The US Coast Guard possesses a unique set of authorities and operational capabilities that make it particularly effective in gray-zone operations, which could allow the United States to exert a less escalatory military presence that bridges gaps between the high-intensity warfighting capabilities of other armed services and the diplomatic arm of the Department of State. Consequently, the US Coast Guard should be employed as a key cog for aligning US efforts with other armed services and partner nations in the region to provide more flexibility and capability in the gray zone of great-power competition.
This article lays out views relating to the operational environment and the desired end state (DES) in the South China Sea (SCS), and offers recommendations using elements of national power (diplomatic, information, military and economic) to confront China’s destabilizing actions in the region, interrupting trade, threatening sovereignty of other nations around the SCS, and limiting United States commercial and military access to the region in accordance with the Trump administration’s US National Security Strategy issued in 2017 and the Biden administration’s newly released INSSG. Most notable, though, this article makes a stronger argument for why the United States should focus more on China’s aim of information dominance. Led by the United States, immediate, focused actions involving key regional partners are needed in the SCS to maintain freedom of the seas for all allies in and beyond the region in accordance with international law.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to aggressively seek a return to international prominence and has increasingly amplified its presence as a global power. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made it abundantly clear that it has plans to reshape the world order more to Beijing’s liking. Within the Indo-Pacific, the PRC has strategically crafted its international policies through its signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), designed to gain advantage and leverage Beijing’s growing economic and military might. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, President Xi Jinping’s vision includes “creating a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, highways, and streamlined border crossings, both westward—through the mountainous former Soviet republics—and southward, to Pakistan, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia.” Through this framework, four observable tactics have emerged: the use of debt diplomacy, border disputes with neighboring nations, the general disregard for agreements and international norms, and, more recently, Beijing’s undermining actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arguably, an objective observer could consider the PRC’s international policies to be subversive and, at a bare minimum, have the potential to impact the entire Indo-Pacific region.
This article examines how China has been building a wide variety of ISR systems to provide its forces with enhanced capabilities, including systems that we must expect will be available for military use even if nominally civilian. China has said its policy of military-civil fusion will include the outer space and maritime domains; so, we must assume that all the surveillance resources PRC civilian agencies have will be integrated into crisis/wartime military ISR.
The impact of Beijing’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea is broad, and these claims are not likely to change in the near future. The PRC will not easily relinquish claims to land it considers part of its sovereign territory—especially when those lands extend China’s military and economic reach hundreds and thousands of miles into the lucrative region. China’s claims of sovereignty appear valid when viewed from the CCP’s unique viewpoint but fail when those views and assumptions are not shared. The conflict between Beijing’s refusal to relinquish the PRC’s claims, and the likelihood that those claims will be rejected by the international community, will result in continued legal, diplomatic, economic, and military competition and conflict in the region.
As in pre–World War I (WWI) politics, the SCS is ripe for conflict, and de-spite all DIME efforts, the United States faces an impossible battle in securing peace because of fierce geographic, historical, and nationalistic roadblocks. Due to their resources and natural boundaries, the physical regions of the SCS (like those of pre-WWI Alsace-Lorraine before it) make control of its resources and security highly desirable to its neighbors. Historically, both areas possess parallel trajectories, beginning with golden ages, humiliating declines, and preconflict struggles. Finally, each period’s nationalistic culture fervently escalates tensions regardless of US diplomacy and military presence. If the United States properly understands its casted role, it will transition from prevention to preparation for the upcoming multinational conflict.
This article provides a recommended definition of lawfare, contrasts the United States’ and China’s use of lawfare in the South China Sea, and discusses potential options for the United States’ strategic legitimization and operationalization of lawfare.
Volume 03 Issue 3 - Fall 2020
The views and opinions expressed or implied in JIPA are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.