Military Power in the South China Sea: Opportunities and Risks

  • Mr. David Kissling

As the U.S. rebalances to the Asia-Pacific, the South China Sea (SCS) will become increasingly important to U.S. national interests. How the U.S. employs its vast national power in the SCS will have longstanding consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the world. In particular, employment of U.S. military power in the region serves numerous necessary functions. It ensures freedom of navigation, reinforces U.S. treaty commitments, demonstrates U.S. resolve, and builds familiarity with China in order to prevent miscalculation and improve safety at sea. This employment of U.S. military power carries with it significant risks as well as opportunities. While military power is an important component of U.S. strategy in the SCS, it should not be the U.S.’s primary mechanism for advancing U.S. policy at the expense of other available instruments. It is crucial for U.S. military influence to be employed in synchronization with other elements of power in order to best achieve U.S. strategic objectives.