“The Commons Must Remain The Commons”

China continues to assert itself and threaten freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and East China Sea, writes James R. Holmes, who explores what other stakeholder nations can do to safeguard “the commons.” From The Diplomat: What can guardians of free navigation do about this challenge? Channeling Clausewitz, Sir Julian Corbett would describe this as a contest of negative object, an endeavor aimed at keeping an adversary from taking something. In wartime, negative aims bestow certain advantages on the defender, who mostly wants to frustrate his opponent. But the advantages of protecting the status quo are less pronounced in peacetime strategic competition. In fact, the initiative and passion probably go to the antagonist entertaining a positive aim—the antagonist intent on wresting something away. He has the incentive to amend or overturn what looks like an unjust state of affairs. Otherwise he would never have opened the struggle in the first place. And perhaps most critically, it’s hard for custodians of the status quo to turn the tables, seizing the offensive in peacetime competition. Corbett proclaims that “true defensive” is not passive defense—parrying an enemy’s blows without seeking offensive action—but biding one’s time while awaiting a chance to strike. That idea is readily intelligible in wartime. A combatant waging “active defense” looks for opportunities to use his forces to land a heavy counterpunch. The process isn’t so straightforward in peace. If Beijing keeps asserting title to the waters and airspace within the nine-dashed line, for instance, and if it deploys ships and aircraft to uphold its claim, what precisely would be the equivalent to a wartime counterattack? It will take some artistry. Persuading seagoing nations to make common cause would be immensely helpful from a diplomatic standpoint. Easier said than done, I know. Or, appealing to international tribunals would ...
« Back to Article

Comments are closed.