FrontPage Magazine| 8.19.10
By Alan W. Dowd

The U.S. Navy and allied naval forces across the Pacific are sending a message to observers in North Korea and China, conducting a number of large-scale exercises and war games throughout the region this summer.

The RIMPAC exercises (short for “Rim of the Pacific”) involved naval and air forces from 14 nations, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Singapore, the United States, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Chile, Malaysia and Thailand. In addition, military officials from India, Brazil and New Zealand participated as observers.

With the carrier USS Ronald Reagan serving as the nerve center, 34 warships and hundreds of aircraft participated in what Vice Admiral Richard Hunt, commander of the 3rd Fleet, called “the largest RIMPAC that we’ve had.” Ever.

All told, 20,000 military personnel were involved in RIMPAC, which lasted throughout July.

Not coincidentally, a Japanese government panel in July released recommendations calling on the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to be prepared to participate in contingency operations in Korea and the Taiwan Strait—and to be open to lifting bans on “development and possession of nuclear weapons and their transportation to Japan,” according to a DefenseNews report.

In other words, Japan is deadly serious about the deadly threats to its west—one represented by the rising power in China, the other represented by the crumbling regime in North Korea. The former will have 2,000 missiles opposite Taiwan by the end of this year. The latter has nukes and missiles trained on South Korea—and probably on the Japanese islands.

In other action in the Pacific, Singapore played host to the CARAT 2010 exercises (short for “Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training”), which involved 73 warships from the U.S., Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

Also in July, a trio of Ohio-class submarines made their presence known with splashy entrances in the Asia-Pacific region, as the USS Michigan surfaced off the Korean peninsula, USS Florida near the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and USS Ohio in the Philippines. “News of the deployments,” as Time magazine reports, “appeared in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post—on July 4.”

In a similar show of force—the Air Force equivalent of gunboat diplomacy—F-22 fighter-bombers have deployed to Guam to send a signal to North Korea.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. and South Korea are conducting a series of 10 naval exercises featuring the USS George Washington in the waters around South Korea. The exercises are expected to last “several months,” according to published reports.

Related, on August 5, South Korea launched its largest-ever anti-sub exercises on its side of the North-South water boundaries. This set of maneuvers involves 29 warships and 4,500 troops. North Korea responded last week with a temper tantrum of a hundred artillery bursts into disputed waters.

The U.S.-ROK maneuvers, launched in response to North Korea’s torpedoing of a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors, involve dozens of warships. Together, the U.S.-ROK armada is conducting anti-submarine operations, interdiction operations and air operations.

“These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop,” according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

But in a sense, it’s a mixed message.

First, the exercises were delayed so that UN diplomats could hammer out a condemnation of North Korea’s attack on the ROK ship. But that condemnation pointedly did not name names. Instead, it condemned the attack without condemning the attacker. Pyongyang rightly saw this as a victory.

Second, in a concession to Beijing, the U.S. steered clear of areas China views as sensitive, although there are reports that the next round of U.S.-ROK war games will take place in the waters of the Yellow Sea, unilaterally proclaimed as sensitive by Beijing.

Not coincidentally, the Chinese military declared this month that “China has indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, the U.S. Navy and international law don’t share Beijing’s position.

All of this—Beijing’s posturing, Washington’s diplomatic gymnastics and the allied military maneuvers—is happening amid reports that release of the Pentagon’s congressionally-mandated annual review of the Chinese military was delayed and that its findings were softened or somehow massaged. Indeed, the just-released report (five months late) was titled “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton but has now been renamed “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China.”

Doubtless, Beijing sees all this as a victory.

Face-saving has its place in international relations, especially in the hazardous waters of the Pacific. But when Washington wants to send “a clear message,” it’s essential that the Chinese and North Koreans understand that they don’t have a veto over where, when and how that message is delivered. What Churchill said about his Soviet adversaries remains true of the communists who rule China and North Korea: “There is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness.”