Editor‘s note: Today, Byron King, editor of Military-Tech Alert, explains how a recent speech by President Obama set the stage for a military conflict in Asia.
Be prepared to see more global capital flowing into submarines and weaponry instead of shopping malls. A new arms race is upon us…
Obama’s West Point Disaster
By Byron King, Editor of Military-Tech Alert
Have you seen the latest shoving match in the South China Sea?
As you likely know, China recently parked a brand new deepwater drilling rig within the “Exclusive Economic Zone” claimed by Vietnam. Among other things, we’ve seen accounts of water cannon fights, and ship ramming incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels; but no gunfire. Then news came that a Vietnamese ship sank after being rammed by a Chinese vessel.
Thus the maritime escalation continues. It’s a harbinger of the new global arms race that’s breaking out, and which we’ll follow because it’s both newsworthy and investable. I suspect that it’s all going to get worse before it gets better… if it gets better any time soon.
Obama’s Dangerous Speech
Along those precise lines, last week, I listened to President Obama’s speech at the West Point graduation ceremony. First, I’m compelled to say that it was an awful speech, badly delivered. To my ears, President Obama was halting and stammering. He would speak a few words, then stop in mid-sentence for a too-brief pause, and then jam out the next phrase in too much of a hurry. It was not “Obama the orator” on display. To be charitable, I’ll simply allow that perhaps the teleprompter was scrolling at an uncomfortable speed.
Then again, perhaps this was an over-broad policy speech assembled by a committee of typical Obama policy advisers. Take standard pabulum from the domestic policy shop, add in the endless “blame my predecessor” theme from the permanent campaign crowd, and throw in the faculty lounge crackpot school of foreign policymaking. On the rhetoric side, stuff the address full of straw-man arguments, until it’s past the threshold of a New York City fire code violation.
Then give the speech to the president — to read off of the malfunctioning teleprompter — so he can lay out geostrategic matters about which he’s simply not well-schooled or comfortable. Yes, it’s that bad, and it shows. The worst part? To my mind, it was when President Obama said:
You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. It’s a lot harder to call on China to resolve its maritime disputes under the Law of the Sea Convention when the United States Senate has refused to ratify it.
Huh? The President of the United States is handing China a free pass in the South China Sea, because the US Senate — run by members of the president’s own political party, last I checked — has not ratified a 35-year-old treaty about ceding oceanic sovereignty over to the United Nations?
You’ve gotta be kidding me!
Indeed, these relatively few words, by President Obama, may eventually lead to war in Asia.
China’s Free Pass to Expand
Think about it. Say that you’re running China. You’ve just built a giant new deepwater oil rig. It’s “mobile national sovereign territory,” in the words of one high-ranking Chinese official. You’ve just parked the rig and begun drilling in an area claimed by Vietnam — a nation with which the US has no defense treaty. So you’ve stirred up a territorial dispute, with little risk of direct confrontation by US forces.
Now, along come diplomatic representatives of the US. These reps begin to make points about international law, economic zones, freedom of navigation and such. “Buzz off,” you can now say in either English or its Mandarin equivalent. “You damned Yankees never ratified the Law of the Sea Convention.”
Seriously. That’s what the West Point speech means. The US not ratifying Law of the Sea is one of the key takeaways from the West Point speech. We’ve handcuffed ourselves, per no less than President Obama.
Compare this to, say, Secretary of State Dean Acheson neglecting to include Korea in the US sphere of vital interests in a talk in the spring of 1950. This led to miscalculation, and the start of the Korean War a few months later.
Or compare this to US Ambassador April Glaspie telling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, in 1990, that the US has no interest in a dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. This led to the Kuwait invasion later that year, and the subsequent Gulf War.
Again, let’s say you’re running China, and you just read the transcript from West Point. You break out your red marker, highlight the “Law of the Sea” phrase, and send it down to the Foreign Ministry. The US is conceding much of its ability to shape and influence events, you believe. Now you can keep on doing what you’re doing. Build more rigs! Drill baby, drill!
Investable Arms Race
Frankly, if I was a high official in, say, the Philippines, Japan or Taiwan, I’d be apoplectic that President Obama mentioned the South China Sea in the same breath as the US not ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention.
Indeed, I’d believe that the Americans are, fundamentally, NOT on my side. The Yanks AREN’T coming!
In other words, if I’m running a country in Asia, I had better arm-up, and make the best deal I can with my neighbors, if not with China. It gets back to the “shopping malls and submarines” argument.
What’s the message? Well, nations across the world will look at Russia and Ukraine, and China and Vietnam, and start writing – or dusting off – “White Papers” about defense requirements.
For many governments, it’s time to stop dithering over defense spending. Instead, it’s time to start inking contracts for aircraft, surveillance systems, ships and other armaments. Instead of more shopping malls, watch capital begin to flow into submarines and such.
For many decades, the US Navy has been a guarantor of stability along much of the world’s trade routes. Now that the world is changing and developing, the highest policymaker in the land just handicapped the US’s ability to affect its will, based on a self-admitted failure to ratify an old treaty.
Like I said above, this is all going to get worse before it gets better. If it gets better.
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