Foreign Policy

U.S. Sends Destroyer Past Disputed South China Sea Islands to Challenge Countries That Make Claims

World policing.

|

U.S. Navy

The United States sent a destroyer to within 12 nautical miles (the limit of internationally-recognized maritime boundaries) of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in a show intended to challenge the countries laying claim on the largely uninhabited (but militarily occupied) archipelago.

"USS William P. Lawrence exercised the right of innocent passage while transiting inside 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, a high-tide feature that is occupied by China, but also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam," a Defense Department statement insisted, according to CNN.

"This operation challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim … contrary to international law," the Defense Department said. "This operation demonstrates, as President Obama has stated, that the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows. That is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe."

The United States, notably, does not make any claims on the Spratly Islands, which sit thousands of miles from U.S. shores and more than 1,500 miles from Guam. Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia all claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and are closer to them than China. Taiwan also claims the Spratly Islands, which are one of a number of disputes between the various countries over sovereignty in the South China Sea.  China and Japan also have territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

The United States' aggressive stance around territorial disputes in which its allies are involved are part of President Obama's "Asia pivot," an attempt to contain China militarily. The Obama administration has expressed confusion over why China's foreign policy has become more confrontational as a result of the "pivot." To crib an old Ron Paul bit, what if China sent a ship to pass within a few miles of, say, Machias Seal Island, an island over which the U.S. and Canada both claim sovereignty. Would it make a difference if Canada had warmed up to China first?

Aside from the obvious recklessness involved in deciding to be a world's policeman by "challenging" the sovereignty of other countries, U.S. involvement around the territorial disputes of its allies in places like the South China Sea make regional cooperation more difficult to attain. When the U.S. flexes its muscles on behalf of an ally's disputes it provides a subsidy—bearing the costs of a foreign policy posture on behalf of the ally—that distorts the cost-benefit analysis of the ally's broader foreign policy while desensitizing it to the costs and consequences of intransigence. Who do the islands in the South China Sea belong? U.S. policymakers don't need an answer—it's not America's business.

Advertisement

NEXT: Behind the Closing of a Maine Paper Mill, a Tale of Tariffs and the Times

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. To crib an old Ron Paul bit, what if China sent a ship to pass within a few miles of, say, Machias Seal Island, an island over which the U.S. and Canada both claim sovereignty.

    Judging by Putin’s trolling: not a god damn thing. And maybe that’s a good thing.

    1. The Canukistani lighthouse operators might ask if they’re lost, since the island is off the coast of maine, and Far, far closer to both Canada and the United States than the Spratlys are to China.

    2. Engaging in this kind of sophistry to prove a point is reliable way to cast doubt upon your credibility (the writer, not you).

    3. Ok, let’s pose a different hypothetical. What if a foreign nation, not necessarily one perceived to be hostile, let’s say a friendly one, let’s say the UK, were to have one of their companies, let’s say BP, build something like say, an oil rig somewhere out in the ocean, well outside US territorial waters but somewhere the US considers “their” territory, let’s say, the Gulf of Mexico and then something happens and the US claims some sort of extra-territorial jurisdiction for their laws and…and, damn I forgot where I was going with this. BP builds an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and the US government is involved for….for some reason or another. Shit, I almost had it there for a second. Nevermind.

  2. America, fuck yeah!
    Comin’ again to save the motherfuckin’ day, yeah!

    1. Damn your quickness.

    2. Does asserting the Right of Innocent Passage violate the NAP?

      The same folks who whoop for an open US border get fidgety about a ship crossing an imaginary line under an internationally agreed principle.

      I don’t get it.

      1. It does not, and to propose otherwise is manifestly retarded.

  3. Are you single tonight? A lot of beautiful girls waiting for you to http://goo.gl/pI9ucn
    The best adult dating site!

  4. Related: Russia to test unstoppable ‘Satan 2’ stealth nuke capable of wiping out an ENTIRE NATION

    If you’ve never watched the film “Dr. Strangelove”, you might want to give it a perusal. 8-(

    1. A nation like Luxembourg or a nation like the US?

      1. “The good news is the new nuke works”

        “And the bad news?”

        “The beachfront property on the siberian ocean is still irradiated.”

    2. Depending upon which nation you mean we can already do that.

    3. Are they smoking-hot Chinese chicks?

        1. Pics or get out.

  5. Nothing wrong with showing off a sexy destroyer.

  6. I’m creating a political cosmic calendar and I’m trying to pinpoint the date in which “liberals” pivoted to being the world cop. Any suggestions welcome.

    1. When they voted for the Iraq War.

      1. Nah, it was before that. Or do you mean Gulf War I?

    2. They never were anti-war. The only reason they didn’t like invading Iraq was because Bush did it. I wish that weren’t true but I can’t understand anything since if it’s not.

    3. Well, it’s a trick question as the attitude is cyclical. But the most recent wave of liberal support started January 20, 2009.

    4. The day after WWII ended.

  7. I am a bit curious about the two antennae on the destroyer. There might be another on the stern side. An Aegis class cruiser and a carrier has four phased array antennas (most techs spell it that way) facing each quadrant. And why does the US Navy even bother with deploying and maintaining WW2 era destroyer class ships? There might be reason for that, so I don’t want sound off the wrong way. But what is it?

    1. USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer

      -Wikipedia.

      It was commissioned in 2011 and was named for a Vietnam vet. I somehow doubt it’s WWII vintage.

      1. I toured DDG-111, Spruance, that’s a pretty damn impressive floating arsenal. They got that little system where it shows everything around them under the water and on the water and in the sky above the water as little dots on the screen and you just push a button and all the little dots you want to go kablooey go kablooey.

    2. They still float?

      1. We had one parked along the hudson as a museum ship for a while.

        They moved it to play the part of a Japanese destroyer in a movie.

        1. The USS Constitution is still hanging around. They even take it out for a drive now and again.

          1. It is out of drydock? Last I’d heard it had been put in for a complete overhaul.

            1. Wiki sez it’s in dry dock til 2018ish.

        2. The Iowa battleship is docked in Long Beach. If you’re travelling to LA for vacation I highly recommend taking a look at this. It’s supposedly still a commission ship but that’s a stretch. The quantity of metal and bolts, the size of it’s guns, and it’s lay on the water is breathtaking.

          1. And if on the east coast you can visit the USS Battleship New Jersey in Camden.

            1. There is a small wwii era aircraft carrier in Corpus Christi, Tx. A submarine and a smaller ship in Galveston.

              Fun fact. During hurricane Ike the water level rose so high the submarine floated from k where it sat on the ground.

          2. The Midway is down in San Diego if you can make it that far south.

          3. Or if you make it up to San Francisco, the Hornet is in Alameda, across the bay.

    3. Destroyers do too, but they have them on the diagonals, not front/back/sides.

    4. 1. That’s an Arleigh Burke destroyer – its far from ‘WW2’ era as the first was commissioned in the 90’s.

      2. It has 4 SPY-1 emitters placed around the forward superstructure, nothing on the aft superstructure. The corners of the forward superstructure are clipped off – the radar panels are in those spots.

      http://warshippictures.blogspo…..class.html

      3. The *Ticonderoga* class cruiser (1980 – present) also has the SPY-1 radar (there is no Aegis class – Aegis is like a nickname given to the vessels carrying the SPY-1) and is also not a WW2 design. Its hullform is based off the Spruance class destroyer (1975 -2005) which is also a post-WW2 design.

      4. Don’t confuse hullform with age. Don’t even confuse *hull* with age. Hullforms are very difficult to figure out as even today we simply don’t have the simulation capability to do them easily so older forms are often used for multiple ships. And the stuff *in* the hull is upgraded over time.

      In its history the SPY-1 radar has undergone several major and minor changes that have been retrofitted to these ships. Initially the Ticonderoga class did not have the VLS launchers you see on deck – they had *manually loaded* missile launchers with aiming arms, not the completely automated VLS system. CIWS was added, berthings areas have gone through at least 3 major design-paradigms.

  8. “part of President Obama’s “Asia pivot,” an attempt to contain China militarily.”

    “Oh, and could you spot us a couple trillion dollars while we’re confronting you?”

    1. “I mean, we gotta keep the military and financial sides of our relationship separate, wouldn’t you agree?”

    2. Look, China’s got 30 million excess men they have to do something about, and kidnapping brides from north vietnam isn’t going to cover all of them. Being communists, their creativity is somewhat limited, so a horrific, bloody war is their next idea, since famines would make them look bad.

  9. This is affirming freedom of navigation. By claiming those islands illegally, China is unlawfully obstructing navigation and by extension trade. Last I looked reason was pretty big on international trade. It doesn’t happen by magic. It only happens because nations don’t play local bad boy and interfere with it.

    This is one of the few legitimate and proper things the US military is doing. The country has like all great commercial nations always been a supporter of free navigation of the seas. If Ed and reason have a problem with that, they should say so. Whatever they do, it would be nice if they bothered to think about the issue a little more deeply.

    When the U.S. flexes its muscles on behalf of an ally’s disputes it provides a subsidy?bearing the costs of a foreign policy posture on behalf of the ally?that distorts the cost-benefit analysis of the ally’s broader foreign policy while desensitizing it to the costs and consequences of intransigence.

    China is the aggressor here Ed. We are not subsidizing anything. We are raising the cost of aggressive actions and making them less likely to occur. You know that whole incentive thing that you seem to understand in every other context but foreign affairs. Allowing countries to take unlawful and aggressive actions without cost makes the world less stable not more stable.

    1. America: allowing our piddily little allies to act like big swinging dicks since forever.

      1. How is Japan acting like big swinging dicks here? They are not the ones sending in the military. The islands have been disputed and more or less a no go zone for both countries for decades. IT is China that decided to just take them over. China is the aggressor here. Why do you think otherwise?

        1. Funny, I didn’t see Japan mentioned in the article. And I read it. Twice.

          1. The islands are disputed between Japan and China. China isn’t our ally. Japan is. So, what are you talking about “allowing our piddly little allies…” if you are not talking about Japan? Do you have a point?

            1. You should really read the article.

              1. I have. And neither me nor Mustang have any idea what the hell you are talking about. So please, enlighten us.

              2. I’ll give you a hint, John. Notice the mention of South China Sea and the countries involved in the dispute Ed is addressing.

                1. How does Taiwan differ from Japan in any aspect conceivably relevant to this subject?

          2. China and Japan also have territorial disputes in the East China Sea.

            Try reading it a third time.

            1. Yeah, I saw that. And that point isn’t really relevant to the main point of the article.

              1. No, but John’s point is valid and you haven’t said anything to refute it.

                1. The validity of John’s point doesn’t refute Ed’s point that maybe the US should let their tiny allies try to defend themselves if they want to fight over who owns an island.

                  1. So if your weaker neighbor approaches you because he’s being harassed, and you both freely engage in trade and navigation, and you agree to help him defend both of your rights to do so, you can just go back on your agreement and tell your neighbor to fuck off and defend himself when he clearly can’t, putting your mutual right to trade and navigate freely in jeopardy? Okay.

                    That idea kind of destroys any chance of self-defense against a stronger aggressor.

                    1. If my weak neighbor claims he owns an abandoned building then comes crying to me because four other people also claimed it, is it really my responsibility to run the others off? Sure I agreed to help the guy if someone comes after him, but did I really agree to take on all of his disputes?

                    2. Except that’s not what happened here. The destroyer was in international waters using a show of force to make sure that the right to trade and navigate freely between allies remains, so your point is moot. Near as I can tell, except for some words, we haven’t acted upon anyone’s claim to the islands themselves, just the international waters around them, which China seems pretty intent on claiming as well.

                  2. I’d sincerely appreciate an explanation as to how relatively feeble, small island-nations are supposed to effectively discourage the malign aspirations of Red China.

                    1. I’d sincerely appreciate an explanation as to why the US has to participate in a scrum over an island on the other side of the globe.

                  3. You missed my last point. The more we allow stronger countries to act aggressively, the more they will do it and the less peaceful the world will be.

                    1. And you’re right back to claiming that the US must police the globe. Because if we don’t then bad guys and war.

                      So we’re off to stop the Red (Yellow?) Menace.

                    2. We don’t have to do anything. But if we don’t do anything, the world is going to be a much less peaceful place. Can we do everything? Of course not. But we can pick our spots. And freedom of navigation is one of the better spots to pick

              2. It is totally relevant. Ed is dead fucking wrong in how he portrays the event. What do you think the main point is if not that the US is enabling Japan and destabilizing the region by standing up to China on this issue?

      2. Reinforcing the sovereignty of comparatively powerless allies against the aggression of a belligerent state somehow means that we’re “allowing our piddly little allies to act like big swinging dicks” how, precisely?

    2. In a vacuum, I’d agree.

      The problem is the U.S. does so many things as to get stretched too thin.

      Maybe if we cut back on defending ingrates (like Europe) and got a handle on entitlement spending, etc., etc., we could focus on core competencies like defending freedom of navigation.

      But in taking up new projects, we never cut back on the older, less essential ones. It’s a one-way ratchet for more and more domestic and foreign involvement.

      Have a Rocky-style training sequence – get slimmer and stronger by shedding excess programs – get leaner and meaner, then it will be time enough to go head to head with China.

      1. This is not a new project. We have been affirming the right to navigate through various places the Chinese illegally claim for decades.

        1. A perfectly legitimate stance – but the Chinese might take it a bit more seriously if we weren’t an ADHD Nation whose President cares more about putting men in the ladies’ room than about putting American vessels in contested international waters.

    3. To keep Ed happy while asserting freedom of navigation, let’s send a boatload of illegal Central American immigrants across that 12 mile limit imaginary line and land them on the Spratlys.

      1. Back them up with some of the ‘Syrians’, but put them on different islands so they don’t get into conflicts with each other.

    4. And freedom of navigation is something the US has been acting to support since Adams and Jefferson’s days. I don’t think it’s remotely questionable Constitutionally. If one thinks it’s undesirable on libertarian principles, I think this is in the category of things you’d have to actively legislate to prohibit, rather than just reining the government back to what was Constitutionally prescribed.

    5. Last I looked reason was pretty big on international trade. It doesn’t happen by magic. It only happens because nations don’t play local bad boy and interfere with it.

      TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP

      Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

    6. By claiming those islands illegally,

      How do you claim an island ‘legally’? Pretty much every bit of land in the world has been claimed through strict bloodshed or the threat of bloodshed. There’s no title registrar above the nation-state level. At that level its strictly ‘do what you can get away with’.

      China is no more illegally claiming those islands than the US is illegally opposing their claim.

  10. Playing Devil’s advocate a bit, if China is threatening free trade between partners in this area (the quote in the article makes it sound like that is the case), do we not have the right to defend that free trade?

    If China is threatening the right to freely travel between places that have been agreed upon by all parties involved (the international agreement) then don’t we have the right to defend that freedom of movement?

    I fully understand that that’s not all that’s going on here. China is posturing for control of the region (why that is is up for speculation), so there’s a lot of moving pieces here that my two questions don’t really account for.

    1. Right now, the Chinese want regional dominance more than we seem to want freedom of navigation. That’s setting things up for a losing confrontation.

      1. An expert can correct me, but I speculate that a Chinese citizen (even someone who hates the commies) can get more knowledgeable and passionate about this issue than an American citizen. At least a Chinese citizen could find the relevant area on a map.

      2. I agree. Just me, but this seems like a justifiable action (much more so than any of the others you mentioned in your other post). If my less well-armed neighbor asks me for help defending his property or rights from a group of thugs, and I agree to do so because we trade freely, then it’s beneficial for both of us to ensure that gang of thugs doesn’t interfere with our trade routes.

        The idea that I should tell my neighbor to fuck off and worry about his own problems when a group is violating his rights to freely navigate and trade is stupid for both of us. The Libertarian principle of self-defense would be a moot point if a bigger force tried to take my property or rights and I wasn’t allowed to ask for help defending it.

    2. Playing Devil’s advocate a bit, if China is threatening free trade between partners in this area (the quote in the article makes it sound like that is the case), do we not have the right to defend that free trade?

      Of course. And Ed is just skipping past the whole “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea” stuff and the fact that the Spratley’s are spitting distance from the Philippines which would effectively create a permanent military threat to a regional ally… and so on.

      As others note = there’s zero effort being made here to parse the issue. Its just Ed trying to turn this into a cookie-cutter “US INTERVENTIONS!!?!!” comment and hope no one thinks too hard about it.

      1. Okay, well I’m glad I’m not a total idiot here.

    3. Yeah it’s kind of like an anarchist system with laws but not govt. Enforcing “rights”, if you agree with them, needs to get done by someone sooner or later. It’s the only way laws can exist. The very concept is not necessarily clusterfuck incarnate anyway. Depends on the details every time.

      The US forcibly disarmed Japan and kept them that way, growing generations of them dependent on our military. Extricating the world police from that area is sort of like the question of how to disband the police dept in a city after disarming the citizens. At least you have to be smart about it.

  11. Hey, Ed, shouldn’t it be “yvan” not “vyan”?

    1. And there should be a capital letter in there somewhere.

  12. “Aside from the obvious recklessness involved in deciding to be a world’s policeman by “challenging” the sovereignty of other countries…”

    No such encroachments are being attempted. Your phrasing implies that the United States effected an actual, unlawful incursion into Chinese territory, which they patently did not. Red China makes overt use of its overwhelming military superiority over its neighbors in instances like this one to enlarge its sphere of influence. It is a demonstrably malignant regional entity, and permitting it to broaden its expansionary ambitions thusly to the detriment of our allies is completely counter to the principles of military alliance.

    Without the United States to offer China both a worthy antithesis and counterweight in these sorts of disputes, the Reds would be left without restraint. I wager that were that to become a reality, our dependents in the area, mainly Japan and Taiwan, would have a great deal to fear.

    1. Basically Ed is not a serious person on these issues. Everything he writes is just a rationalization for him to consider the US in the wrong. Reason just needs to stop writing about foreign affairs. It doesn’t have the expertise or maturity necessary to do so in any kind of serious manner.

      1. This is irony, right?

        Can I get a ruling over here?

        1. I will happily give examples of the US being wrong. This is just not one of them.

      2. Reason just needs to stop writing about foreign affairs. It doesn’t have the expertise or maturity necessary to do so in any kind of serious manner.

        I’d agree… but i think there’s nothing wrong with more ‘thematic’, non-interventionist coverage which tries to push a different POV. Its when they stray from the broad-brush conceptual arguments into the issue-specific weeds that they go full-retard (as in this case)

  13. You do realise that the US fought three wars in its first three decades partly or entirely to support the principle of free navigation, yes?

  14. Dude seems to know exactly what he is talking about. Wow.

    http://www.Complete-Privacy.tk

  15. Alt-Text: Join the Nayv?

    C’mon, Ed!

  16. When the U.S. flexes its muscles on behalf of an ally’s disputes it provides a subsidy?bearing the costs of a foreign policy posture on behalf of the ally?that distorts the cost-benefit analysis of the ally’s broader foreign policy while desensitizing it to the costs and consequences of intransigence.

    The minutae of specific disagreements between the nations in that region are entirely secondary, and practically irrelevant, to the prime purpose of our involvement — China’s misbehavior. Attempting to mount a viable defense against a malevolent assailant not only isn’t posturing, it’s necessary. Our allies do not owe the Reds their compliance, and to compromise their own security is an unconscionably stupid idea.

  17. I want the destroyer to send a landing party. Literally a party, cook hot dogs and drink beer.

    1. The Chinese could join in – it will be just like the Christmas truce that ended World War I!

      (whisper whisper)

      What, it didn’t? Well, at least it made for good sentimental imagery.

        1. I have read the individual front line troops in WWII
          engaged in a non official truce on Christmas eve and even sang Christmas carols to each other from their respective foxholes.

          This was in an autobiography not second hand

        2. I have read the individual front line troops in WWII
          engaged in a non official truce on Christmas eve and even sang Christmas carols to each other from their respective foxholes.

          This was in an autobiography not second hand

        3. I have read the individual front line troops in WWII
          engaged in a non official truce on Christmas eve and even sang Christmas carols to each other from their respective foxholes.

          This was in an autobiography not second hand

        4. I have read the individual front line troops in WWII
          engaged in a non official truce on Christmas eve and even sang Christmas carols to each other from their respective foxholes.

          This was in an autobiography not second hand

          1. We get it, you can stop repeating yourself now, sqrly

          2. Uhm, that’s might have happened on a tiny, tiny, few frontlines. But WW2 was fought completely differently than WW1 – maneuver warfare and mobility were the paradigm of the day and there were very few places where Allies and Axis were only a hundred or so yards apart when they weren’t engaged in combat.

  18. So you’re saying it’s time to invade Canada?

  19. . . . by “challenging” the sovereignty of other countries,

    FONOPS are not a challenge to sovereignty. They are a reminder of the duties and privileges that countries have *voluntarily* taken towards each other.

    That the US is sailing *inside* 12nm of the Spratley’s isn’t even a challenge to China’s claim of them – only to China’s claim that they can deny ‘innocent passage’ of vessels inside their territorial waters. Which is in contravention of modern international norms.

    China’s not been the only target of this sort of action – I’ve done them off the coast of Peru in the past as Peru has a tendency to claim *200nm* as their exclusive territorial waters that they can control passage through.

    1. And this is also why, even though the US has no interest in these islands itself, and even if no other nation did, that we would have been doing this anyway.

      ‘Innocent passage’ is a genuine American interest and its perfectly appropriate to act to protect it.

  20. You don’t seem to understand the ramifications of sovereign claims on what is actually international waters. By conducting freedom of navigation ops (which the US Navy does literally all the time, this is not some special event) they are not trying to “constrain China militarily” but ensure that 3rd party merchant shipping can continue transiting the area without being molested by the nation making sovereignty claims. A large ass portion of world trade goes through the south China Sea (that’s how you get to Singapore and eventually India from the Pacific). Were China to lay it’s heavy regulatory hands on that shipping it’d be bad news. The rapid expansion of the global economy has only been possible because the US Navy and the Brits before them do shit like this. If there were responsible regional powers that wanted to step up thatd be awesome, but until then, if we want to keep getting iPhones someones got to do it. Half baked reactions like this one are one of the primary reasons I can’t go full libertarian.

    1. It’s just one guys opinion.

      1. Believing that humans have the right to be free from the initiatory use of force doesn’t depend on that opinion.

        The Essence of Libertarianism
        There is only one human right, to not have force initiated against you.
        All actions are allowed except those involving the initiatory use of force, threats of force or fraud.
        The proper function of government is to defend individual negative liberty with the retaliatory use of force, period.

  21. This is one of the reasons that libertarians aren’t taken seriously.

    And it’s not even self consistent. You can’t have free traded without being able to move freely in international waters

    1. I think we are seeing that most of us are not in agreement with Ed.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.