Recent U.S. naval maneuvers in the South China Sea signal how the United States plans to safeguard its interests in the Asia-Pacific region, says Capt. Sean Liedman, CFR’s Navy fellow and an expert in maritime strategy. Freedom-of-navigation operations conducted by U.S. warships, like the USS Lassen, are intended to push back against excessive maritime claims by states like China, and help ensure the free flow of global commerce through the region. At the same time, these operations serve as an assurance for U.S. allies “to enhance stability and security in the region,” Liedman says in a written interview.
Navy-China-Sea A Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to land aboard an aircraft carrier as a guided-missile destroyer undergoes a training exercise. (Andre T. Richard/Courtesy U.S. Navy)
What are the U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region?
The United States has three strategic objectives for the Asia-Pacific Region: One, enhance stability and security; two, facilitate trade and commerce through an open and transparent system; and three, ensure respect for universal rights and freedoms. Additionally, the United States has security alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, and is attempting to strengthen those.
What are the U.S. objectives with this type of operation in the South China Sea?
The military objectives of this freedom-of-navigation operation can be tied to each of the three previously mentioned strategic objectives. While the United States has declared in numerous public fora that it is not a party to any of the disputed sovereignty claims in the Asia-Pacific region, two of its treaty allies—Japan and the Phillipines—are parties to disputed maritime claims with China. Conducting this operation is a clear signal aimed at assuring U.S. allies to enhance stability and security in the region.
Regarding the free flow of commerce, it has been estimated that as much of 50 percent of all global oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea, and more than half of the world’s top ten shipping ports are located in and around the South China Sea, so freedom of navigation is of paramount importance for all states in the region.
Finally, these operations are designed to counter excessive maritime claims that violate customary international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention On The Law of the Sea (PDF) (UNCLOS), which the United States considers to part of the body of fundamental rights of the international community.
Read more: http://www.cfr.org/china/us-naval-signal-south-china-sea/p37185?cid=nlc-public-the_world_this_week–link13-20151030&sp_mid=49904782&sp_rid=amRhdmlkc29uQGNmci5vcmcS1