Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Next Pearl Harbor

Tora! Tora! Tora!

If this nation has learned anything from that infamous attack, it is this: Never again should America be taken by surprise by a rising power in Asia that may well mean to do our country harm.

To avoid any such surprise – and to avert any such harm – we must not be complacent in the face of an increasingly aggressive Beijing. Nor should we assume – as a naïve Europe did on the eve of World War I – that strong economic ties between strategic rivals will always be enough to avert conflict.

Rising China similarly claims great chunks of Asia by “historical right” and likewise sees the resources and markets of Asia as vital to its growth. It already exercises great influence over Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to North Korea even as it subjugates Tibet and zealously asserts its sovereign right to the “renegade province” of Taiwan – one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies and home to more than 20 million people.

Rising China also asserts de jure sovereignty over 80% of the South China Sea – through which more than one third of global trade passes – and even claims the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet.” Perhaps most dangerous, Beijing’s government-controlled press has whipped its populace into a nationalist frenzy over Japanese control of the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu.

As with Imperial Japan, the only force standing in China’s expansionist way is an America committed to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the seas, and defense of its Asian allies. Beijing’s clear fear is that America will do what it once did to Imperial Japan – impose a punishing naval embargo on its oil imports and global trade.

Here, it is well worth remembering America’s embargo of Imperial Japan did not result in the retreat of Japanese occupation forces as the U.S. demanded.  Rather, Tojo’s bombers simply – and infamously – struck Pearl Harbor. That Pentagon analysts openly talk today of “economic strangulation” should a belligerent China move on Taiwan, the Senkakus, or some other revanchist target only stokes Beijing’s fear.

Given Rising China’s revanchist dreams and U.S. embargo nightmare, it is hardly surprising the People’s Liberation Army is strategically designing its capabilities – so-called “anti-access, area denial” weapons – to push U.S. forces out of the Western Pacific

In Rising China’s version of anti-access, area denial, it seeks to drive U.S. forces from its forward bases in Asia and out beyond the First and Second Island Chains – and eventually all the way back to Hawaii and Pearl Harbor. To achieve this goal, Rising China even shares an obsessive focus with Imperial Japan on designing weapons explicitly to sink American aircraft carrier strike groups.

The weapon of choice for Imperial Japan was its Long Lance torpedo.  It could be launched from cruisers and destroyers from distances well outside the range of U.S. artillery and competing torpedoes.  For Rising China, its anti-ship ballistic missile – the Chinese openly call it a “carrier killer” – can be fired from over a thousand miles away and hit an American aircraft carrier traveling at speeds of up to 30 knots.

If Imperial Japan’s past turns out to be a Rising China’s prologue, Beijing could well order a Pearl Harbor-style attack on America, possibly within a decade.  Potential targets range from American aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Strait and bombers on the runways of Okinawa and Guam to the military satellite network serving as the eyes and ears of the U.S. high command.  Even civilian infrastructure like America’s electricity grid may be at risk.