jeudi 3 août 2017

Lost at Sea

The Trump team is dangerously unaware of foreign policy challenges like the South China Sea.
By Michael H. Fuchs
Editorial cartoon on President Donald Trump
From Russian aggression to the unraveling of the Middle East, seismic shifts in geopolitics are fundamentally transforming the landscape of national security threats facing the United States. 
But Donald Trump and his team seem oblivious to these challenges, choosing instead to do battle with political opponents on cable news. 
Meanwhile, these dangers wait for no one. 
As Trump shows no signs of getting serious about the real threats facing America, we are on the precipice of four lost years for U.S. national security at a time the nation can't afford to sit still.
This strategic blindness will be on full display in the coming days when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joins foreign ministers from 26 countries across the Asia-Pacific to discuss the South China Sea – perhaps the most consequential security challenge the region will face in the coming decades, but which hardly registers for the Trump administration.
Current events in the South China Sea are redrawing the strategic environment in Asia. 
China is executing a long-term plan to gain maritime dominance in one of the world's most important waterways as it fortifies massive man-made islands with military bases and rapidly expands its naval capabilities.
China regularly uses its growing maritime power to bully neighbors and dissuade them from searching for natural resources, patrolling their own waters or even fishing for food. 
Last year, an independent arbitral tribunal, convened after the Philippines brought suit against China, dealt a huge blow to China's legal claims and behavior in the South China Sea. 
Still, little has changed since no body exists to enforce the court's binding ruling.
The United States should be playing a central role in this emerging drama: The U.S. Navy remains the dominant maritime force in Asia and preserves freedom of navigation for all; U.S. alliances serve as deterrents to Chinese aggression; and at the end of the day, the United States is the only power with the capacity to push back against China.
There's no simple answer that will solve the problem. 
The best bet is a version of the long-term course set by Barack Obama: Shine a spotlight on the issue; strengthen regional alliances; support growing maritime capabilities in Southeast Asia; and do the necessary diplomacy with China to negotiate a peaceful path that can benefit everyone while also demonstrating that there will be consequences for China's destabilizing actions.
The Trump administration – despite an occasional reference to the South China Sea during the campaign and transition – seems wholly unaware of what's happening. 
Talking points on the issue are occasionally rolled out as though cut and pasted from the Obama administration (not necessarily a bad thing, considering the alternatives). 
The issue appears to have vanished from all high-level interactions between the United States and China.
The consequences of this U.S. absence were on full display in recent weeks when China criticized Vietnam for drilling for oil off Vietnam's coast, and the situation escalated to the point where China threatened Vietnam with military action if it didn't stop. 
According to at least one report, Vietnam's top leaders decided to give in to Beijing, in no small part because they believed Vietnam could not rely on Trump to come to its aid.
This is exactly what China wants. 
It wants its neighbors to believe that the United States cannot be counted on for support, and it wants the United States to continue to ignore China's actions.
It may seem distant, but the South China Sea matters to Americans. 
If China gains maritime control of the waterway, it will make it much more difficult for the United States to defend allies, deal with North Korea, prevent a conflict over Taiwan and forge advantageous trade relationships in the region as China's military power turns into economic coercion. 
And the last time a hegemon had control of Asia, America fought a war there to free it. 
The U.S. needs to be an active player before it's too late.
But it's not just the South China Sea that Trump is ignoring. 
The president and his team seem completely unaware of countless other fundamental national security challenges that will have profound impacts on U.S. national security in the coming decades.
By ignoring such issues, once Trump leaves office, America will be in a weaker position to defend against everything from Russia's growing assertiveness to the fallout of war and state collapse in the Middle East. 
When the United States eventually emerges from the lost Trump years, it will face a series of national security challenges made much more dangerous by Trump's ineptitude – and the United States will be in a worse position to tackle them.

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