into a loyal vassal and partner for US wars in iraq, adghanistan & vietnam and korea.

    The only places without bases or US battle groups for endless war exercises in the pacific are china, north korea laos, cambodia and vietnam.

    It is time for america to pay more attention to places much closer to home, places such as mexico, haiti, ecuador, peru, costa rica and many mmny more which have been hit by extreme violence, natural calamities and financial distress on account of the ever-rising greenback.

    Those places are full of human beings who fully deserve a BETTER QUALITY of life, but right now, many are hellholes where hunan life is cheap, not worth the average american fart.

    America should stop using both pacific region and europe to start the next world war erroneously of the view america would be safe from all the violence, mayhem & destruction.

    Today, many countries now have weapon systems capable of wreaking destruction on the continental united states.

  5. Eric

    November 23, 2022 at 9:31 am

    A few decades ago we (USA) were not trading with China and also not going to war with China. We could do that again. A difficult decision but likely better than actual war with a huge nation.

  6. lwayne

    November 23, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    The Chinese blood is pretty much a narrow line and billions are subject to the same issues. If the last pandemic was scary wait until a last ditch effort for the US to survive releases a quick death rapidly spread death virus in China. Would not be surprised if the virus is not already on sites through out China.

  7. The Rev. David R. Graham

    November 24, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Conditions circa 1945 remain the frame-of-mind of American political and monetary hegemonists (Straussians, NeoCons, Rockefeller Republicans).

    “Rejuvenating the alliances that ensured victory in World War II . . . is still possible.”

    With what? With whom? To what end? Why? Qui bono?

    America has neither manpower, industrial power, financial power, political power, moral power, intellectual power, spiritual power, academic power, engineering power, social power, nor military power to continue as global hegemon. She never had hegemonics in her to begin with, because hegemonics is ipso facto un-American. It’s what our ancestors came here to escape.

    Maybe just respect other nations’ desires, encourage them even, drop the multi-trillion dollar weapon systems that modern rocketry proves instruments for suicide — that includes carrier battle/strike groups, strategic bombardment fleets, M1A1 and Bradley IFV, both US Marine Corps and Army XVIII ABC — and redesign The USA Joint Force for homeland defense only.

    CFR members and their derivatives still believe offensive warfare is legitimate, especially when done on the sly via proxies.

    Truth is, only defensive warfare is legitimate, which can include brief but rare punitive expeditions — under terms of “succeed or don’t come home alive” — such as against Latin American drug cartels, if their governments don’t destroy them expeditiously first.

    I know, a lot of CFR-related fortunes would disappear or sustain reduction under such a frame-of-mind. Well, I did it in 1971. And today is not 1945.

  8. 1KoolKat

    November 28, 2022 at 6:07 am

    Why must the US be involved all around the globe anyway?

    1. Reserve Currency Status – Economics: Americans demmand wealth
    2. Treaty Commitments – Legal: US Constitition Article 6 clause 2
    3. Extended Nuclear Deterrence – Military: Aka the nuclear umbrella

    It’s too late there’s no turning back 🙁

  9. David Tate

    November 28, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    This is not a very accurate article. First of all, the Solomons deal does not include military basing rights for Communist China. Secondly, the United States and Communist China are not likely to “re-fight” the Southwest Pacific and Central Pacific Campaigns (Plan Orange). The world is very different today. The United States dominates Communist China in the UN and other international organizations. The United States leads the most powerful economic and military alliances on Earth. The United States, European Union, Japan, South Korea, and Australia generate well over $41 Trillion in annual GDP. The United States and her military allies in NATO and the Western Pacific spend over $1.2 Trillion annually on defense. Communist China, on the other hand, generates less than $15 Trillion annually in GDP and spends less than $300 Billion on defense. Keep in mind that Communist China is a major trading partner for the United States, European Union, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and others. This accounts for well over $1 Trillion in annual trade. Without this trade, the Communist Chinese economy collapses. The Communist Chinese is among the top three trading partners for the United States. This is not the behavior of an enemy. This article is just not correct.

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