Diplomacy over threats: Recourse in South China Sea

By Michael Agnello

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Naval Surface Warriors/ Flickr

Naval Surface Warriors/ Flickr

James Monroe’s 1823 State of the Union Address contained a terse statement that would later define the principles of United States foreign policy. “The American continents are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers,” he declared. It was a well-intended pledge to aid in the implementation and protection of sovereignty for smaller nations.

Yet, gradually this empathetic reciprocation of the United States’ own achievement of independence, later dubbed the Monroe Doctrine, was extended far past the Western Hemisphere. With time this turned the U.S. essentially into an international policing agency, intervening on behalf of foreign governments and citizens for the sake of instituting stability and justice wherever apt. Today the influence of the doctrine has become exaggerated, leading to an imposing government and military into situations undeserving of intervention.

The U.S again demonstrated its overextended role within global politics on Oct. 27. The USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificially created Chinese island as a way to refute China’s claim to the surrounding waters and attempted expansion of territory. China promptly responded by saying that the presence of U.S. military in their waters was a provocation and urged the U.S. to “act responsibly in maintaining regional peace and stability.” Certainly creating military tension with one of the world’s superpowers, while still involved in the Middle East, is not ideal. The question looms: why would the U.S. do such a thing?

Well, it’s true that the islands China created are quite controversial. By piling sand on top of reefs in the South China Sea to create a string of seven islands, the country believes that it is entitled to exclusive rights of the waterways, which were partly international waters reserved for trade. Neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have laid similar claims to the area, so one could argue that China did it in response to others’ actions. However, the Chinese claim encompasses nearly the entire South China Sea, which would allow the country to control all activity in the region.

Sure there is a need to control a bully, a cause the U.S. has been sympathetic to for its entire history, but intervening with a military presence should never be the first response. Because this is a violation of international waters, gathering support from other countries to ratify the dispute diplomatically would be more effective and safer. Perhaps a law could be passed that states that a nation’s sovereignty can only extend to naturally occurring landmasses. Simple enough, right?

By acting individually, the U.S. becomes viewed as an enforcer of global control, and a bully in return, as it tries to intimidate China by showing military strength and presence. The action is arrogant. It gives off the impression that the U.S. prefers to fight rather than reach agreements. Whenever a military becomes involved, the gravity of the situation increases significantly. Not understanding this obvious consequence is immature. Not only is this dangerous for domestic safety, but it can also be harmful economically, as China is the United States’ largest importer.

Far too often, the U.S. military is inserted into unnecessary circumstances. When James Monroe first presented his idea about using the United States’ newfound global power to curb colonization, he did not intend for every dispute worldwide to be contested with military presence. Yet it routinely happens. The situation in the South China Sea certainly needs to be addressed, but with more diplomatic strategies. Undoubtedly a collective pact between a handful of nations could be created to restrain China’s actions, restoring peace to a region of growing anxiety without introducing threats.

Michael Agnello is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]