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senkaku | usa vs. russia | usa vs. china

[Michael E. O'Hanlon, The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small Stakes. Brookings Institution Press. Washington, 2019. 272 p.]


review / Jimena Puga

The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small StakesAfter the end of the Cold War, in which it confronted the Soviet Union bloc defending the values of the Western order, the United States remained the hegemonic country in the world. Today, however, it is rivaled by Russia, which despite its weak Economics is struggling not to lose any more influence on the international scene, and by China, which, although still a regional power, aspires to replace the United States at the world pinnacle. The challenge is not only for Washington, but for the West as a whole, as its very values are being challenged by the advance of Moscow and Beijing's diary .

The West must respond firmly, but how far should it go, when should it say enough is enough, and is it ready for war even if the cumulative steps taken by Russia or China are themselves relatively minor or occur on the periphery? That is the question posed by Michael E. O'Hanlon, researcher of the Brookings Institution, in The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War over Small Stakes. The book discusses a series of possible scenarios in the context of a global hegemonic shift and competition for power among the world's major powers.

The scenarios put forward by O'Hanlon consist, on the one hand, of a possible annexation of Estonia or Latvia by Russia, without prior consent and by means of a military attack. On the other hand, the military conquest by China of one of the larger islands that make up the Senkaku, the name given by Japan to an archipelago it administers in the vicinity of Taiwan and which Beijing calls Diaoyu. In both cases, it is difficult to assess which side would have a better military strategy or to predict which side would win a hypothetical war. In addition, there are many unknown variables about cyber vulnerabilities, submarine operations or the accuracy of missile attacks on each country's strategic infrastructure.

Thus, the author wonders whether both the United States and its allies should respond directly with a military offensive in response to an initial attack, or whether they should limit themselves to an asymmetric response, focused on preventing future attacks, combining such responses with economic retaliation and certain military actions in different scenarios. What is clear is that while remaining vigilant in the face of the possible need to strengthen their positions on the international chessboard, Western countries must remain prudent and provide proportionate responses to possible crises, aware that their values - the defense of freedom, justice and the common good - are the greatest assets of their democratic systems.

At present, Western democratic systems are under strong populist pressure, although there is nothing to suggest that countries with well-established democracies such as France, Germany or Spain will generate conflicts among themselves, much less within the European Union, which has been a guarantee of peace and stability since the 1950s. For its part, it would be advisable for the Trump Administration to react more prudently in certain situations, to avoid an escalation of diplomatic tension that unnecessarily increases the risks of conflict, at least regional or economic.

Neither Moscow nor Beijing today pose an immediate threat to US world hegemony, but China is the fastest growing power in the last fifty years. Such rapid growth could lead China to dispense with multilateralism and regional cooperation and to regional influence through economic or military imposition. This would make the People's Republic a threat.

Although it is true that the United States has the best military force, it is expected that around the year 2040 there will be both military and economic parity between the Middle Empire and the American country. Thus, Europe and the United States, faced with possible aggression from China - or from Russia, despite its state of gradual decline - should respond appropriately and, as the White House says, be "strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable". And they seek to do allies at the international level and to put military pressure on the aggressor in regions where the aggressor is compromised.

As the author argues, the White House needs better and more credible options for designing an asymmetric defense based on deterrence and containment plans, with the use of force as an option. For example, the North Atlantic Treaty's article 5 is not the best deterrence weapon for the U.S. and its allies, as it poses a danger to stability and leaves no room for action in the event of deterrence failure. However, with the proposed new defense subject , NATO member countries would not be obliged to "fire the first bullet", so other collateral actions would be possible, without the need to resort to direct confrontation to stop a possible escalation of more serious hostilities.

What is clear, argues O'Hanlon, is that both China and Russia seek to challenge the international order through any subject of conflict and the West must adopt strategies aimed at anticipating possible future scenarios so that they can be prepared to deal with them with guarantees of success. These measures need not only be military. For example, they will have to prepare for a long and painful economic war by means of defensive and offensive measures, while the U.S. puts the brakes on the imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel on its allies. In addition, the US has to be careful about overusing the economic sanctions applied to financial transactions, especially the ban on access to the SWIFT code of the banking communication system, otherwise Washington's allied countries will end up creating alternatives to SWIFT, which would be a disadvantage and a weakness against Moscow and Beijing sample .

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