Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Asymmetric Arms Race in Asia
The last session of the "Australia US Alliance Conference in Canberra Australia-US: The Alliance in an Emerging Asia" conference in Canberra today raised the issue of the current arms race under-way in East Asia (streamed live online). One of the panellists suggested that when China has sufficient aircraft carriers it will use them to enforce its claims to territory in the East China Sea and this will cause difficulties for the USA's management of security in Asia. This assumes that China can learn to operate and protect the carriers, but if it can, there may be no role for the USA in managing security in Asia. It should be noted that Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region are building various small helicopter carriers and submarines, so China's role will not be undisputed. It may be in contrast that the USA's larger warships are not nimble enough to operate in this environment. While the US has a powerful military force, the loss of even one large carrier would be a significant military and political setback. In future conflicts it may not be clear who is attacking who, leaving the notionally stronger force unable to respond meaningfully. In this environment small carriers and conventional submarines may be more useful than large nuclear powered ones.