3 October 2013
The U.S. has just announced a deal with Japan that will allow basing rights for surveillance drones. Oh and the Pentagon swears their purpose is to surveil North Korea. Really, they promise. China? What’s a China?
“The primary mission for the Global Hawks will be to fly near North Korea, where U.S. officials hope they will greatly enhance the current spying capabilities,” reports the Washington Post. Maybe – perhaps – an unintended side benefit to the drone missions will be to coordinate with Japan on “ the movements of Chinese ships in the vicinity.”
You can bet Beijing won’t see North Korea as the primary target for the U.S. spy drones. In recent weeks, the Japanese Defense Ministry has indicated a strong interest in obtaining drones for themselves in order to spy on and respond to Chinese military movements in and around the disputed maritime territory of the Senkaku/Diayou islands, currently the most intense point of tension between Japan and China.
Immediately following these indications, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visit with their Japanese counterparts and secure a deal to allow the U.S. to base its own drones on Japanese territory and take care Japanese defense for them. It’s a win for the U.S. in that it mitigates the Japanese desire to obtain its own drones, a privileged capability that gives the U.S. an edge, and it maintains U.S. military autonomy in Japan at a time when tensions with China have influenced Tokyo towards beefing up its long-dormant national security state.
But it’s not exactly a win for regional security. The U.S. has been antagonizing China by militarily encircling the rising Asian power and reaffirming defense agreements with all of China’s neighboring rivals, Japan foremost among them. A new scheme to increase spying on Chinese military movements in its own backyard is not going to go over well with Beijing.
“The presence of Global Hawks in East Asia is sure to irritate China, which has become increasingly vocal in pushing back against the U.S. military presence in the region,” the Washington Post reports. “Officials in Beijing had criticized Tokyo in recent days for reports that the Japanese military was considering acquiring its own Global Hawks, saying the introduction of the drones could escalate tensions.”
U.S. policy could easily exacerbate Sino-Japanese tensions and prompt a very dangerous escalation. “My biggest fear is that a small mishap is going to blow up into something much bigger,” says Elizabeth C. Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations.
“If there is a use of force between Japan and China,” warns Sheila A. Smith, also of CFR, “this could be all-out conflict between these two Asian giants. And as a treaty ally of Japan, it will automatically involve the United States.”
And for what? To contain China’s increasing global power? The U.S. can’t stop that train, which is fueled by their growing economy and increased defense budgets, short of all-out war.
Really, the U.S. should just mind its own business instead of trying to dictate China’s behavior in a desperate attempt to hold on to world hegemony.
Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, provides the following anecdote to sum up the hypcritical U.S. position on China:
Do as we say, not as we do. Follow our orders, or prepare for aggression.
Not exactly a constructive approach.
Update: In a piece entitled “New U.S. Drone Base is America’s Latest Move to Contain China,” John Reed at Foreign Policy says “the bottom line is that the U.S. is prepositioning forces around China.” He also details some of the other military assets, in addition to the drones, that America is encircling China with: