And just what, you well may ask, are the Chinese and Russian navies doing off the coast of Alaska? Is this Red Dawn? Are the Chinese and Russians in collaboration to disrupt the global supply of caribou sausage? Or, despite the caterwauling of Alaska’s senators, is nothing really happening?
You can understand the alarm; of the 50 United States, 48 enjoy an ocean sized moat on either coast and a friendly continent at is back. One is smack in the middle of the big ocean, and that leaves Alaska the only state in the Union that is relatively close to both China and Russia. Before 1867 it was Russia, and during World War II the Aleutian Islands, a long string of islands snaking across the Bearing Sea towards Russia, were invaded by Japan. They stayed for nearly a year, but let’s not over sell it, the joint US/Canadian relief force was delayed by the weather and logistics, not the Imperial navy. Alaska is closer to our geopolitical enemies that the rest of the republic but you can cannot fact, see Russia from Sarah Palin’s house.
So a Sino-Russian Armada of 11 ships steamed around in international waters, near the Aleutians, swapped helicopters and used radio codes. The US Northern Command was at pains to explain that this was all perfectly legal without being forced to say that that is exactly what we are doing to China in the Strait of Taiwan. What’s more, NorCom added, we’ve known about the exercise for weeks.
This was not a threat, it was more along the strategic maneuvers of lower school siblings in a lively match of “I’m not touching you.” Well, fine. The top echelon of both countries’ militaries are in a purge-induced flux, which is never a good sign. Russia’s famed Black Sea fleet can’t even beat what Kyiv is calling a navy. They won’t even engage after the Ukrainians sank their prized flagship, the Moskva from the land. The cream of the Russian navy seems to be hiding from them, to be honest.
China, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s the largest in the world and getting bigger. It has 13 submarines and we can track, while we’ve some 80, most of which they can’t. Fold in the Australians and the advantage rolls to a magnitude of ten. And this is going to be a submarine war. Experience wise, the Chinese PLA Navy is less impressive — they’ve spent decades building imposing ships with which to terrorize Vietnamese fisherman.
I was talking with a friend in naval circles a couple of years ago who told me that both US and PLA navies had conducted war games over cross-conflict scenario involving Taiwan. The commands of both forces came to roughly the same conclusion: namely that if China can contain the conflict to the strait of Taiwan, it virtually can’t lose. If, however, the conflict should spill-out into the South China Sea, China virtually can’t win. It’s an interesting dilemma for both Washington and Beijing.
The Greeks managed to trap the Persian navy in the narrows and destroyed them at the Battle of Salamis. But that was 480 bc and modern wars aren’t like that. Gavilo Princip was just a student radical who wanted to free Serbia from the ailing Austro-Hungarian Empire, and he started World War I. Hitler wanted to scoop up a swath of Russia no one would miss for German lebensraum. And that bastard wrecked the entire global order.
Modern Wars, fought out of a global, interconnected market, are hard to contain, they take on a life of their own. China very well may feel that that will have the ability to take Taiwan by force in the next five years, and maybe it can. But after that, it’s stuck, both militarily and economically. China’s secret vulnerability beneath it Wolf Warrior bravado is that it is not a consumer drive economy, it is an export economy. And it knows it. Russia and Iran aren’t rich enough to buy the exports China needs to sell. The Global South is a drag.
In short, without Western markets, China’s entire system will collapse, quickly. And so like that little Armada off the Aleutian Islands, the best course of action is to watch and not react.